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Barrier Update: City Approves Nets

This week, in a 7-2 vote, the Ithaca Common Council gave final approval to Cornell’s plans for permanent suicide barriers on three city owned bridges. This means the current fences will be coming down next summer, according reports in the Cornell Daily Sun and the Ithaca Journal . They will be replaced by suicide nets—horizontal projections 15 feet wide—below the Thurston Avenue and the Stewart Avenue Bridges. Cornell will also be putting up suicide nets on most of the bridges it owns (The Suspension Bridge will be covered with a wire mesh cage instead).

Under its agreement with the city, Cornell will construct all the barriers and “make their maintenance, repair and other obligations of operation and ownership wholly or substantially 'cost-neutral' to the city during the term of the agreement.”

The Planning Board must still approve the final designs, but with Cornell and the majority on the Common Council both on the same page, I think it’s unlikely it will reject the barriers outright.

Meanwhile, Ellen McCollister, who voted against the barriers, and Dan Cogan, who voted for them, are challenging Cornell to make a separate agreement with the city to track suicides as they occur in the coming years, in order to determine if the barriers are having any effect on the overall suicide rate. “I also want us to track the costs and effectiveness of the rescue and recovery operations,” McCollister told Meta Ezra. “My hunch is that there will be plenty of people (and objects) landing in the nets, even though Cornell is quick to argue that no one has jumped into the Bern Muenster nets since their installation.”

Some suicide barrier studies have failed to answer the question of whether barriers really cut the jumping suicide rate, because they do not cast a wide net. In addition to the City and Cornell, the leadership of nearby state parks should also be engaged to report suicides that may have been displaced to these places--especially those involving Cornell students.

Dan Jost | Posted on December 12, 2011 (#)

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