Hoping to dissuade despondent people from leaping to their deaths from the Colorado Street Bridge, Pasadena officials plan to install signs that encourage those considering suicide to instead call for help.
City workers will install two 12-by-18-inch metal signs at each end of the century-old bridge sometime over the next two months, Assistant City Manager Steve Mermell said. The signs will include the number of a suicide prevention hotline.
“If we can save even one life with one reasonable step we can take, we should,” said Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison, one for four elected city leaders to endorse the signs during a public meeting last week.
More than 100 people have taken their lives by jumping from the Colorado Street Bridge, which at its highest point rises to 148.5 feet.
Since 2006, 13 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge, including two women this year, Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said.
Officials considered hanging wire nets beneath the bridge as early as 1929. But it wasn’t until 1937 — when a distraught woman took her 3-year-old daughter with her in a deadly plunge over the side — that officials finally took action.
The girl survived without serious injury, her fall broken by tree branches in the Arroyo Seco below.
The bridge got a 7 1/2-foot woven-steel fence topped with barbed wire, which was replaced by a different barrier in the 1950s before the current wrought-iron fence went up during a seismic renovation 20 years ago.
Even today, city officials sought support from local preservationists before publicly discussing the suicide prevention signs. Officials said the project was inspired by similar signs installed at emergency phones along the Golden Gate Bridge in 2005.
But signs alone are not enough to stop all who are bent on self-destruction, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Medical Director Paula Clayton said.
“It’s clearly better than nothing, but there’s no evidence that putting up signs changes the rate of suicide from a bridge. The only effective stoppage, really, is putting up barriers that people cannot get over,” she said.
Sanchez said the signs are “one piece of a very complex solution to addressing suicide” that must include expanded public mental health services.
Councilwoman Jacque Robinson, an initial advocate for the signs whose older sister died by suicide 16 years ago, said the city must balance preserving history and public safety.
“Hopefully, this is the beginning and not the end of that discussion,” Robinson said.