Waving through the barbed wire...

On the way home on Friday, I happened to be riding across the Harbour Bridge at the same time a cruise liner was passing underneath. It was quite a sight, and along with many other cyclists I stopped to watch it go by, and wave to the passengers crowded on the deck below.

Many of them waved back, and the height of the vessel meant they were close enough to call out to as they went underneath. “Goodbye!” they called, and “Thank you Sydney!”.

At the time I was thinking that how nice it was that these holidaymakers last memory of Sydney would be being waved off by a bunch of friendly cyclists as they passed under the iconic bridge. However, on reflection, I actually think it would have looked more like a bunch of prison inmates frantically trying to get attention; arms thrust through the narrow gaps in the barbed wire fencing.

This is because, Australia being a Nanny State par excellence, people using the walkways and cycleways of our lovely bridge are penned in by three metre high fencing on all sides that curves in at the top to clearly display the vicious barbs on the topmost wires. It’s fairly horrible, and in huge contrast to, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco. Another iconic bridge over a harbour but there people are free to enjoy the views unimpeded.

Still, it was a fun experience that made a nice start to the weekend. Oh, and if you ever happen to be in the same situation, be aware that large ships sound their whistles when passing under bridges – which can be very loud when you are only a few metres above the smokestacks…

Views: 225

Comment by Rob Berry on April 10, 2011 at 8:07am

I take it that you haven't seen this film, Dan?




It was featured at the Sydney Film Festival a few years ago.


One person killing themselves by jumping off every 15 days or unimpeded views... I'm not happy with that trade-off.


Maybe some sections of the wire could be replaxed by perspex panels?

Comment by Rob Berry on April 10, 2011 at 2:58pm

Dan was the one that brought up the Golden Gate Bridge as a contrast to the SHB. That film shows the flip side of the idyllic picture which Dan paints of free unimpeded views from the bridge - one suicide every fifteen days from that bridge, on average.


When I was quite young an older student from my school was found dead at the base of one of the pylons after jumping. If there was a barrier he may not have done it. Would you like to run a cost/benefit analysis over that? Let me know how you are able to quantify and balance lives lost vs quality of view.


But no, "fear and superstition", "useless regulations"... sometimes you get so blinded by your ideological positions that you spout the most outrageous crap.

Comment by Rob Berry on April 10, 2011 at 3:07pm
Comment by sydneyCommuter on April 10, 2011 at 3:07pm

Sorry to hear about that.  Can't argue with an emotional argument.  I'll take back my silly comments then.

Comment by Neil Alexander on April 10, 2011 at 3:28pm

Well, the comments on this blog post have gone off the rails, haven't they?

It seems to me that if someone is determined to commit suicide by throwing themselves off somewhere, they will find somewhere to do it. The SHB is too hard, so try the Cammeray Suspension Bridge. New fences there now. The Gap? Lots of fencing there, too. But there will be somewhere high enough somewhere...

Surely this is a case where addressing the causes of suicide is the correct path rather than knee-jerk fencing off of everything? Mental health funding in this country is seemingly given about the same priority as funding for bicycle transport. Time to turn them both around. The latter may also help the former.

Comment by Rob Berry on April 10, 2011 at 3:43pm

Actually, Neal, the studies into the use of sucide barriers on bridges around the world have shown that barriers on one bridge do not just lead to people to another bridge without barriers nearby - overall suicides have dropped in those areas and suicide rates from other jumping locations have not risen to "pick up the slack". The decision to jump is often very spur of the moment, so if a well known jumping spot has enough of a barrier to prevent a person from jumping, that is often enough to keep that person alive - they won't just go somewhere else or kill themselves in another way, they will be delayed or hindered enough to reconsider suicide.


Addressing the causes of suicidal behaviour is obviously important and mental health is currently under funded, but is also incredibly difficult when there are such social stigmas about mental illness and many people hide their depression (if indeed they are able to realise they are depressed at all) to identify every potentially suicidal person before they make an attempt. Even if we do identify them and do as much as we can to help, it is basically impossible to "cure" someone of depression when it is serious enough to lead to suicide attempts - you simply help people to manage it better than they otherwise would, through medication, through psychological techniques, through exercise (getting more people on bikes would definitely help) etc. Sometimes those won't be enough, though, sometimes it might take a 3m high barbed wire fence on what has been a common destination for suicide attempts to make the difference. Personally, I can deal with a slightly obscured view for that.


I think the barrier are more than just a knee-jerk. The international evidence is that they have a positive effect. If they were the only thing society was doing to address suicide, I would be worried, but they aren't, they are just one policy out or many.

Comment by Rob Berry on April 10, 2011 at 3:49pm
SC, thanks for taking back what you said, but I don't think the argument I am making is just "emotional" (implication being emotional = not entirely rational). The evidence is there that barriers have a positive effect on suicide rates.
Comment by Dan on April 10, 2011 at 3:50pm

It wasn't my intention to spark off a debate about suicide, but hey ho.


It's worth noting that 'restricting access to lethal means' is far from the most effective strategy for reducing suicide; whilst there have been some successes other evidence has suggested that it is associated with method substitution. That's not to say it does not have it's place, but other mental health support is much more effective.


There's some information and stats here, for those interested.



Comment by sydneyCommuter on April 10, 2011 at 4:10pm

Rob, emotional was not meant to be condescending.  You do have some valid arguments.

Last time I walked on the Harbour bridge, the metal cage there was just awful.  You could barely put your hand through it.  Taking a photo without having this big cage showing was difficult.  It is a bit sad, especially for tourists, not to be able to take a decent photo from such a fantastic location.

It seems they have gone a bit too far there, especially considering the video cameras and the security guards on the bridge.  I'm not sure what the motives are, but it seems a bit overdone.

Looking up from the cruise ships, it's perhaps not the most enticing memory of the Harbour bridge either.

Comment by Rob Berry on April 10, 2011 at 5:05pm

SC, I have no doubt been too touchy in this thread, my sincere apologies for that!


I think the video cameras and security are more about terrorism than suicide I definitely think we are overly concerned about the threat of terrorismand should be concerned about civil liberties being lost in the name of that kind of security. It is far more likely that someone will jump off the bridge in a suicide attempt today than it is for the bridge to get blown up by a terrorist, even with the barriers, so I think there is a difference between the barriers and those things and we shouldn't lump them together.


Maybe the barriers could be done in a way that impacts less on the aesthetic side of things (as I said in my first post, perspex sections would be an improvement)? I think that would be a reasonable discussion to have. I don't think it is reasonable to simply remove the barriers altogether, though, and I think there is every justification for their existence.


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