Oregon Group Pushes For Barrier At ‘Suicide Bridge’

A group of Oregonians are pushing for the city of Portland to install suicide-prevention barriers on the Vista Bridge, known colloquially as “the Suicide Bridge.”

The group, Friends of the Vista Bridge, is led by Kenneth Kahn, an attorney, and his wife Bonnie, a life coach. The two share an office almost directly underneath the bridge, and Kenneth Kahn said he has heard the sound of bodies falling onto the pavement and discovered the remains of eight people who had jumped from the bridge.

“Just imagine a human being detonating,” Kahn said.

Just this year, the bridge was the scene of at least three suicides — one in January, one in May, and one just a week ago. Sadly, tragedies at the bridge — from which the opening scene of the IFC series Portlandia is shot –have come to be expected by city residents.

While city leaders are open to the idea of erecting barriers on the Suicide Bridge — which the Friends of the Vista Bridge say will make someone think twice before they try to jump — it is projected to cost $2.5 million to put architecturally appropriate barriers on the bridge, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. With Portland facing a $20 million budget shortfall, the city may seek a federal grant in order to install the barriers.

“We certainly think of it as a high priority,” City Commissioner Steve Novick said. “But there’s a whole mess of competing priorities and not much money.”

Some argue that those who wish to commit suicide will find another way to kill themselves. In a city known as “Bridgetown,” not only are there numerous bridges, but people have also leapt to their deaths from the roofs of hotels, and the eighth floor of a homeless shelter. However, in the past decade alone, at least 17 people have committed suicide at the Vista Bridge.

There are studies to support the claim that installing barriers will reduce the number of suicides committed at the bridge. When a fence was installed at the Duke Ellington Bridge in Washington, D.C., the number of suicides dropped from an average of four a year to just one in the subsequent five years. After a $5.5 million barrier was constructed at Toronto’s Bloor Street Viaduct, suicides ceased completely.

Do you think Portland should install a suicide-prevention barrier at the “Suicide Bridge?”