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A Suicide Net Is Quietly Being Added to the Golden Gate Bridge. Here's Why It's So Controversial

Construction on a controversial suicide prevention barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge costs $211 million won't complete until 2021. Alex Reitter—EyeEm Getty Images

Every year, San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge draws millions of tourists and millions more Bay Area commuters. And since it was erected in 1937, nearly 1,700 suicidal people have leapt to their death from the landmark, including 14 in 2018, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Proposals dating back to the 1950s have sought to curb suicide attempts on the 1.7-mile-long span, but it wasn’t until earlier this month that construction finally began on a suicide prevention barrier. And not everyone is happy about it.

While building a barrier to prevent suicidal jumpers shouldn’t seem controversial, construction of the Golden Gate Bridge’s 385,000-square-foot, stainless steel net has been a protracted battle in the Bay Area.

Some San Francisco residents opposed building a barrier because they didn’t think public funds should be spent on the effort. All told, the project is projected to cost $211 million, which is more than three times what it cost to build the Golden Gate Bridge over 80 years ago. That’s also significantly higher than the initial winning bid of $142 million, which was above what consultants had originally hoped would be a $76 million project.

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Another reason some locals oppose the bridge’s suicide barrier is that they simply didn’t believe nets or rails prevent people from trying to jump. This argument comes as the suicide rate has soared in recent decades. Meanwhile suicide prevention efforts have gained greater weight, with the World Health Organization (WHO) publishing prevention guides and sobering statistics. Numerous public awareness campaigns have also raised the profile for suicide prevention. One example, World Suicide Prevention Day, takes place on September 10, 2018 and is now in its 15th year.

Worldwide, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide each year, and its the second-leading cause of death for individuals 15 to 29 years old, according to the WHO. And while other methods of suicide outpace jumping from structures, in terms of bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge is the world’s second-most popular suicide destination, ranking behind China’s Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. Despite this gruesome designation, it has long been the only international suicide landmark without a barrier, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Lastly, preservationist groups have decried any efforts to change the aesthetics of the landmark bridge. (This is not a uniquely San Francisco debate, by the way. Other suicide sites around the world have installed nets that have successfully prevented numerous tragedies.) Six hundred tons of steel will be used to support the Golden Gate Bridge’s suicide net, which will hang 20 feet below the public walkway, according to Danny’s Construction, one of two firms that jointly placed the winning project bid. The net will not be orange but rather a steely gray, with the idea that San Francisco’s most famous weather feature—its fog—will often obscure the controversial barrier from view.

With construction finally underway, the decades-long debate about whether and how to build a barrier to keep people from jumping into the San Francisco Bay should finally be put to rest. Construction will be ongoing for the next two to three years. The barrier is scheduled to be completed by 2021.

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