Aurora Bridge will get suicide barriers

Despite objections, Seattle landmarks board approves new fences for historic span.
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The George Washington Memorial Bridge

Despite objections, Seattle landmarks board approves new fences for historic span.

In a close 6-5 vote of on June 3, the Seattle landmarks Board approved the Washington Department of Transportation's plan to install anti-suicide fencing on the historic bridge. Some preservationists and neighborhood groups, like the Queen Anne Community Council, opposed the project saying it was not in keeping with maintaining the architectural integrity of the structure, and questioned its cost and effectiveness.

Others, including a group in Fremont, argued that it was important to move ahead with the suicide prevention effort, which could cost up to $8 million, in order to limit deaths and protect the physical and emotional well-being of office workers, walkers, cyclists, and and boaters who often witness suicide jumpers landing in the Lake Washington Ship Canal, nearby parking lots and on the Burke-Gilman trail. Between 200 and 300 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge.

The landmarks board was required to weigh in because the project impacts a structure that is a city landmark, as well as on both the state and national historic registers. Some concerned preservationists preferred less intrusive alternatives such as netting, an option WSDOT rejected as too expensive in the long run.

A similar debate has been going on in San Francisco over erecting a suicide barrier on the historic Golden Gate Bridge. Backers of the $40-50 million project have agreed to make the steel netting project look as "historic" as possible, such as painting fixtures the famous Golden Gate orange. The Golden Gate has hosted many more suicides than the Aurora Bridge, some 1,300 since it was opened in 1937. It is reputedly the most popular suicide site in the world.

Spokesman Greg Phipps says WSDOT hopes to have selected a contractor for the project by late September, and that the fencing installation work could begin as early as January 2010, or as late as spring.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.