Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Monday, May 05, 2008

Press Release from Friends of the Bridge


Compelled by public records requests from project opponents, CalTrans has
revealed that the actual cost of its controversial proposal to install
fencing barriers on the famously scenic Cold Spring Bridge is nearly $3
million, almost 5 times the amount it had previously disclosed. $1 million
of that sum appears to have been diverted from funds budgeted for "collision reduction--traffic safety" purposes.

Shortly after the true cost of the proposal became known, the directors of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), unanimously voted to hold a public hearing on May 15 to review the proposal in light of what one board member called "a whole body of new information that has come forward" which challenges the validity of the purported justification for the fencing barriers proposal.

Such information includes the fact that CalTrans doubled the actual number of suicides from the bridge in its calculation of the benefit:cost ratio for the project and that it misread studies it cited as to the central question of whether bridge barrier actually save lives or merely divert persons to commit suicide elsewhere. According to research reported by UCSB Professor Garrett Glasgow, the studies cited by CalTrans and other studies on the topic demonstrate that barriers appear to divert suicidal behavior to other places rather than to save lives.

Widespread community opposition to the fencing barriers proposal has developed over the past several months following disclosures about the questionable bases upon which it was given initial support. Recently the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association voted to inform CalTrans of its opposition to the barriers proposal, joining the following organizations that have previously done so:

Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
Citizens Planning Association South County Land Use Committee
Pearl Chase Society
Santa Barbara County Action Network
Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club
Los Padres ForestWatch
Womens Environmental Watch
San Marcos Trout Club
Santa Ynez Valley Alliance
Friends of the Bridge

CalTrans has announced that it will release and circulate for public comment a draft environmental impact report on the proposal on May 9 and that it will conduct public hearings thereon in Santa Barbara on June 9 and in Solvang on June 10. Locations and times of these hearings has yet to be announced.



Blogger johnsanroque said...

It's good to know that lies and exaggeration were used to support the plan to put railings on the bridge. Even if you accepted the lies, it was a stupid plan. When you re-evaluate the plan with honest data, it's really, really stupid.

5/06/2008 7:42 AM  
Anonymous Garrett Glasgow said...

Hi all, Garrett Glasgow here. This is a repost of my comment made on EdHat a couple of days ago:


Unfortunately, nobody knows if a suicide barrier on the Cold Spring Bridge would save lives or not. Every scientific study on the topic has been inconclusive -- we just don't know if suicide barriers save people, or simply divert them to take their lives in another place or another way. I recently reviewed these studies at the request of Caltrans, and posted that report here:

Of course, the temptation is to just build the barrier anyway, on the chance that it might save someone. However, this could mean that we're passing up the chance to save even more lives. Is there a way to spend that $2.8 million in a way that would save more people?

Several people commenting on an earlier story on EdHat raised the possibility of using this money for other highway safety improvements in the county, and after 2 head-on collisions on Highway 154 in the last few days it is clear that more needs to be done on this front. However, let's assume for the moment that Caltrans wants to spend this $2.8 million on suicide prevention, which is (in my opinion) a perfectly legitimate way to spend safety money.

One intriguing possibility is to follow the lead of the New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA), which has focused on suicide hotline phones on bridges rather than barriers. This plan explicitly rejected suicide barriers as an inferior solution, and instead installed phones on 5 of its bridges for a total cost of about $200,000. A brief description of their plan is here:

I've actually had several long conversations with Gary Spielmann (the former Director of Suicide Prevention in the New York State Office of Mental Health and the consultant on this project), and he believes a suicide hotline phone would be the best approach to suicide prevention on the Cold Spring Bridge as well -- in fact, he sent a letter to Caltrans urging this solution (this letter is part of the public record if anyone would like to request it from Caltrans).

As another plus, these phones can be installed for a fraction of the cost of a barrier -- Caltrans could install suicide hotline phones on about 70 bridges for the cost of that one barrier on the Cold Spring Bridge.

Thus, even if phones are less effective than barriers at preventing suicides (and there is no scientific evidence that this is the case), Caltrans could address about 70 suicide spots for the same cost as this one barrier, which seems likely to lead to a greater overall reduction in suicides.

If we're serious about preventing suicide, isn't this something we should at least consider?

5/07/2008 8:26 PM  

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