Monday, March 30, 2009

Why the Y Bridge?

Since Team Recall has put the decision to spend stimulus money on fencing around the Y Bridge, it's worth contemplating the decision to go with that particular project. First off, Grumpy Abe does some well taken grumping about the ABJ's coverage last Friday (toward the bottom of his post.) But regardless of whether the paper laid a sufficient foundation for "some call it wasteful" then, it's certainly the case that people are doing so now.

The comments in Ohio dot com track the usual criticisms of suicide fencing on bridges -- that it's not worth the money, that people would just find another way to do the deed. (Of course, this being the ohiodotcom comments section, they go way beyond that to the "just let them kill themselves" "why are we coddling these losers" and "Mayor Don's just doing this to keep his job." Vernon Dursley thinks these people need to find their souls. But then no one accused Plusquellec of driving anyone to jump off the bridge so probably we should just thank God for tender mercies.)

I'm all for rigorous cost-benefit analysis of public safety measures which the discussion of the Y Bridge is lacking. That is to say, can we spend $ 1.6 million where it would prevent more than (at most) one or two deaths a year. But contrary to the gripes of the comment trolls, there is evidence to suggest that fencing highly visible suicide bridges does prevent suicide. Studies (summarized here) indicate that fencing does stop suicides on bridges, without leading to increased suicides on other sites or by other means. Other studies indicate that would-be suicides who are "rescued" rarely continue to attempt.

Then there is the copycat effect. Suicide researchers worry that high-profile suicides that get reported in the media prompt rashes of other attempts. Someone doing the big splat off the Y Bridge will inevitably get media attention that they wouldn't by downing a pile of pills or monoxiding their garage.

Finally, preventing public suicide from a place like a well-travelled bridge also prevents untold psychological trauma on potential witnesses -- either of the leap above or the crater below.

Again, this is not to say that preventing suicides on the Y Bridge is the best use of the money. And running under all of this are questions about how the project fits with the stimulus program. It may well be that fencing the bridge is a particularly "shovel-ready" project.

Regardless, the evidence indicates that fencing the bridge will indeed save lives. We shouldn't pretend it's a trivial waste just because it fits with someone's favored political narrative.

5 comments:

Colin Morris said...

My shallow contribution to the discuss? It'll spoil the view as you drive across it.

I do agree with the comments I've seen indicating that a jumper stymied by the Y-bridge fence would just walk over to Route 8.

I agree it would save lives, but only *on the Y bridge.*

Pho said...

The only thing we can do is look at the data and the data indicate that people don't walk over to the next bridge. I suspect that the dynamic that goes into a suicide attempt is a lot more complicated than "I want to off myself, I'll seize the nearest available means."

Swanny said...

Regardless of whether or not the fence will stop suicides, it is a complete waste of stimulus funds. Seriously, how is this fence going to stimulate the economy? I can think of a plethora of better ways to spend the same amount of money that would make more of an impact (no pun intended) on the economy.

Anonymous said...

The issue about the jumpers not only impact the jumpers but the people the see it, the people living below it, and the first responders. How much is a human life worth?

Rolap said...

I'm looking at this issue from the other side of the fence (so to speak).

For the moment, let's ignore exactly what's being done or even why. The fact is that it will require that people be put to work. In these times, this is a very good thing. Even if it doesn't save a single life from suicide, the project puts food on the table.