Colorado Street Bridge Task Force Hearing Evokes Tales of Heartbreaking Tragedies, Offers of Creative Solutions
|<b>November 30, 2017</b> - City officials and local residents grapple with how to make the stately Colorado Street Bridge safer and less attractive to people considering suicide in a public meeting.|
|Eddie Rivera, Community Editor|
Evoking heartrending tales of suicide leaps and offers of creative solutions, the Colorado Street Bridge Task Force held its first public meeting Wednesday evening to explain their mission, goals and history, and to take input and suggestions from local residents.
The group — formed in July by Public Works Director Ara Maloyan following a disturbing spate of successful suicide attempts from the historic bridge — is made up of representatives from the historic preservation community, police and fire officials, mental health experts, architects, and engineers in “the hope of developing options that are amenable to all stakeholders and the community at large,” Maloyan told the group.
Maloyan emphasized that no solutions have as yet been discussed by the group.
“We wanted public input first,” he said.
Maloyan gave a brief history of the 1913-era bridge, as well as earliest attempts in preventing suicidal residents jumping from the 150-foot high structure. Following 78 suicide leaps in the early 1930s, the City proposed a series of inelegant solutions ranging from fencing to barbed wire on the bridge. Currently there are a temporary chain link fences along each of the bridge’s alcoves, constructed last summer as a stopgap measure.
From March 15, 2015 to November 2, 2017, according to the presentation, there have been 78 suicide “events” on the bridge, which have resulted in 17 attempted jumps by females, 47 attempts by males with eight male deaths and six female deaths. The remaining events resulted in jumpers being “talked off” the bridge and rescued.
None of the actual jumpers survived their falls, although one woman who jumped on April 25 this year was found alive and still breathing, below the bridge, just north of the Desiderio housing project. She later died.
A dispute on the actual number of successful suicide attempts was countered by Pasadena Police Corporal Bradley May, who explained that the number count was taken from police logs and calls, which may have indicated that the police responded to the bridge address, when in fact, the jumpers may have already leapt to their deaths in the arroyo below.
Much of the discussion centered around giving would-be suicide jumpers ‘restricted access’ to the bridge, in the hope that even a slight hesitation might cause jumpers to reconsider.
Patricia Speelman of the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center reminded the audience of Kevin Hines, who leaped off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000 and survived the four-second fall into the chilly waters of the San Francisco Bay.
“In that split second,” said Speelman, “as he took that first step off the bridge, he regretted it.”
Continued Speelman, “He said later that if just one person had engaged him on the way to the bridge, and asked how he was, he would not have jumped. Had there been a telephone number posted for him to call and talk to someone, he would not have jumped.”
Speelman also revealed that Hines actually took a photo of tourists on the bridge before he jumped. “He said that if they had asked him how he was doing, and engaged him, that would have changed everything.”
Arroyo Boulevard resident Jeff Michael questioned Maloyan as to the cost of setting up an “interim” bridge patrol, and said that he had submitted a proposal to the City, and wondered whether there was an emergency budget for such an idea.
“You have an outline here,” said Michael, “between October and February, where you hope you will make a recommendation to the City Council. Considering that I live on the property where the last human being died, I don’t like that.”
Maloyan said that he would consider the idea, but noted that there was currently no budget for patrols.
Corporal May told Michael that the Police Department does direct “extra attention” to the bridge, but noted the difficulty of dedicating a patrol officer there, “when they are already so busy.”
Nearby resident Robin Salzer, who once said he saw from his home a person teetering on the ledge of the bridge, suggested reaching out to local churches for volunteers or groups to walk the bridge, while Arroyo Seco Foundation Chair Tom Seifert suggested planting trees and hedges, noting that World War II paratroopers whose chutes failed to open, were often saved by landing in trees, as opposed to the ground.
New Desiderio Park homeowner Omar Leyva, whose home will be located directly under the bridge, also supported that suggestion, but added the idea of tall hedges spelling out the word, “Hope,” when viewed from atop the bridge.
“That might give them a moment to think up there,” he said.
Other community suggestions included interactive technology involving phone apps, cameras, microphones and other communication and alert systems, to prevent jumpers from following through.
Sue Mossman, Executive Director of Pasadena Heritage said her group supports the idea of design changes to eliminate the narrow “walkway” along the outside of the bridge.
John Heller, a South Pasadena architect, brought a small scale model of his well-received plan — a series of round steel rods spaced four inches apart along the length of the bridge, jutting up and above the bridge with no horizontal beams that jumpers might climb onto.
Finally, a tearful Stacey Rain Strickler, whose sister jumped from the bridge, told the group that she no longer wanted the bridge to be a symbol of tragedy.
“Let this City be a leader in suicide prevention,’ she said. “Let us set the standard for the nation. Let this bridge be a bridge of hope, not a bridge of despair.”
The Task Force will meet in December and January to decide on options for the bridge, which will then be presented to the public in a community meeting on January 16, 2018. The group will make final recommendations to the Council Public Safety Committee and the City Council in February.
More information on the task force is available at https://tinyurl.com/yaemxyl3.
Arroyo Seco Foundation, PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326 firstname.lastname@example.org