Bridge's Suicide Barriers Spark Debate

Those who voted had a choice between five build and one non-build alternative, which range in cost from $40 million to $50 million. Of those who did support some sort of construction, the alternative that proposes building a horizontal net to catch jumpers off the side of the bridge was the most popular.

Among the stark barrier opponents is Mac Coffey, a retired clinical psychologist who doubts any taller railings will save any lives.

In fact, Coffey argues that improving the barrier will deter those who come there to get noticed and get help, and may even lead to an increased number of suicides.

"If you put up a barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge, nobody would come to the bridge to commit suicide," said Coffey. "But then they would go unidentified, and their friends and relatives would never know they were suicidal."

Coffey references studies that show over the past 30 years, approximately 20 people jumped and died and another 50 were rescued by passersby, security cameras or suicide-prevention hotline phones already present on the bridge.

"I'm convinced that a percentage of them would kill themselves in another way at another time because they were never identified," said Coffey.

"There is this benefit that nobody wants to talk about," added Coffey. "I would predict that there is no other site in the U.S. that saves as many people from suicide, because I don't think there's any place where people get identified as suicidal as they do on this bridge."

Coffey added that, like many other opponents of the barrier construction, he thinks a change to the bridge's design would likely be "aesthetically unappealing."

One commenter on Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle story on the barriers, identified only by his screen name "davenportdude," wrote, "They should never deface the most beautiful bridge in the world because some people are suicidal. It's a shame, a waste, and it's too bad, but they should never dictate how to run that bridge."

Another anonymous poster wrote: "Don't do it, suicide is a terrible tragedy, but ruining the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge is not the solution."

But jump survivor Hines has strong words for barrier critics.

"How callous have we become in San Francisco that we turn our backs and turn away?" said Hines.

"I think it's sad that we care more about the beauty of an inanimate object than we do about human life and life that deserves worth living."

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