Between 2010 and 2022, D.C. saw 26 bridge-related fatalities. Half of those happened on the Taft Bridge over Rock Creek Park.
Now, lawmakers are looking for community input on how to improve the bridge’s safety.
D.C.’s Department of Transportation and Department of Behavioral Health hosted a public meeting Saturday to gather community input on the design of a railing improvement project for the bridge.
According to the project’s website, the design is meant to “incorporate the existing features of the Taft Bridge to minimize impact to the historic fabric of the bridge.”
The Taft Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Officials said they’ve been working on the new design for 10 months. It would increase the height of barriers placed on either side of the bridge from 4 to 8 feet.
Alternative designs considered include the addition of a glass panel or a net to either side.
“I looked at earlier designs, which would have been effective, but less beautiful,” one community member said. “I think we’ve got a good one here.”
But, of course, aesthetic was not the only consideration in the railing’s redesign.
“This is a public health project with a transportation asset,” said Richard Bebout, chief of crisis services for the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health.
“And the principles that really drive our operation here are increasing access to care and decreasing access to lethal means.”
Community member Chelsea Van Thof’s partner died by suicide on the Taft. She recalls seeing police lights through the barrier that’s currently placed on the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, just perpendicular to Taft Bridge, the night he died.
“Once I learned why there was a barrier on one and not the other and started learning more about how effective barriers are, I kind of made it my mission to make sure that nobody you know, has the Taft as an option when they’re in a temporary crisis,” Van Thof said.
“Also, that nobody who loves someone in crisis has to experience the loss of someone to suicide, you know, particularly with this method or otherwise.”
Officials hope to complete the railings final design by the fall.