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Golden Gate to Get a ‘Safety Net’

Thursday, October 15, 2015

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It's a classic American landmark and tourist attraction—but there is a dark side to the Golden Gate Bridge. The San Francisco structure is the second most popular bridge site for suicides. (The first is China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge.)

And now officials want to change that. This week, plans have moved forward to install a metal “net” system to deter and prevent such deaths.

Although the plan for such a barrier has been under discussion for years, bridge officials announced Tuesday (Oct. 13) that they are now taking contractor bids for the construction project.

Golden Gate District rendering
Photos: Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District

This week, plans have moved forward to install a metal “net” system, shown here in a rendering, to deter and prevent people from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

“This is an important and vital step in building the suicide deterrent,” Chief Engineer Ewa Bauer said in the statement.

“We have been in the planning and design phase of the project for several years, with a lot of work happening behind the scenes. Today signals a change to the construction phase. We are all eager to put this deterrent in place and diminish future tragedy from suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Building a Safety Net

The suicide barrier project is estimated to cost $76 million and will be constructed of stainless steel cable forming a net below and along both sides the bridge.

In an International Business Times video, John Eberle, deputy district engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge, explained the mechanics of the barrier as a cantilevered stainless steel net made up of wires that are five thirty-seconds of an inch.

The wires will be stretched tightly between 8-by-8-inch horizontal supports, or tube members, that extend out from the side of the bridge about 23 feet from the side of the bridge and 20 feet down from sidewalk elevation itself.

The steel net and its supports will be manufactured off-site, with installation activity getting underway in late 2017, beginning on the east side of the bridge. It is expected to take between three and a half to four years to complete.

Officials plan to fund the $76 million project through the following programs:

  • $22 million from federal Local Highway Bridge Program funds via Caltrans;
  • $27 million in federal Surface Transportation Program funds via the Metropolitan Transporation Commission;
  • $20 million from Bridge District reserves; and
  • $7 million from California State Mental Service Health Act funds (Proposition 63).

Functional yet Unobtrusive

Since the bridge opened in 1937, 1,600 people are estimated to have jumped to their deaths from the structure. Plans to install some sort of preventive barrier have been under discussion since the 1950s, but met opposition from those who were concerned such an addition would diminish the beauty of the bridge.

The current plan places the net at a low enough level to protect the views.

"We selected it because, number one, it is located below the sidewalk level so it doesn't obstruct views of the city or the bay,” Eberle explained, “and, number two, we put it down at an elevation where people will really have to think about jumping into it, because it's not going to be a soft landing.”

Golden Gate District rendering

The stainless steel net will be located below the sidewalk level, shown here in a rendering, so it doesn't obstruct views of the city or the bay, according to the bridge's deputy district engineer.

While the net is intended to prevent deaths by “catching” jumpers, it is also hoped that the design will prevent people from jumping at all.

According to Eberle, the distance to the net, combined with the fact that the material below is essentially a steel platform, would mean that a jumper would still become significantly injured in the fall.

“We wanted to deter people,” he said. “It's twenty feet down; it's like falling off of a two-story building. It's a very far drop, and you really don't want to do that because you will be hurt."

Additionally, the net is designed to collapse slightly around a jumper, enclosing him or her in order to make it difficult for someone to get back out, officials said.

"For too long tragedy and loss has been part of the national park at the Golden Gate," Aaron Roth, assistant superintendent at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, told the Marin Independent Journal Friday (Oct. 9) in advance of the district's announcement.

"We look forward to a future where the beauty and inspiration of this beautiful place are not overshadowed by these tragic losses and deep sorrow."

The Bid Process

The request for proposals was announced Tuesday by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

Interested bidders are required to submit a non-disclosure agreement, submit identification for background checks and tour the property with district staff.

“They will also be required to go through a background check because of the access they will have to the bridge,” Priya Clemens, public information manager for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, told the Marin Independent Journal.

When the pre-bid information gathering process has closed, bids will be accepted and reviewed in January 2016. Caltrans, the Federal Highway Administration and the bridge district’s board will be involved in the selection process.

Vendors will be evaluated based on past work experience, current staffing, compliance with disadvantaged business enterprise rules and other regulatory programs, and cost.

According to state regulations, the project will be awarded to the qualified firm with the lowest bid, with the award to be announced in the spring of 2016.

The project is expected to be completed in 2019.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Bidding; Bridges; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Government contracts; Health & Safety; Latin America; North America; Stainless steel

Comment from Simon Hope, (10/15/2015, 4:25 AM)

Stainless and carbon steel? Not good bedfellows in a C5M environment in the long term, hopefully great care will be taken to ensure protection of the main strcture as stainless has single handedly caused a large bulk of structural demise in the North Sea.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/15/2015, 8:26 AM)

Appropriate, given the novel use of safety nets on the Golden Gate during construction. Saved 19 people, and they formed a club.

Comment from George Potter, (10/15/2015, 11:16 AM)

$76 Million could buy an awful lot of suicide outreach and counseling!

Comment from Jim Johnson, (10/15/2015, 1:59 PM)

Sounds rather like taking an aspirin for a brain tumor to me. Why not address the real question - Why are so many people from SF committing suicide as compared to Omaha or other large cities? Jumping and falling 20 feet onto a 5/32 cable is like dropping down onto a knife edge as human flesh and tissue is just so strong. If you are willing to slice and dice them why bother trying to stop them? Why should taxpayers from the rest of the country pay 27 million dollars because an over abundance of people need mental help there? Instead of charging taxpayers nation wide how about charging those using the bridge instead? Between dissimilar metals, dicing up people, interfering with the beautiful view, unfair funding, mental health issues, etc. it sounds like they should go back to the drawing board and rethink this. Personally, I am still back at why so many people there would rather die than live one more day... If they put 4 mental health interveners on that bridge 24/7 how long would it take to spend $76,000,000?

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (10/15/2015, 2:23 PM)

This is a duplication of the "Half-Way to Hell Club" netting that was used almost 80 years ago to catch men who fell off while working, where the purpose was/is to save lives!

Comment from Tom West, (10/16/2015, 11:33 AM)

Won't they just jump off the net? Won't "safe" cries for help invite more jumpers?

Comment from Mark Bowen, (10/22/2015, 2:42 PM)

Someone could drop down to the fence on a rope and then still jump off. For 76 million it needs to be fool proof since fools can be very enterprising.

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