Opinion: A Simple Solution to Preventing Suicides on The Coronado Bridge

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The Coronado Bridge. Photo by Frank Mckenna via Wikimedia Commons

By George Mullen

More than 400 people have given up their lives jumping from the Coronado Bridge since 1969 — with 98 in the last six years. San Diego and Coronado have become hosts to a suicide magnet that is now averaging 16 jumping deaths per year.

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This is a humanitarian disaster and a growing public relations nightmare that is causing a significant loss in business and tourism productivity to our region. We must end this — and we can successfully do so within a month’s time and for less than $25,000. Let me explain how.

The Golden Gate Bridge – the number 1 suicide magnet — is installing nets to dissuade jumpers at a cost of $204 million. Studies for a Coronado Bridge solution range from $5 million (thistle barrier of spikes) to $137 million (transparent glass barrier). Where will this money come from? Is the cost-benefit analysis worth it? Will it ever happen? I’m doubtful.

So what’s the appropriate response? Do we continue allowing 16 people to needlessly die each year? Continue the endless bridge shutdowns, traffic meltdowns, and resultant loss to regional productivity? (The bridge was closed 35 times for suicide attempts in 2016.)

I say “no.” And I propose the perfect “temporary emergency solution” until a permanent one is ready for implementation.

As a barbwire artist, I know firsthand barbwire to be vicious, violent, intimidating, and unforgiving. And yet, it is highly effective. No one wants to tangle with barbwire. Our Coronado Bridge, on the other hand, is the ultimate suicide convenience stop for desperate souls — hit brakes, open door, step over a 34-inch mini-wall, jump. Should an impromptu life-exit for troubled persons be so easy?

The problem can be easily rectified by making the jump far more difficult. Suicidal thoughts are often impulsive and fleeting. Without an impromptu life-exit handily available, many of these troubled people will regain control and live out productive and fruitful lives.

Specifically, I propose a taut barrier of five strands of barbwire running horizontally above the current barrier and fastened to the existing light-poles. Bridges with added barriers have seen suicides decline by 79 – 91 percent.

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The Coronado Bridge spans nearly two miles, but only about one mile warrants suicide prevention. Two sides means two miles, times five strands, equals 10 miles of barbwire. With barbwire, ties, stabilizing rods, bird prevention reflectors, and miscellaneous items, material costs will be under $5,000. Running and tying barbwire is quick — labor would be under $20,000. The total job cost would be under $25,000.

There is no need for expensive and time-consuming studies before implementation. Barbwire is light and thin, won’t encroach upon vehicles in the roadway, and won’t be visible in the panoramic photos of the bridge and bay. There’s no walking pedestrian risk, no structural changes to bridge, no weight or wind resistance factors, and no heavy materials at risk of falling.

Humans prefer paths of least resistance — even in suicide — and this is why our bridge has become a suicide magnet. Adding a barbwire “life screen” barrier will bring major league resistance that will radically alter the dynamic. Those who attempt to climb it will find it painful, difficult and slow, allowing stopping cars ample time to intervene. Likewise, threatening to jump a barbwire barrier is a very different risk factor than threatening to jump a mini-wall.  Law enforcement will now have the upper hand.

Word will quickly spread that the Coronado Bridge is no longer open for business.

In a cost-benefit analysis, $25,000 for the opportunity to save lives, increase productivity, and end the public relations nightmare is a huge win.

I have two questions for any naysayers: Do you prefer the possibility of saving 16 people every year while ending the persistent bridge shutdowns and traffic meltdowns? Or is it more important for you not to see a smidgen of barbwire in your bay view for 60 seconds of your bridge drive?

Let’s give this temporary emergency “life screen” a one-year test — it can easily be removed if unsuccessful.

In a civil society our number one priority must be to protect, preserve, and save the lives of our citizens. Bridge and highway aesthetics are secondary.

If San Diego and Coronado think the expense of a barbwire barrier test is too burdensome, I will personally pledge $5,000 if four like-minded citizens will match me. Either way, let’s get it done — the lives of at least 400 persons will depend on it over the next quarter century.


George Mullen is an artist, businessowner and native San Diegan. He is spearheading City of Life, which aims to build and project a global brand for San Diego.  His barbwire art is located at StudioRevolution.com.

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