To deter suicides by jumping or falling off of Ann Arbor parking structures, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is further committing to constructing more permanent fences on city parking structure rooftops. Installment of the fences began last fall when city officials noticed a pattern of attempted or successfully completed suicides by individuals jumping or falling off of the garages in the last three years.
Between November 2015 and December 2016, three people died, and two were injured after falling or jumping from city parking structures. Other incidents occurred in September and October 2017, when two men fell from the South Fourth Avenue and East William Street parking structures. These deaths were ruled as suicides.
The project will be funded through fees charged to those who park their vehicles in the city’s structures. The DDA board determined in a meeting last week bids will be due by Jan. 16, and work is projected to be underway by the end of the month.
City Councilmember Kirk Westphal, D-Ward 2, described the importance of having the fencing installed in the first place to help deter individuals from ending their lives.
“As councilmembers, our first priority is public safety,” Westphal said. “As an urgent public safety need, the opinion we got from mental health experts is that, while not foolproof, this temporary fencing was a prudent strategy to help interrupt the determination of some individuals to take their life.”
According to Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, temporary fencing was installed on garages when the bid for the project cost $1 million more than estimated. Contractor availability was also low during this time, leading to the more expensive estimates. As a result, the DDA board approved an installment of chain-link fencing on the structures rather than more permanent materials.
Pollay said city administrators hopes to add fencing to other levels within the parking structures, not just the rooftops. She also said it is important to install the fences in order to better serve the needs of Ann Arbor residents.
“It is perhaps most important to focus on the needs of people in our community that are not being met,” Pollay said.
Some garages, like the Maynard structure, already feature fencing. Pollay told The Daily in October structures that will be prioritized include the rooftop of the Fourth and Williams streets structure — topping the list due to its sheer size — followed by the Ann and Ashley streets structure, the Fourth and Washington streets structure, the Maynard structure, the Liberty Square structure and the Forest Avenue structure. The DDA will also pursue other tactics such as signage and structure management.
After deaths last September and October, city officials pivoted to taking action on the temporary fences. Matt Lige, an Ann Arbor Police Department Lietenant, was one such official who expressed initial frustration.
“I’m frustrated by the volume of deaths from parking structures in the city of Ann Arbor,” he said on the scene of the October fatal fall. “I think it’s safe to say that we’re all frustrated.”
The city has also installed signage with the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other psychiatric service information to deter individuals from committing suicide.
University of Michigan-owned structures do not have the same barriers as city-owned structures do.
In an email interview, Stephen Dolen, executive director of University Logistics, Transportation and Parking, stated options are currently being evaluated to implement similar deterrent methods to University-owned parking structures.
“The Logistics, Transportation and Parking unit has been working with parking consultants to evaluate options, reviewing the effectiveness, operational considerations and costs of adding some types of additional preventative measures and it continues to be a topic of ongoing discussion,” Dolen wrote.