Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Suicidal Progress

In the Santa Yenez Valley above Santa Barbara, they have what they call in New York “a situation.” The old stage road that led to the wineries and boutique towns of the Valley took three days by that route. People wanted to get there faster and more directly from Santa Barbara so they built a long lovely arching span of a bridge over the Cold Spring Valley to connect the two ends of State Highway 154. The span, known as Cold Spring Arch Bridge, is 224 feet high. It opened in 1964. The view of the valley and surrounding hills is enhanced by the fact that the bridge has only a 30-inch concrete barrier on the sides. That seems to be the problem. In the intervening 44 years it has been a magnet for people to try to pull over and take pictures. There are no real shoulders, however. It is also a magnet for people who have seen enough of this life for one reason or another. The first year it was there, someone jumped. In fact, in the 44 years it has been there, 44 have jumped. The California Transportation Administration (CALTRANS) believes they need to do something about that “situation.”
Groups form to protest anything in California. It is an entitlement for living here and there is no requirement that any member of the group be encumbered by the thought process. Now here are the “Friends of the Bridge” who have circled the wagons around this wondrous view to protest the desire by CALTRANS to add fencing of sufficient height, commonly used on high-speed highway bridges here, to keep the people and vehicles on a bridge. They feel more than merely posting a sign about the dangers of jumping is needed, which is one of the solutions the “friends” originally suggested as they object principally to the aesthetics of a fence. They also, I presume, object to the people jumping, but they have chosen what they believe to be the more important cause to champion here.
This bridge, the spokesman for the group alleges, is one of the most scenic bridges in the state. He may or may not have seen all the others, I do not know. I have seen many and this one isn’t in my top ten. It is not clear that he is aware the bridge also has the highest number of traffic fatalities in five counties since vehicles have a bad habit of leaving a bridge when they impact barrier only 30-inches high. The local authorities have no data as to how many of these may also have been suicides. The “Friends” spokesman called the project a “misallocation of public resources, a nanny-state, Band-aid solution…” and “…it isn’t like it’s a magnet for suicides, like the Golden Gate Bridge. They want to treat it like an inner city freeway. Come on.”
Despite the testimony of mental health experts to the contrary, he contends that barriers just divert people elsewhere or to other means. He believes that the budget is triple what the agency proposes and, to sum it up nicely, in the end the proposed fencing won’t work. Cameras would be good, he opined. Deputies at the substation some 40 miles away could “monitor” the bridge.
Yes, they could.
Well. In the face of that sort of reasoned hostility what is an agency to do that needs to protect the responders who try to keep people from making a jump into a wooded ravine which is always fatal and trying to keep vehicles with people in them on the bridge. At the last public hearing, the opinion of the “Friends of the Bridge” spokesman, a part-time law professor at UC Santa Barbara, was countered by the comment of one citizen who lives nearby, who inquired of the County Supervisor, “What took you this long?”
I suppose it is possible to weigh the alternatives and decide that the view is more important. I haven’t worked that out yet. Perhaps one has to be the friend of a bridge to understand it.


  1. I'm for the view.

    I hope this comment will be OK. Reamus.....a little bird brought me up to speed on your average-ness.

    "Play the cards you're dealt", a wise friend once told me. Sometimes its a choice. Inspiring it is that you choose to play your adventuresome spirit card!

  2. Life simple is what it is, Farmwife, can't change that, so I live it...

  3. P.S. The view ain't that terrific, believe me.

  4. Some people have more time than brain cells.

  5. Ttrue of most in that part of So. California, I am afraid...more money than brains as well,