Twice last year individuals leapt to their death from the Maple Avenue garage structure in downtown Evanston. In part as a result of those incidents, Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons presented “a preliminary review of options” to the Administration and Public Works Committee on Jan. 27. After the report, the Committee decided that suicide prevention was best attempted on the ground.
Mr. Lyons’ report focused on two structural prevention measures. First, fences could be erected around the top of the Maple Avenue and Sherman Avenue garages, similar to those seen on bridges that cross interstates. Second, suicide “netting” could be placed at some level on the deck structure. Nets are designed to extend out from the building so as to catch jumpers before they hit the pavement.
“It would cost a lot more to net than it would to fence,” said Mr. Lyons. He said the report studied primarily similar efforts in Ithica, N.Y., the home of Cornell University.
Saying that the Skokie Courthouse deck, the Evanston and St. Francis hospital decks and other structures do not have nets or fences, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “I do not support fencing or netting.”
“Atlantic City has a parking deck,” said Mr. Lyons, and individuals frequently suffer depressing losses at that City’s gambling establishments.
“What if they do?” asked Ald. Rainey.
“Nothing,” said Mr. Lyons.
“There are other things we can do,” suggested Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, such as alert people to suicide-prevention hotlines or put up other signs.
“‘Don’t jump,’” said Ald. Rainey.
Cameras are another option, said Ald. Grover. “There have been two attempts at McCormick and Green Bay” to run cars into the embankment, she said. “There’s nothing we can do” to prevent every suicide attempt in public space, she said.
Ald. Rainey mentioned the train tracks, another regular suicide attempt venue. “”What do you do about that?”
“Anything we can do to educate the community would be helpful,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward.
Ald. Rainey asked to review suicide statistics before taking any action. If there is a trigger date, then perhaps action could be targeted, she said.
Of the two who jumped off the City garages, one was a Northwestern student and the other had recently been a student there. Mr. Lyons said he agreed that the current focus should be to “change a state of mind, not just a venue.” The committee agreed that the City should reach out to the City-Northwestern liaison committee to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, Ald. Grover suggested that the City “push the reset button” on fence or netting proposals.