WHAT WE THINK: Rekindled talk of the George Washington Bridge as a “suicide magnet” is an emotional issue clouded by statistics — and fueled by strong opinions — following a recent spate of deaths.
Eight people so far this year have jumped from the bridge, including an unidentified 30-something woman this morning and a 22-year-old Midwestern honor student who authorities said flew to New York City from Minneapolis by way of Chicago hours before killing herself yesterday.
Last month, there were four in nine days. That means only two jumped the first three months of 2015.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT readers have been both emphatic and varied in their responses to our reports:
Some say erect nets or a fence — even electrify them, one said.
Others urge banning pedestrian traffic — although countless people every day walk to and from work on either side. New Jersey has bus stops at the Fort Lee end and New York City a transportation hub with trains and buses that can take you most anywhere. I have often avoided the congestion, parked in Fort Lee and walked to the other side.
There are also those who suggest putting more police officers on the bridge.
The trouble with that: Most suicides happen in a blink. It’s not like TV, where someone remains perched waiting for someone to talk him or her off the ledge.
Several GWB suicides have driven onto the upper or lower level, gotten out of their car mid-span and gone over the side before most anyone notices. That’s why there are so few witnesses.
Yes, there are times when officers stationed nearby can get to someone in time. But I’ve also talked with those who got there an instant too late — and must live with those memories.
To be able to cover the length of the span adequately enough to stop any and all jumpers, you’d need an officer every 10 or 12 feet — both sides, both levels. Imagine that scenario.
At the opposite end of the argument are those readers who insist that we do nothing, that those who want to kill themselves will simply take another exit, anyway.
Not entirely true, researchers say (see more, below).
Then there are those who blame CLIFFVIEW PILOT and other news media for writing about public suicides — also known as the heavy metal final-solution argument.
It’s a cliche that people hate to hear, but in the end there are no easy answers or quick fixes for those of us left behind.
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The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last September approved plans for a nine-foot, $50 million barrier to deter would-be jumpers. Earlier last year, a similar barrier was OK’d for the Golden Gate Bridge in California, one of the world’s most infamous suicide magnets.
Let’s compare the two spans:
For a decade, beginning in 2000, the GWB averaged six jumpers a year.
In 2012, that number rose to 18 — more than all of the other Hudson and East River crossings combined — which at the time was considered a recent “record.”
In 2013, it decreased to 15.
Last year it was back at 18 (or one every 20 days).
So far this year, as of this morning, it’s 8 (one every 15.6 days).
Projected over the course of a full year: 23.
Contrast that to an average of three a year off the Tappan Zee.
At the other end of the spectrum is Niagara Falls, where 20-25 people jump each year.
SF’s Golden Gate had 10 in one month in 2013, of a yearlong total of 46.
Last year that number decreased to 38.
(Officials temporarily halted the Golden Gate count at 997 nearly 20 years ago to prevent “record breakers.” Until 2013, there was an average of 50 per year the previous two decades.)
The GWB fence will be designed to blend, the PA says.
Research shows that it will be effective, as well: Nine of every 10 troubled people who are deterred from what generally is an impulse to jump from a perch with such broad vistas don’t seek another route.
Proponents say it’s the same theory as lowering speed limits: It won’t stop everyone, but the end result is an improvement.
In fact, research shows that intense suicidal emotions rarely last a long time. If that weren’t enough, consider: 90% people who by die by suicide suffer from a treatable disorder, researchers say. It’s merely a matter of seeing the signs and getting them help in time.
Kevin Hines, who suffers from bi-polar disorder and survived a Golden Gate jump 15 years ago, said he hesitated and wouldn’t have gone over the side “if someone just showed me that he or she cared.”
Most of our readers clearly do.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo: Maria D. L. Angeles
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