Niagara Gazette

Web Extra

June 9, 2013

Portlanders push for barrier at 'Suicide Bridge'

Niagara Gazette — PORTLAND, Ore. — On a sunny January afternoon, 12 stories above a busy street, a newly engaged 19-year-old woman jumped to her death from a spectacular arch bridge west of downtown Portland. Last month, in the middle of the night, a 40-year-old man did the same. Last week, yet another person — a 15-year-old girl — plunged from the span.

The deaths sadden but no longer surprise those who live and work near the Vista Bridge, known colloquially citywide as "The Suicide Bridge." They have come to expect such tragedies at the structure, from which there is a majestic vista of the city skyline; the opening shot of the TV series "Portlandia" was shot from the span.

Attorney Kenneth Kahn shares an office with his wife, a life coach, that sits almost directly underneath the bridge. Over the years he has heard the horrible slam of bodies on pavement and discovered the remains of eight strangers.

"Just imagine a human being detonating," he said.

Now the Kahns are leading a group, Friends of The Vista Bridge, that is pressing the city to install suicide-prevention barriers, a step taken at bridges throughout the world, from the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge in Santa Barbara, Calif., to the Bloor Street viaduct in Toronto and El Viaducto de Segovia in Madrid. Jumping from a bridge is an impulsive act. A barrier, the group contends, introduces a pause that may make someone think twice.

But the group, which formed after the January suicide, faces its own obstacle: money. City leaders, though receptive to the idea, are tackling a $20 million budget shortfall, and it is projected to cost $2.5 million to put architecturally appropriate barriers on the bridge, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The city may seek a federal grant.

"We certainly think of it as a high priority," City Commissioner Steve Novick said. "But there's a whole mess of competing priorities and not much money."

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