Bridge: Everything You Need to Know about Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge has many faces. It is an iconic structure. An engineering masterpiece. A triumph of human ingenuity and muscle over the elements. A symbol of San Francisco, the West, freedom and something more, something almost spiritual but impossible to describe.

More people choose to end their lives at the Golden Gate Bridge than anywhere else in the world. The sheer number of deaths there is shocking but perhaps not altogether surprising. If one wants to commit suicide, that is, there is an eerie logic in selecting a means that is almost always fatal and a place that is magically, mysteriously beautiful.

Director Eric Steel and his crew spent all of 2004, an entire year, looking very carefully at the Golden Gate Bridge, running cameras for almost every daylight minute, and filming most of the two dozen suicides and a great many of the unrealized attempts. In addition, the director captured nearly 100 hours of incredibly frank, deeply personal, often heart-wrenching interviews with the families and friends of these suicides, with witnesses who were walking, biking, or driving across the bridge, or surfing, kiteboarding, or boating underneath it, and with several of the attempters themselves.

“The Bridge” offers glimpses into the darkest, and possibly most impenetrable corners of the human mind. The fates of the 24 people who died at the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004 are linked together by a 4 second fall, but their lives had been moving on parallel tracks and similar arcs all along. The docu is a visual and visceral journey into one of lifes gravest taboos.

Looming behind these stories is the Golden Gate Bridge itself, a monument that mirrors our highest aspirations and our lowest natures. We are uncomfortable with the grim realities suicide forces us to confront. Wed rather not see the mentally ill; wed prefer suicides to be invisible — or at least to take place quietly in hotel bathrooms, barns, dorm rooms and closets.

The Suicide Barrier at the Golden Gate Bridge

The guard rail that separates pedestrians on the Golden Gate Bridge from the outer ledge and the water 225 feet below is only 4 feet high. There is no suicide barrier.

For more than 50 years, the Golden Gate Bridge District has resisted the idea of building a suicide barrier on their bridge. They have cited various reasons–engineering, cost, effectiveness, and esthetic.

A decade ago, they instituted a non-physical barrier method of suicide prevention that includes security cameras, bike patrols, and hotline phones but the suicide rate at the Golden Gate Bridge remains constant. There are roughly 20 suicides there each year.

The Bridge District authorities invested millions of dollars in a barrier between the pedestrian walkway and the roadway though there has never been a pedestrian/vehicular fatality. They have also invested in the development of a moveable median divider, though head on collisions on the bridge are practically non-existent.

When the nature of this film was revealed, the Bridge District was once again forced to confront the issue of a suicide barrier. The press frenzy was intense. Vocal, and more organized outcry by family members and mental health care professionals prompted the authorities to authorize a study of a suicide barrier.

Citing financial burden and hardship, the Bridge District made no provisions for this study in their budgets; grants by state and federal transportation bureaus provided nearly three quarters of the $2 million dollar estimated costs, but for almost a year the Bridge District refused to move forward until all the funds had been gathered.

Finally, in March 2006, when news that “The Bridge” would be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival, the authorities voted to begin the study with the funds at hand. Additional state transportation funds were provided in April 2006 so that the study is now fully funded but the results of the study are many months away, and the estimated cost of actually building a barrier is $25 million.