Jan 12, 2023 - News

Advocates call for suicide prevention barriers at Taft Bridge

A bridge is bathed in purple light as a figure runs across it.

Studies show that barriers, like fences or nets, help prevent suicides. Photo: AFP PHOTO/Brendan Smialowski via Getty Images

After several recent deaths, D.C. is designing an anti-suicide barrier for the William Howard Taft Bridge that connects Woodley Park and Kalorama. But while community support for the project is increasing, funding has yet to solidify.

Why it matters: Numerous studies prove that physical barriers — such as fences or nets — are effective in preventing suicides. A 2021 article by Johns Hopkins researchers found that suicide deaths at D.C.’s Ellington Bridge declined by 90% after a fence was constructed in 1986.

  • Despite advocacy over the decades, a fence has yet to be installed at the Taft Bridge. There have been at least 26 suicide deaths from a bridge in D.C. between January 2010 and June 2022, 15 of which occurred at the Taft and Ellington bridges, according to D.C. data cited by a neighborhood commission.

State of play: The D.C. Department of Transportation tells Axios that since Taft Bridge is historic, any changes require coordination with federal and regional partners. The D.C. Department of Behavioral Health is also involved in the barrier project.

DDOT director Everett Lott says that the department is “allocating funding to support this project,” and spokesperson German Vigil says that a formal request to transfer funds to the project will be submitted to the D.C. Council within 30 days.

  • D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson “does not plan to oppose” the project, his spokesperson Lindsey Walton tells Axios.

What they’re saying: Chelsea Van Thof, a Woodley Park resident, has been advocating for an anti-suicide barrier at the Taft Bridge since her longtime partner Peter Tripp, a veterinarian at District Veterinarian Hospital, died by suicide there last April.

  • “Barriers are shown to cut through [the] impulse [to jump],” she says, and may have stopped Tripp, who she believes acted impulsively.
  • “The naysayers are all about aesthetics over human lives, but [barriers don't] really ruin aesthetics if that’s what people are worried about,” she tells Axios.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or dial 988.


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