B.C. tries to stop Lions Gate suicides

Lions Gate is getting phones; the Golden Gate is getting a net

B.C. tries to stop Lions Gate suicidesVancouver’s Lions Gate and San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridges—Depression-era, art deco masterpieces of form and function—have much in common. The 2.7-km-long Golden Gate opened in 1937 and the 1.8-km Lions Gate, a year later. Both civic icons are crucial commuter links for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Both have cable-suspended decks high above busy waterways—and therein lies their tragic allure. Both bridges are magnets for the suicidal.

A fall from either bridge is almost always fatal. The Lions Gate has 61 m of clearance above Burrard Inlet, the Golden Gate has 63 m—time enough for a jumper to hit the water at 138 km/h. Preventing such suicides has been a much-studied challenge for both communities. This month, after years of muddling and debate, the B.C. government activated six “crisis hotline phones” on the Lions Gate. The yellow phone boxes connect to a general assistance number to report accidents and to a crisis line. Transport Minister Kevin Falcon calls the phones “an important tool for suicide prevention.”

It was Falcon who moved the project along after he asked police to rethink their policy of closing off bridges, often for hours at a time, as they negotiate with potential jumpers. The $97,000-pilot project is “a rescue option for people who have thoughts about ending their own lives and are desperately seeking a way out of unbearable emotional pain,” said Ian Ross of the B.C. Crisis Centre.

Authorities in San Francisco plan to install a stainless steel net under the Golden Gate, which still averages a suicide about every two weeks, despite the fact it has crisis phones.

There were 45 suicides from the Lions Gate between 1991 and 2007, and the B.C. Coroners Service wants barriers installed on it and four other bridges. Barriers are an engineering challenge on a suspension bridge, but they seem to work. An array of steel rods retrofitted on Toronto’s Bloor Street Viaduct in 2003 successfully ended its run as one of the deadliest bridges in North America.

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