The California Department of Transportation “Caltrans” has installed Nixalite bird spikes along the Coronado Bridge to help deter suicide jumpers.
The spikes are placed along both sides of the bridge across the 2.1 mile span. The project took several nights, with lane closures beginning at 8 p.m.
“It’s more of a psychological deterrent than anything else,” says Rhonda Haiston, the founder of the Coronado San Diego Bridge Collaborative for Suicide Prevention. Her group has campaigned to get barriers installed on the bridge.
The four-inch spikes may not serve as a physical barrier, but they may slow people down she says.
“If we can just give them a little extra effort they have to go through, we can stop them, talk to them,” says Haiston.
Caltrans said the project had an estimated cost of $100,000 to $300,000.
Meanwhile, Caltrans says it is still researching other long term solutions that could consist of fences, heightened barriers, glass panels or nets. But so far, nothing has been officially chosen and no funding sources have be secured.
The project is a temporary measure while the agency pursues permanent barriers for the bridge, where more than 400 people have plummeted to their deaths since it opened in 1969.
“I would rather have a fence, but I’m happy that they’re doing something,” said Wayne Strickland, a retired Coronado firefighter and president of the Bridge Collaborative for Suicide Prevention, a grassroots group that has been leading the push for barriers.
First announced in June 2018, the four-inch spikes, similar to those used to prevent birds from roosting on ledges, were installed on top of the 3-foot-tall walls that line the outside edges of the bridge.
Officials said the obstructions will be more of a psychological deterrent than a physical one. They hope the spikes will at least slow down people contemplating suicide long enough for them to reconsider or to allow emergency crews or others to intervene.
The agency concluded a barrier would be “suitable” and identified almost a dozen options, including mesh fences, glass panels, tall thistles, and nets. Several are based on projects credited with reducing suicides in other cities.
The spikes emerged as a temporary measure while Caltrans, prodded by growing community concern and political pressure, did a year-long feasibility study of suicide-prevention on the 2-mile long bridge.
Officials are narrowing the choices, calculating the costs — preliminary estimates range from $30 million to $137 million — and identifying possible funding sources.
Add in necessary environmental reviews and approvals from governmental agencies and it could be up to 10 years before a permanent barrier is in place, Caltrans officials have estimated.
In the meantime, (Nixalite) bird spikes.
Caltrans got the idea from Coronado resident Eric Dawson, a retired attorney, who suggested it during a public meeting the transportation agency held in August 2017.
“The bird spikes are not intended to act as a physical barrier like a fence,” he wrote in a subsequent note to Caltrans. “Instead, if they work, it will be because they provide a visual, psychological deterrent.”
He said some people determined to jump will find a way over the obstructions, but the “threat of injury” from the spikes might be enough to dissuade others.
That’s part of the thinking behind steel nets being installed on the Golden Gate Bridge. Someone will still be able to go over the side, but it will be a two-story drop into the net — likely to cause injury, not death.
In Coronado, some residents have been pushing for three decades for something to be done beyond existing signs that list the phone number for a suicide hotline.
“Hopefully the spikes will deter people from even thinking about it,” Strickland said.
In a city with just 25,000 residents, many know someone who has jumped or their survivors. They know the emergency crews who recover the bodies. They’ve seen cars abandoned on the span, or they’ve been caught in traffic during the dozens of bridge closures that occur annually during suicide incidents
Until recently, their concerns have gone unanswered. Members of the Bridge Collaborative, formed in 2014, have kept the issue in the public eye, and they’ve drawn powerful allies in Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey and state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego.
Hueso was concerned about suicides and the Oct. 16, 2016, incident in which a pickup truck plummeted off the bridge into Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, killing four people. (The manslaughter trial for the driver began this week in San Diego Superior Court.)
Last April, Caltrans installed a “debris fence” on the section above the park, part of a safety project that also includes signage urging motorists to slow down.
San Diego-Coronado Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Feasibility Study (PDF)