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D.C. Council to spend $850,000 to design Taft Bridge suicide barriers



The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation Tuesday to spend $850,000 to design suicide barriers on the William Howard Taft Bridge.

The emergency legislation, introduced by council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), reallocates money within the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) budget to draw up the project on the bridge, which carries Connecticut Avenue NW over Rock Creek. It comes after two deaths by suicide on the bridge in the past year — the most recent in January — and months of community advocacy to build the barriers.

“As we learned in January, any delay in this project could cost lives,” Allen said at the council meeting.

The council approved the emergency legislation unanimously.

The DDOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Allen said in the meeting that the agency has been working with other agencies, suicide prevention experts and the community to develop a plan for the Taft Bridge. The emergency funding will help streamline and expedite the project. Erik Salmi, Allen’s deputy chief of staff, said project construction will probably be funded in the city’s budget this spring.

“It is important that we get this work done and get it done as quickly as possible and save lives and avoid that terrible ripple effect,” said council member Matthew Frumin (D-Ward 3). “Each suicide affects many, many people, and we can avoid it.”


Last month, the DDOT, with guidance from the Department of Behavioral Health, installed signs with suicide prevention resources on the Taft Bridge and the Calvert Street Bridge.

She pleaded for a bridge suicide barrier. Then another life was lost.

Research shows physical barriers are the most effective approach to bridge suicide prevention, Allen said at the council meeting. According to an analysis presented with the legislation, adding suicide deterrent measures, like a barrier, reduces bridge suicides by 86 percent; the nearby Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge has seen suicides there fall by 90 percent since barriers were installed in 1986.

City data show that at least 26 suicides occurred at D.C. bridges between 2010 and 2022. Of those, at least 11 took place at the Taft Bridge, not including the most recent death in January.

The council thanked Chelsea Van Thof, a key advocate whose longtime partner died by suicide on the bridge last April, for bringing the issue to the council’s attention.

“The construction of deterrent measures on the Taft Bridge is now a question of when, not if,” Allen said. “Putting up a barrier on the Taft Bridge will save lives.”

“This is the first win with more steps to come,” Van Thof said.


The council on Tuesday also approved a labor contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union that includes raises and other benefits for 5,500 traditional public school teachers. The development is a significant step for the union, which has worked with an expired contract for more than three years. Some charter leaders, however, said they should also get funding to provide retroactive raises to their teachers, who are not represented by the WTU.

Lauren Lumpkin contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. You can also reach a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Source: Washington Post

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