Net to go up at Vista Bridge to curb suicides

Net to go up at Vista Bridge to curb suicides
A mock-up of what the temporary net on the Vista Bridge would look like. The net is intended to prevent people from jumping off the bridge, which is known as "Suicide Bridge." (Image from Portland Bureau of Transportation)

PORTLAND, Ore. – In an effort to curb the growing number of suicides at Vista Bridge, the city plans to construct a net to run along the bridge’s span.

Construction of the mesh screen will begin this month and should be finished by the end of the month, Portland city officials said in a news release Tuesday.

The 9-foot-tall screen will be attached to the inside the bridge’s railing and have an overhang. It will run along the entire span of the bridge in the Goose Hollow neighborhood of Southwest Portland, said Diane Dulken, spokeswoman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

City officials said in the news release that the screen is “an interim remedy that can be in place until a longer-term solution and funding can be found.”

The bridge, erected in the 1920s, has a long history of suicides, which continued in to this year. In the first six months of 2013, three people, including a 15-year-old girl, have jumped to their deaths there.

Drawing from these sad statistics, Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick declared an emergency at the Vista Bridge and ordered for the immediate construction of the screen.

“It is time – past time – to stop the dying,” Novick said in a statement.

News of the screen brought relief to Bonnie Kahn, who works just below the bridge with her husband, Ken. The couple is part of a group that pushed the city to erect barriers to prevent jumping.

Bonnie said Friends of the Vista Bridge has been meeting with city commissioners about their concerns. She credits the idea of the mesh screen to the commissioners.

“This is an example of our city government really listening to the people,” she said. “It’s a means to save lives.”

Bonnie said her group is still discussing the possibility of raising money for a permanent, “aesthetically pleasing” barrier, but is pleased with the current plans.

“It’s a very, very happy day,” she said.

The city is seeking federal or other funding for a permanent barrier that’s expected to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million. The temporary net costs $236,000.