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Four Years After Decisive Incident, Final Barriers Still Not Up On Colorado Street Bridge

Published on Thursday, September 1, 2022 | 5:43 am
In July 2017, Pasadena installed temporary emergency fencing at 20 alcoves lining the Colorado Street Bridge (pictured above). After a 13-hour negotiation by police prevented a woman from jumping over Labor Day weekend in 2018, then-City Manager Steve Mermell ordered that the fencing be extended along the bridge’s entire length.

Four years ago this week then-City Manager Steve Mermell was forced to make a monumental decision.

After  a successful 13-hour negotiation during Labor Day Weekend in 2018 with a distraught woman perched outside the railing and threatening to jump off the Colorado Street Bridge, Mermell declared a local emergency and ordered the immediate installation of temporary fencing along the entire length of the Bridge in an effort to curb suicides at the historic structure.

The declaration came at a crucial point. The previous year, nine people had jumped to their deaths from the bridge.

Under the local emergency authority, Mermell authorized the city to spend $295,932 to expand the fencing along both sides of the 1,400-foot-long landmark structure.

Mermell invoked a section of the Pasadena Municipal Code that allows for immediate purchase of material or services without competitive bidding at the lowest obtainable price.

“We have had four deaths from the Colorado Street Bridge this year,” Mermell said at the time. “Across the country, suicides are increasing, and we’ve seen an increase here locally. While we are moving with a request for proposals to design new barriers, we cannot leave the status quo in place until that process is completed and new, permanent railing installed.”

But it was the words of then-Mayor Terry Tornek that proved prophetic.

“It’s going to be very unattractive. People are going to be unhappy about the appearance,” Tornek said. “The aesthetic issue is trumped by the public safety issue, and the humanitarian issue. And so I think [Mermell] is right. We need to take action.”

The National Suicide Hotlines are available 24/7 by dialing 988

Four years later, the controversy continues as local preservationists want the bridge to be preserved while the City strives to maintain its responsibility to public safety.

“The question remains — can a new fence be designed that will provide effective suicide prevention without destroying the architectural character of the landmark bridge,” Sue Mossman of the Pasadena Heritage Society said this week.

“How the bridge is seen or experienced from outside, up and down the Arroyo, and from on the Bridge itself, are important considerations.”

According to Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the matter at its next meeting.  

Last year, the committee deferred action on proposed design concepts for suicide prevention barriers for the Colorado Street Bridge in favor of further review and additional public input on the Department of Public Work’s recommendations.

“It’s been about four years since the security fencing went up on the Colorado Bridge and I am extremely happy and we as a community are all blessed that the tragic incidents have dropped dramatically,” said Robin Salzar, who lives near the bridge. “Over those four years there’s been a ongoing discussion of what the final design should be moving forward. It’s about time that we bring this to a conclusion. A design that protects life, preserves the history of the bridge and is something that can be easily maintained should be the final solution. Let’s get this done before the next Pasadena Heritage Bridge party.”

After the bridge appeared in the Charlie Chaplain film “the Kid,” people began traveling to the bridge to commit suicide.

More than 150 people have jumped from the bridge since the Great Depression, according to City officials. More than half of the suicides took place during the 1930s.

During the modern era, more than 30 suicides have been reported since 2006, with most originating from the alcoves along the bridge, where access over the existing metal railing is easier. Dozens more people have been successfully talked down from the bridge by authorities.

Soon after the incidents began people started calling the iconic landmark,  “Suicide Bridge.” The morbid name has endured, much to the chagrin of city officials. In fact, so many people were jumping from the bridge at that point that the city spent $20,000 a year for a police officer to patrol the bridge.

After people began jumping off the bridge, city officials installed mesh fencing and barbed wire to prevent more tragedies. The city installed signs to discourage jumpers in 1993.

City officials have decried the name because they believe it could attract troubled people that are considering suicide.

One of the most famous cases occurred on May 1, 1937, when Myrtle Ward, a struggling 22-year-old mother who had lost her job in the great depression, wrapped her 3-year-old daughter Jean Pykkonen in a thick wool coat and threw her off the bridge before jumping off herself. Ward died, but the thick coat snagged on several tree branches and slowed her daughter’s descent. 

The mother died, but the youngster survived.

The National Suicide Hotlines are available 24/7 by dialing 988
Additional help is available at the Didi Hirsch 24-hour Crisis Line: 1-877-727-4747 (en Español: 1-800-628-9454)
LGBTQ – The Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Crisis Line: 1-877-565-8860
Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741-741
People of Color Crisis Text Line: Text STEVE to 741-741

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