WNYC has a tragic report examining the recent spike in suicides on the George Washington Bridge and has learned that every 3.5 days, someone attempts to jump to his or her death. The bridge, which stands 25 stories above the Hudson River, has no fence, netting, or wall on its pedestrian walkway. There is only a waist-high metal handrail.
Reporter Sarah Gonzalez notes that suicide attempts on the bridge have been rising since 2011, when three people killed themselves. In 2014, 18 people died, and police prevented another 74 from jumping. Though the bridge is patrolled by cops, fences — which have reduced deaths on iconic bridges around the world by at least half — are the best way to prevent deaths according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Richard Richard McKeon, who leads the agency’s suicide prevention branch.
The Port Authority of New Jersey and New York has approved a $47 million project to construct fences on the walkway as part of a larger $1 billion project to improve the bridge. But the project won’t be completed for another eight years. “There is a long time between now and then,” said McKeon. “That’s a lot of people who could die.”
Since the end of September, 18 out of 26 of the rookie cops who patrol the bridge have helped at least one person step off the ledge. Even heavy patrolling is not enough to prevent deaths, however. “[Patrols] depend on being at the right place at the right time,” says McKeon, “and being able to observe something literally just in the nick of time.”
(Photo: Jeff Lee)