Mental Health Association of Portland

Oregon's independent and impartial mental health advocate

Many Vista Bridge neighbors continue to oppose barriers

Posted by Jenny on 1st November 2013

By Melissa Binder and Andrew Theen, The Oregonian, Oct. 31, 2013

A 1926 photo of the Vista Bridge shows a hopeful message. (Image: Holly Hayes/Flickr.com)

A 1926 photo of the Vista Bridge shows a hopeful message. (Image: Holly Hayes/Flickr.com)

Neighbors who oppose the fences lining Vista Bridge had one thing to say to city officials Thursday: we told you so.

The city installed 9-foot-high suicide-prevention fences on both sides of the historic Vista Bridge in Southwest Portland in August. Since then two people have gone around or over the fencing and threatened to jump, though both came down unharmed.

On Wednesday, police had to cut a hole in the barrier to either provide a way for a suicidal man to get off the edge – which he did not use – or physically intervene if he attempted to jump.

“It’s kind of like, ‘We told you so, and you didn’t listen,’” said Jerry Powell, a resident of the Goose Hollow neighborhood.

The installation of the chain-link fences, a $236,000 temporary solution intended to last five years, was controversial. Residents expressed their support for suicide-prevention measures to City Commissioner Steve Novick, who runs the city’s transportation bureau, at a meeting in July. Two months later, neighbors railed against Novick for hastily pushing the temporary fences through and ruining, they said, the view and look of the bridge. They suggested alternatives like nets or an alarm system.

Had the city moved more slowly and engaged with the neighborhoods, Powell said, the result likely would have looked better and been more effective. The barriers clearly aren’t enough to stop would-be jumpers, he said, and the money could have been put toward a solution that works.

Concerned neighbors have appointed a committee of seven – four of whom are architects – to look at better options, said Bill Failing, a Southwest Hills resident and co-organizer of the committee.

“The purpose is to find an aesthetic solution to replace the temporarily blight that right now is allegedly protecting the bridge from suicides,” Failing said.

Novick has met with the committee and agreed to work with them, Failing said.

Christa Moe doesn’t live in the neighborhoods surrounding Vista Bridge, but she knows them well. Moe cleans a number of homes in the area. The families that live there come from old money, she said, and take almost a sacred ownership of the land and its history.

Nevertheless, she said, it’s self-centered to value protecting a bridge more than efforts to save lives – no matter how ugly. The barriers may not be perfect, she said, but they were an attempt to prevent suicide at the bridge as quickly as possible. Plus, she said, getting around the fence takes time – time that might make all the difference.

Eventually, she said, she’d like to see a permanent solution that fits the character of the neighborhood, such as an ornate wrought iron fence.

Outcry for suicide barriers began with Kenneth and Bonnie Kahn early this year. They work at the bottom of the bridge and had seen – and heard – bodies hit the ground outside.

The Kahn’s had seen seven suicides in seven years. But five people have leapt from the bridge this year alone, and Powell suspects the increase resulted from publicity associated with their outcry and advocacy.

The question facing the city and residents alike is what to do now.

Novick’s chief of staff, Chris Warner, said the commissioner has talked with police since the incident Wednesday but will sit down with them in a week or so for a full debrief and to discuss future plans.

Sgt. Pete Simpson, a police spokesman, said installing a locked gate that would allow public safety personnel to get to individuals on the other side of the fence might prevent another debacle like police faced this week.

“Sometimes through crisis you discover opportunities,” Simpson said.

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Suicide: A personal account from Klamath Falls to Vista Bridge

Posted by admin2 on 25th August 2013

From the Klamath Herald, August 25, 2013

This is the final article in a series by the Klamath Health on suicide and suicide prevention in the basin.

Scott Himelwright

Scott Himelwright

Obituary for Scott Himelwright, DOD July 16, 2013 Scott Himelwright’s Celebration of Life Potluck will be Saturday, August 31st, 12:30 PM at Klamath Odd Fellow Lodge No. 137, 2209 Gary St, Klamath Falls, OR 97603. Bring a dish, bring some pics, bring a story, see you there!

Before her son leapt to his death from a Portland bridge, Carol Jackson knew something was wrong.

It was Scott Himelwright’s second suicide attempt in as many months. His first involved an attempted overdose on pills that ended with a police officer tapping on the glass of Himelwright’s parked car, trying to rouse the passed-out occupant.

An ambulance took him to a hospital, where he stayed for a week.

That was May 9. After the attempt, Himelwright, a graduate of Mazama High School, called his mother to assure her that he was all right. Jackson told him never to do it again. She told him that no parent should outlive their children.

He continued to call, checking in nearly every day.

On Tuesday, June 16, Jackson called her son and got his voicemail. She left a message, figuring the phone tag would begin. But her son never returned her call.

She tried again the next day, and the voicemail inbox was full.

“That’s when I started worrying,” Jackson said.

On Thursday, she called the Portland Police Department and filed a missing person report. An hour later, a car pulled up to her house off Wocus Road in Klamath Falls.

Her two daughters and her step-daughter stepped out. The youngest, Shirley, approached, saying, “Mom, we have some bad news.”

It’s been two months since her son’s passing, and Jackson is still struggling with the loss. She is seeing a grief counselor. She sometimes forgets to eat and “lives off” her anti-anxiety medications.

But another emotion teems in Jackson’s mind: anger — anger at the mental health system that allowed her son to slip through the cracks.

Mental health

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Before her son committed suicide, Jackson knew he was struggling. He had quit his job and was dealing with money issues, as well as persistent back pain. He was feeling inadequate, unemployable. Slowly, he was distancing himself from his friends.

After his first suicide attempt, Himelwright’s physicians tried to get him on medication, but he refused, fearing the stigma that he felt followed those with perceived mental health issues, Jackson said.

He also had trouble opening up in group therapy, but couldn’t afford one-on-one counseling because he lacked health insurance.

In the end, Himelwright saw no alternative. Fearing life as an elderly cripple, dreading the feeling of an intellectually unfulfilled life, he jumped from the Vista Bridge, also known as the “Suicide Bridge.”

“Scott did it because he was overwhelmed and saw this as his only way to end the pain,” Jackson said. “If we had a system in place that was correct, we wouldn’t lose these people. They wouldn’t feel the need to kill themselves.”

Himelwright wasn’t able to find proper, affordable care. Are there sufficient resources for people struggling with suicidal thoughts in the Klamath Basin?

“Absolutely not,” said Sharon Melnick, a Klamath Falls psychiatrist. “We don’t have many providers for a population our size. For people who are completely uninsured, there’s very little resource, and if you have poor insurance, you might not be able to afford the co-pay. All the things that are wrong with health care in general directly affect those with suicide issues.”

State help lacking

Sky Lakes Medical Center sends patients in need of acute mental health care to Medford or Roseburg up to three times a week due to a lack of facilities in the Klamath Basin, said Ron Woita, director of emergency services.

But it’s not an issue relegated only to Klamath County, Woita said. It’s a problem state-wide. Finding acute care facilities is difficult across the state, and the state mental health hospitals are often backed up with patients.

About 70 percent of Oregon suicide victims had a diagnosed mental disorder, alcohol and/or substance abuse problems, according to the Oregon Health Authority. But less than one-third of male victims and 60 percent of female victims were receiving treatment for mental health problems at the time of death.

Funding source

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Part of the problem has been funding. The budget for the Oregon Health Plan was cut repeatedly in the early 2000s.

The situation is improving. Since 2009, Oregon has increased mental health spending by 23 percent, amounting to an additional $71 million.

But there is still a disconnect between the availability of care and those who need it, said Stan Gilbert, executive director of the Klamath Youth Development Center.

“Somebody who is really depressed and really sees suicide as an option isn’t really seeking help,” Gilbert said. “They’re convinced there is no help.”

For those entrenched in the throes of depression or other issues, Gilbert has some simple advice.

“If you’re having those thoughts, if you’re thinking suicide is the only way out, it’s not. There are other ways out,” Gilbert said. “Help is available. You can get better and get control over those feelings. Seek help. You don’t have to live like that. Life can change for you, even if you don’t believe it’s possible.”

And the good news is that Gilbert, and other local health care officials, think the landscape for those seeking help is improving.

Available help

KFalls 8 25 2013

Part of the change is due to KYDC assuming the role of the Klamath County Mental Health department and becoming the county’s new mental health provider, Woita said.

By bringing coordinated care into the hands of a local organization, it will allow greater cooperation between health care providers and increase the efficiency and accessibility of services, Woita said.

“Mental health is still evolving in Klamath County,” Woita said. “Further down the road, we’re going to have a more robust mental health system than Klamath has ever seen.”

And at KYDC, there will be no cases like Himelwright. The organization accepts virtually every payment system and has a sliding payment scale for those without insurance or who cannot afford their co-pay.

“Individuals that seek help will find it,” Gilbert said. “We just don’t turn folks away.”

For Jackson, it could be a start, and it’s one of the reasons why she shared her story.

“I know I can’t bring Scott back, but maybe I can stop someone else from doing this and stop the grief that their families go through,” Jackson said. “You can’t let these people fall through the cracks. It kills them in the end and it breaks the family’s hearts.”

Remembering the good

In the end, Jackson will remember her son not from his suicide, but as the 7-year-old who knew the names of every dinosaur, as the amateur astronomer who could point his telescope at any constellation in the sky, as the imaginative intellect that dreamed of inventing flying cars.

She will look at one of her son’s favorite paintings — a forest scene featuring a quaint bridge spanning a small creek — and picture him there at peace, sheltered from the pressures of the world. With a fishing pole dangling a line into the clear water, his feet will swing from that bridge, free.

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Steve Duin: Vista Bridge volunteers reel as deadly decisions unfold

Posted by Jenny on 14th August 2013

By Steve Duin, The Oregonian, August 12, 2013

Susan Cech (left) gets a hug from Tony Farrenkopf as Mary Brockman (right) looks on

Susan Cech (left) gets a hug from Tony Farrenkopf as Mary Brockman (right) looks on.

Susan Cech‘s phone rang at 6:26 a.m., and “Vista Bridge” was all that needed to be said. When she reached the bridge 10 minutes later, an SUV and a Portland police patrol car were still parked on the span, and the last person to see the jumper alive was huddled on the curb.

The bridge was open, the morning traffic oblivious. “All the action, really, was down below,” Cech said. “Driving across the bridge, you would have had no idea that someone jumped.”

The cops were dealing with that. Cech, a Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) volunteer, focused on the woman at the curb, a foot-patrol volunteer named Jan Schumacher. “The first responders are dealing with the victim, but you have other people — witnesses, family — who need emotional first aid.

“She was sitting over there, distraught, emotional, visibly upset. I had to take care of her.”

After the third suicide at the bridge in the last 10 weeks, you might argue that the extensive “Suicide Bridge” headlines are drawing a crowd. As construction continues on the 9-foot temporary barrier, you might side with the cyclist who swung by Monday morning screaming, “The design sucks. This totally sucks.”

But Cech — like Tony Farrenkopf, a psychologist who has enlisted with the Vista Bridge foot patrol — showed little interest in those questions. Their sole mission, Cech said, is to connect with, and listen to, people in crisis: “We’re not here to fix things.”

By all accounts, the SUV arrived on the bridge around 6 a.m., and its 51-year-old driver — after carefully turning on his emergency flashers — wasted little time before plunging to his death, landing on an access road south of the MAX line.

Schumacher begged him, “Please don’t do this,” said Ken Kahn, the lawyer who heads Friends of Vista Bridge: “She said she’s never seen human life so cheaply valued.”

And Schumacher was still wrestling with that when Cech arrived.

“She didn’t have her cell phone with her, on this of all days,” Cech said. “She had to flag a car down to call 9-1-1.”

Cech immediately sat down with Schumacher. “You don’t have to ask questions,” she said. “You follow their lead. Usually, they talk.”

At one point, Cech said, she crossed the bridge to see if police had removed the jumper’s body. When Schumacher said, “I’ll come with you, Cech asked, “Do you really want to do that?”

“I did a quick glance,” Cech said. “It was a very difficult thing to see. Sometimes, the police can’t cover the victim at certain crime scenes.”

For the rest of the hour, however, she sat and listened as Schumacher worked through things, waiting for a ride home.

“You can only imagine what she’s dealing with,” Cech said. “If you don’t think this is a possibility on your watch, you have no business being up here. But my heart aches for her. He probably didn’t even know he was talking to her. With suicide, they’re not in the right frame of mind. They’re not thinking about their children, their family, the ripple effect, all the unanswered questions that are left behind.”

Cech was a registered nurse for 18 years. She decided to join TIP’s effort on Vista Bridge after a 15-year-old Beaverton girl sailed off the iconic structure on June 5. She spent more than three months in extensive training, then walked her first shift last Wednesday.

“This is the most profound thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Cech said. “We land in someone’s life on the worst day of that life. To be a part of that, to be able to help in even the smallest way, is huge.”

And incredibly draining. Just before 9 a.m., Cech headed home, telling Farrenkopf she needed debriefing and a quiet afternoon.

“I do debriefing professionally,” Farrenkopf told me. “People have all the traumatic reactions. Shock. Disbelief. Outrage. Anger: ‘How could this person do this to us?’ Grief. The existential questions of what all this means.”

The bridge was silent, even as a construction crew fortified its defenses. On the section of railing where the jumper vanished, the white chalk reads, “You Are Beautiful Just the Way You Are.”

“Of course, he didn’t see that,” Farrenkopf said. “He didn’t read it.

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Barriers go up on Vista Bridge

Posted by Jenny on 6th August 2013

MHAP does not endorse the barriers, a cosmetic non-remedy which sidesteps, at great expense, the real problems and needs of people in suicidal crisis.  If it surprises you we’re not on board — being a mental health organization and all — read more about why. — Eds.

By Sara Roth, KGW.com, August 6, 2013

Installation of temporary barriers on Vista Bridge in Southwest Portland began Tuesday. The barriers were ordered by city commissioner Steve Novick as an emergency suicide prevention measure.

Four people have fallen to their deaths at Vista Bridge, nicknamed ‘Suicide Bridge,’ in 2013 alone.

Novick declared an emergency to ensure construction of a temporary anti-suicide screens on the bridge in June.

“Unfortunately, this beautiful and elegant bridge has been known as ‘Suicide Bridge’ since its construction in the 1920s,” said Novick. “It is time–past time–to stop the dying.”

Nine-foot-tall mesh screens will be placed on the historic bridge as a temporary remedy until funding for a more permanent solution can be found, said Diane Dulken of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

A permanent fence would cost at least $2.5 million, money the city doesn’t currently have.

The installation is scheduled to be completed by the end of August, according to Dulken. Traffic lanes and one sidewalk will remain open through the installation process.

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Vista Bridge suicide barrier personal, complex

Posted by admin2 on 29th July 2013

From KOIN.com, July 25, 2013

Robert Waltrip and Rachelle Rock are still dealing with emotions that are incredibly raw. They think about things their daughter won’t experience.

“Her first prom dance, her first date,” Robert Hamblin-Rock said. “Makes a father very angry, very, very angry. I’d do anything to bring her back, anything.”

Marina Hamblin-Rock killed herself in June by jumping off the Vista Bridge. She was 15.

Her parents blame bullying for their daughter’s death. And they fully support the move to put up fencing as a suicide barrier over the bridge.

An estimated 174 people have jumped off the bridge since it opened in 1926, according to Lines for Life, a nonprofit group that tackles substance abuse and suicide.

Four people jumped to their death this year from the Vista Bridge. Commissioner Steve Novick declared an emergency and ordered a temporary fence installed until a permanent one can be.

“I know there has been a battle for a long time about this,” Rachelle Rock told KOIN 6 News.

Three weeks after Marina’s death, the interim director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation sent a letter to Novick that said the suicides at the bridge had reached an emergency status and asked Novick to order the temporary fencing.

Novick did, authorizing the money under a portion of the city code that allows for expenditures in such emergencies. The temporary fence will cost $236,000 and will come out of PBOT’s operating funds.

“We do need the funds for street maintenance,” Novick said, “but we concluded too many people have died.”

Some in the mental health community, like Tom Parker, applaud the decision.

“Giving that moment pause, that interruption, is everything,” he said.

But others, like Jason Renaud, think it’s a waste of money.

“[Putting the fence up is] going to gain political attention,” he said. Renaud is the president of the advocacy group, Mental Health Association of Portland. “If the city of Portland is going to get involved in suicide prevention, get involved with professionals — not in response to concerned neighbors.”

The key, he said, is putting that money into mental health services.

Novick stands by his decision.

“All the counseling in the world doesn’t prevent some people from impulsively committing suicide and this bridge has become unfortunately a magnet for suicides,” he said.

Similar suicide barriers have stopped suicides on bridges in Toronto, the District of Columbia, and Augusta, Maine.

But there is the argument that people who are stopped from killing themselves at one spot will simply go elsewhere or use a different method.

The results are mixed. KOIN 6 News found studies that both prove that theory wrong and studies that support it.

“We have officers that have talked people off of the Vista Bridge,” said PPB Sgt. Pete Simpson. “We have officers that have talked people off of lots of other bridges in town.”

While they don’t have official numbers, Portland police estimate they’re called out about once a week to a bridge or building to talk to someone who’s threatening to jump.

They support the idea of fencing the Vista Bridge.

“That bridge draws people to it and that location,” Simpson said.

Marina Hamblin-Rock lived in Aloha and her family said she had no other reason to be near the Vista Bridge the day she jumped and died.

“I don’t even know how she figured out how to get there. I don’t even know how to get there,” her mother said.

The issue is now personal for them.

“Every time I’m going to hear about a suicide off of that bridge from now on I’m always going to think about my baby sister that I miss so much,” said Chris Hamblin-Rock.

The family agrees with many in the mental health field who believe a momentary pause can make all the difference in the world. They think it would have made a difference for Marina, and they wonder why something wasn’t done sooner.

The temporary fencing is coming. The city of Portland is looking to apply for grants to help it pay for permanent barriers, which could cost around $3 million.

A private fundraising effort is underway to help defray the cost.

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Neighbors in Goose Hollow object to Vista Bridge barriers

Posted by Jenny on 19th July 2013

By Reggie Aqui, KGW Newschannel 8, July 19, 2013

Vista Bridge

Vista Bridge

Despite objections from some Goose Hollow neighbors, Commissioner Steve Novick says there is nothing stopping the city from putting up a nine-foot-tall fence on the Vista Bridge, the span many know as “Suicide Bridge.”

“Once I learned it was legally possible to put up a temporary barrier and the state historical preservation society couldn’t stop us, I decided to move as quickly as I could,” Novick said.

The fence, which will curve at the top to prevent someone from climbing it, will cost $236,000 and should be installed sometime in August. A permanent fence would cost at least $2.5 million, money the city doesn’t currently have.

Four people have jumped off the bridge so far this year. The most recent suicide happened on July 16.

A Goose Hollow neighborhood meeting Thursday was often heated. One man stormed out, cursing at the Commissioner and members of the Goose Hollow Board. Another neighbor appeared upset and decided to leave during her testimony. Most of the meeting was passionate, but civil.

“The reason I live where I live is because of that bridge. It’s a majestic iconic view,” said Goose Hollow neighbor Mary Valeant. She echoed what other critics have said about the neighborhood not being consulted.

“I don’t want anyone else dying, by there are processes, and there are laws in place and we have somehow just gone over those,” Valeant said.

Commissioner Novick responded to the city going ahead with the Vista Bridge barrier without neighborhood feedback.

“Even if we came here first, and people said ‘No, we don’t want the fence’, my conclusion was that we need it to prevent further suicides,” Novick said.

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After another suicide, volunteers are sought for Vista Bridge until barriers go up

Posted by Jenny on 17th July 2013

Temporary suicide barriers for Vista Bridge won’t go up until next month, and yesterday the interim was marked by tragedy when a man jumped to his death.  It was the fourth suicide from the bridge this year.  Commissioner Steve Novick and others are asking for volunteers to receive crisis training, then walk the bridge in two-person teams, 24 hours a day, until the barriers are in place.

 

That certainly sounds like a compassionate response.  It’s self-evident that person-to-person intervention is always superior to mechanical obstruction.  But it is precisely this human advantage that shows the lack of compassion in the city’s approach.

 

When the barriers go up, the volunteers go home.

 

Where does this leave the suicidal person on the bridge?  He is protected against one method of suicide in one location — and it’s possible that for some people, that will be enough.  But for many, the barriers will merely inspire consideration of other means and places.  Turned away without help, they will go elsewhere, and they will be just as dead as if they jumped from the Vista Bridge.

 

So, who do the barriers really protect?  Non-suicidal persons who don’t want to be bothered by another person’s pain.  The barriers may not help people in crisis, but by God they will save the morning commute.

 

+++

 

*  What should you do to help a friend or loved one in crisis?  Our advice is based on real-life experience, not textbooks.  Read it NOW — don’t wait for an emergency. (Scroll down to “1. Suicide”)

 

*  If you are considering suicide, call the Multnomah County Crisis Line at 503-988-4888, 24/7.   Other counties are listed here.

 

–Eds.

By Noelle Crombie, The Oregonian, July 16, 2013

Vista Bridge

Vista Bridge

City leaders and mental health specialists hope to place trained crisis volunteers on Southwest Portland’s Vista Bridge until temporary suicide barriers can be installed next month, but they said that plan may take up to two weeks to put in place.

Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick reached out to mental health agencies after a middle-aged man jumped off the bridge to his death Tuesday morning, just a week after Novick announced that barriers would soon be erected.

“This is basically our nightmare: What if somebody jumps before we have had a chance to put up a barrier?” said Diane Dulken, a Portland Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman.

It was the fourth suicide of the year on what’s become known as “Suicide Bridge,” more deaths than in any year during the past decade. Novick asked local mental health experts about the feasibility of posting volunteers on the bridge.

“That is the only thing I can think of to do,” he said.

Mental health leaders and a community group called Friends of Vista Bridge put out a call for community volunteers willing to undergo crisis training.

Ken Kahn, of Friends of Vista Bridge, hopes to have 2-person teams walk the bridge around the clock until the barriers go up sometime next month.

Kahn, a criminal defense lawyer whose office is below the bridge, acknowledged that human presence may not be enough to stop a suicide, but it might help.

“Here is what we know: When people are in crisis, they are not thinking clearly,” he said. “If you just put a pause in their crisis, it stops a suicide. We know that a barrier will do that, but we also know human intervention is enough to prevent suicide. It will save lives.”

Sgt. Pete Simpson said the Portland Police Bureau doesn’t have resources to monitor the bridge, but police patrols in the area have increased.”There’s been extra attention given to the bridge by the officers working in that area,” he said. “That’s definitely a change from the past.”

Novick last week approved an emergency request from the Bureau of Transportation to install the temporary suicide barriers. The request for an emergency construction contract is for $236,000, according to the request from David O’Longaigh, the bureau’s supervising bridge engineer.

The black screens, constructed by Tapani Inc., will be nine feet high and can be removed without permanent impact on the bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The money will come from PBOT through contingency funds, Novick said. Production on the barrier is already underway, Novick said, but it will take a couple of weeks to complete fabrication and another couple of weeks to install.Dulken said the order for the temporary barrier on the Portland bridge is already on a fast track, but she said officials will check to see if the process can be stepped up.

“We have been moving as fast as possible,” she said.

To volunteer:
Volunteers may connect with Friends of Vista Bridge on Facebook or call Lines for Life, a substance abuse and suicide prevention organization, at 503-244-5211 for details. Lines for Life will train volunteers.

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After suicide of 15-year-old girl, city ponders barriers on Vista Bridge

Posted by Jenny on 7th June 2013

By David Stabler, The Oregonian, June 7, 2013

Vista Bridge

Vista Bridge

A 15-year-old Beaverton girl jumped to her death from Vista Bridge on Wednesday, the third suicide from the historic span this year. That equals the highest number of Vista Bridge suicides in any year in the past decade.

The 1926 bridge, which spans MAX tracks and busy Southwest Jefferson Street, has long been called “Suicide Bridge.” The public nature and increasing numbers of suicides at the bridge have prompted Mayor Charlie Hales, city Commissioner Steve Novick and other city officials to explore the issue of erecting architecturally appropriate barriers to impede suicides.

Based on design discussions with the State Historic Preservation Office, which must approve any changes to the bridge because it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, barriers could cost $2.5 to $3 million, said David O’Longaigh, who manages bridges for Portland’s Transportation Bureau.

Finding that amount won’t be easy, given a $21.5 million shortfall in the city budget.

“The mayor would like to see some prevention methods taken,” said Matthew Robinson, a policy assistant in Hales’ office. “But it’s an issue of finding the funding. We’ve explored several sources and continue to look.”

This week, Hales put Novick in charge of the city’s Transportation Bureau, which manages Vista Bridge.

“We should have barriers on Vista Bridge,” Novick said. “Unfortunately, suicide, to a shocking extent, is a matter of convenience. Barriers would save lives.”

Research on bridges in Seattle, Toronto and Washington, D.C., shows that barriers significantly lower the number of suicides.

But the Transportation Bureau already faces a backlog of maintenance for roads and other projects, Novick said.

“I totally agree we should have barriers on Vista Bridge,” Novick said. “It’s a critical need among a lot of other critical needs. I can’t say right now when and how we’re going to get the money.”

Novick said he has talked to two other city commissioners who think putting barriers on Vista Bridge is “a high priority.”

The trade-offs are not easy, he said.

Among several design possibilities, the State Historical Preservation Office liked a railing of vertical steel bars, 6 inches apart, rising 8 feet above the bridge’s railing, O’Longaigh said. The current railing is in disrepair and would need to be rebuilt and reinforced to hold the steel railing, he said.

Glass panels, another option, would be difficult to keep clean and could become “a palette for vandalism,” he said.

Federal funding could be available, but not for many years, he said. A three-year funding cycle ended last November, so the next cycle wouldn’t begin until 2015. Actual money might not come through until 2018 or 2020, he said.

Bonnie and Kenneth Kahn, who work below the bridge, are pushing the city to install barriers. The Kahns are  forming a nonprofit to raise awareness and money for barriers. Kenneth Kahn was glad to hear of the city’s support.

“It means the city has the vision to tackle a taboo subject and come out on the side of caring,” Kahn said. “This is an infrastructure problem as important as creating new bridges such as the Sellwood Bridge. But while we’re building new structures, we still have to maintain and improve the precious structures that help define so much of what is Portland.”

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