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Alex Fraser Bridge not designed for suicide prevention barriers

Bridge not designed for high fences that prevent suicides, says ministry
In February, Delta Mayor and police board chair George Harvie wrote the ministry asking it to do something to prevent suicides on the Alex Fraser Bridge. File Photo

Editor’s note: The following story deals with the sensitive issue of suicide. Reader discretion is advised. For those in distress, please go to or call: 1-800-784-2433.

Delta police Chief Neil Dubord has again appealed to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, following another tragedy last week on the Alex Fraser Bridge.

Dubord asked that suicide-prevention barriers be installed on the bridge, “for community safety and well-being,” and while he recognizes that may be difficult, he also hopes that advancements in technology could offer other solutions.

Police responded to a person in crisis on the bridge early that afternoon, Monday, Oct. 23. “Despite the immediate response and de-escalation efforts of our team, the situation ended tragically,” police said.

After the incident, Dubord asked the public for compassion, patience, respect and understanding during such incidents and not to take or share photos and videos.

In February, Delta mayor and police board chair George Harvie wrote the ministry asking it to do something to prevent suicides as a result of people jumping off the bridge.

But anti-suicide barriers cannot be installed on the Alex Fraser Bridge because the extra weight of a tall fence and the change in aerodynamics would affect its stability, the ministry replied.

“Any additional barrier or fencing would create stress on the structure – both in weight and aerodynamics — that could impact the stability of the bridge,” the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in September.

However, highly visible emergency call boxes, with 24/7 access to counsellors, have been installed on the Alex Fraser, as well as on the Port Mann, Lions Gate and Ironworkers Memorial bridges, the ministry added.

Pedestrian activity also can be monitored on the bridges, through the ministry’s transportation management centre.

Harvie’s letter followed a Jan. 23 incident involving a man in distress on the bridge. Traffic was stalled for hours until a man eventually surrendered safely to police at about 8 p.m. that evening.

“As mayor and chair of the police board, I’m going to continue to try do something in so far as reducing … the tragic loss of life. I just don’t like to see one there,” Harvie said in an interview with the Optimist on Sept. 15.

Harvie added he was also going to talk to Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September.

Fleming acknowledged the Jan. 23 incident in a letter in June, thanking Delta police and saying such incidents are traumatic for those involved.

“I am deeply saddened by the number of lives lost at this crossing between 2020 and 2022, and the number of distress calls that were received in that period,” Fleming said.

He added that installing conventional barriers on the Alex Fraser is not possible based on engineering analyses, adding that staff are looking at other options.

The transportation ministry said its anti-suicide efforts have a “particular focus” on major bridges in Metro Vancouver with high pedestrian traffic.

Safety barriers will be considered in all new projects, said the ministry, pointing out that the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge has three-metre high barriers.

According to DPD spokesperson Acting/Insp. James Sandberg, said previously, that there have been six confirmed suicides from the Alex Fraser in the three-year period between Jan. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2022.

However, the number of reported sudden deaths from the bridge is likely low because it represents only those incidents that were witnessed, while bodies that are found away from the bridge are connected to the location where they were found, instead of the bridge.

Police received a total of 88 calls connected to the Alex Fraser in the three years between 2020 and 2022.

But 40 of those calls were proven not to be unfounded and instead were just based on mistaken identities and actions.

However, 28 calls ended with people involuntarily apprehended under the Mental Health Act, as a result of displaying suicidal ideation, comments or actions.