Sunday, June 24, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Suicide prevention nets logical addition to Sunshine Skyway

It is one of the oldest public safety axioms: That if doing X, Y or Z will save but only one life, just one, then whatever the proposal, it is still worth the cost and effort to implement.

But apparently that idealistic notion does not apply when aesthetics take precedence over public safety in making it more difficult for people to take their lives by jumping from the Sunshine Skyway.

Each year approximately eight troubled people leap from the Skyway to their deaths 197 feet below. The roadway ranks No. 4 in the nation for bridge suicides. According to the website SkywayBridge.com, since 1954 when the first span opened, 234 people have used it to kill themselves. So far in 2015 one person has chosen the bridge as their last resort.

These aren't just dispassionate statistics. Chances are, most of us have had our lives touched by the suicide of a friend, family member or co-worker and are left to endlessly wonder what might have been if only the victim had been stopped in time, given a second chance at the life they were about to throw away.

Two years ago federal transportation funding became available to provide money to install bridge safety nets to capture potential suicides. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, currently undergoing a renovation, will now include nets. The George Washington Bridge in Seattle has installed a suicide prevention net. But not the Sunshine Skyway.

Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kristin Carson told the Tampa Bay Times' Rachel Crosby the agency is "watching and assessing" what other states are doing. It's just a silly idea, but wouldn't it be refreshing if other states were looking at what Florida was pro-actively doing to save lives? Just one?

A study done several years ago on suicide prevention netting on the Skyway concluded the webbing might actually cause a suicidal person to bounce back onto the roadway into oncoming traffic. And the same study raised questions a suicide prevention net would detract from the Skyway's elegant architectural design.

But the technology has improved. And after all, if the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the nation's most beautiful and truly iconic spans, can accommodate an antisuicide net, why can't the Sunshine Skyway?

Over the years there have been a small number of suicidal people who, incredibly, have survived the jump off the Skyway. There at least 36 known rare survivors of the jump who sustained massive injuries. Invariably many of these people have noted that almost immediately upon stepping off the bridge the thought occurred to them that what they had just done was a really, really bad idea.

It is true the Sunshine Skyway has six crisis hotline phones along its span. And that's a very good thing.

There is no question the installation of a net might not save every person bound and determined to take their lives. But for others, the safety net holds out the promise that what begins as a really, really bad idea need not be a fatal choice, but rather a rescue from their demons. And isn't that one life vastly more important than aesthetics?

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