San Diego’s Suicide Span - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Opinion

San Diego’s Suicide Span

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Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2019 2:30 pm

The two-mile, graceful span that connects the coastal resort city of Coronado with what is often hilariously referred to as “America’s Finest City” will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. It will also probably overtake San Francisco’s Golden Gate as the deadliest bridge in America. Safety nets are being installed on the San Francisco span at a cost of about $200 million. The San Diego Bay Bridge will soon claim that dubious distinction as the number of recorded suicides by jumpers approaches 500.

The five lanes of the bridge, one lane less than what’s needed, comprise part of State Route 75 which continues through the heart of Coronado and down the Silver Strand to Imperial Beach. It replaced the car ferry system that used to provide the only access to Coronado beside the land route up the 10-mile Silver Strand and opened up Coronado to myriad traffic and parking problems, noise and air pollution. The city has never been quite the same since, but that’s progress I guess. The bridge has also been the scene of hundreds of suicides while officials dither over ways to prevent them. At issue are the cost and the aesthetics of possible remedies. But how do you measure the value of a human life compared to the cost of a solution?

Courtney Douglas, a senior at Stanford and former editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily, in an op-ed appearing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, discussed these depressing statistics and the lack of progress in dealing with the problem, deciding on a remedy and finding the funding for it. As she noted, the five-inch spikes installed recently along the short concrete barrier walls are not enough to deter jumpers. She also mentions public concern that some or all of the proposed fixes will detract from the bridge’s aesthetic qualities but, like her, when I look at the bridge, I tend to think of the tragic suicides it has prompted and the traffic jams it has caused while authorities try to talk a jumper down. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess, but when a structure, graceful or not, becomes an attractive nuisance prompting tortured souls to end it all, I’ll take safety over beauty. Meanwhile, plans are being made to raise money for decorative lighting for the bridge. Where are our priorities?

Of lesser, but still serious concern is the inconvenience and delay caused by the frequent bridge closures. Having to take the longer land route around the Strand is a small price to pay while authorities try to prevent a suicide but being stuck on the bridge for hours is quite another matter. Among those stuck on the bridge can include sick and elderly persons, pregnant women, people in need of medical attention and people needing to use toilet facilities, not to mention the missed medical appointments and flights.

Ms. Douglas proposes organizing a team of stakeholders to select the best deterrence option, noting that State Senate Bill 656, authored by State Sen. Ben Hueso calls for CALTRANS to convene such a committee. I disagree. This issue has been discussed and debated for decades. Lives will be lost while a committee dithers. Committees often have trouble agreeing on what to have for lunch and It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. It is time for action, not further study, and action by responsible officials at CALTRANS, not a committee.. If CALTRANS officials are incapable of making a decision without the help of a committee, they really should consider some other line of work.

Here’s a humble suggestion: If it was decided, presumably after some study, that safety nets were the best solution for the Golden Gate, why wouldn’t they work here? As for funding, take it from some other project where fewer lives are at stake.

For every day that passes without action, not just talk, on a suicide deterrent fix, this bridge will remain an attractive nuisance, inviting suicidal persons to end it all quickly. It will continue to reflect poorly on our community that we tolerate such inaction while lives are being lost.

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