While the city hunts through its couch cushions for the millions needed for proper suicide barriers on Vista Bridge—a magnificent and historically significant bridge that's also been a magnet for suicide—Commissioner Steve Novick this morning announced an immediate, if temporary, stopgap measure: Emergency construction of a nine-foot mesh screen up and down the bridge's walkways.
“Unfortunately, this beautiful and elegant bridge has been known as Suicide Bridge since its construction in the 1920s,” Novick said in a statement released by the Bureau of Transportation. “It is time—past time—to stop the dying.”
Novick, who took over PBOT last month, inherited an issue that has long vexed city leaders. The Vista Bridge was one of the first places festooned with signs telling people about the city's new suicide hotline last year. The Oregonian painfully detailed the problem in a long, graphic story this winter. But it came into immediate focus for Novick days after he took over PBOT. A 15-year-old girl jumped off the bridge, among three suicides this year.
The Mercury early last month first reported the possibility of an emergency barrier while PBOT planners and city engineering staff design something more expensive and historically contextual. That could take years, the city says, and cost up to $3 million.
The city's announcement today says Novick, as transportation commissioner, is allowed to invoke emergency powers "when the public's safety is endangered." Willamette Week, late last month, first reported the design of the emergency barrier.
The city says the temporary screens will cost $236,000, with installation starting in days. The screens have a "tight weave," the city says, and will curve overhead to "deter climbing."The bridge will remain open during construction, and the screens will be attached so that they can be easily removed, when the time comes for a permanent barrier, without harming the bridge.