Alex Fraser Bridge not designed for suicide prevention barriers

Bridge can't take barriers

Editor’s note: The following story deals with the sensitive issue of suicide. Reader discretion is advised. For those in distress, please go to: https://www.options.bc.ca/program/fraser-health-crisis-line or call: 1-877-820-7444 or 604-951-8855.

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.

“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 last week.

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.

In February, Delta Mayor and police board chair George Harvie wrote the ministry asking it to do something to prevent suicides on the bridge.

The 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 this week in Vancouver.

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, 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.

More BC News