Ithaca is FENCES
                                                                                                                                                                                    Last Edited 7/13/11

Ithaca is FENCES Opposes Suicide Nets

Ithaca is FENCES opposes Cornell's proposed suicide nets because there is no evidence they will save lives. Cornell continues to distort and misrepresent the scientific research to further their propaganda campaign for suicide nets.  By manipulating the city into capitulating to their demand for suicide nets Cornell is making people feel like they are saving suicidal people when they aren't, suicide nets are a cosmetic solution that does nothing to assist people in crisis. Suicide nets are a waste of resources, time, effort and energy that could be spent actually helping people.

Here's our latest research about Bern, Switzerland.

Cornell is misrepresenting the Bern, Switzerland study. The Net there reduced the deaths AT THAT SITE but did not reduce the jumping deaths in the area or the overall suicide rate.Securing a Suicide Hot Spot: Effects of a Safety Net at the Bern Muenster Terrace (Reisch & Michel, 2005). In this study by Thomas Reisch and Konrad Michel, which was published in Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior in 2005, showed no significant reduction in jumping suicides in Bern, Switzerland after a barrier went up on the city's iconic suicide bridge. There were 45 jumping suicides per year in Bern in the 4 years before a barrier went up and 44 jumping suicides in Bern in the 4 years after the barrier went up. Had the barrier worked, one might have expected roughly 35.

Here's the link to the Bern Muenster Terrace study:

Dan Jost often comments on the suicide barriers. You can see his analysis of the Bern study here:

Apparently Cornell wants to "gift" the suicide nets to Ithaca without paying any maintenance costs.

We say Cornell should spend that $4 to $5 million (about $1.3 million per bridge plus the $1 million paid to the architects and the money wasted on the suicide fences) on mental health service to assist Ithaca Community members instead of caring only about Cornell students.

Other Dan Jost posts about the suicide barriers:

Here is a post describing the most recent plans for the barriers:

Ithaca Times - June 29. 2011 This article has an interview from Ithaca is FENCES and explains that the science does not support placing suicide barriers on the bridges to save lives.
Ithaca is FENCES not gorges

Cornell University and the City of Ithaca placed large unattractive fences on SEVEN bridges in this beautiful town in response to three suicides in the 2009-2010 school year.  All views of the gorges are obstructed by these fences.  Ithaca is no longer Gorges, it is now FENCES. We were told the fences were temporary and would be taken down.  That has not happened. The initial chain link fences were erected on March 26, 2010 during Cornell University's spring break.  They were replaced with equally ugly, obstructive fences in August 2010 before the Cornell University students returned for the Fall semester. The so-called temporary fences will remain for at least 15 months until May 31, 2011.  Three of the bridges are owned by the City of Ithaca.  Four of the bridges are owned by Cornell University.

The suicide fences are unnecessary, ugly, illegal and depressing. Ithaca is FENCES wants the fences removed now.

Fences are a cruel response that only say go away, move on, don't kill yourself here, we don't want to see it ---- The truth is fences do not save lives.  Sadly, the people who may have been identified as suicidal and saved on the bridges are now forced to suffer alone. There is absolutely no evidence that fences reduce the overall suicide rate in any community.  Spreading misinformation does not help anyone, especially the people struggling with mental illness who need help not fences.

This site encourages opposition to the suicide fences and suicide nets for the following reasons:

1.  There is no evidence that fences/nets on the bridges will reduce the overall suicide rate
2.  The fences/nets are unnecessary because the suicide rate in Ithaca is statistically much lower than the national average 
3.  The fences/nets are a depressing and constant reminder of suicide
4.  The fences/nets detract from the natural beauty of Ithaca
5.  The fences/nets are illegally placed on the bridges in violation of local and state laws
6.  The fences/nets do not properly address the issue of suicide
7.  The fences/nets don't work

Opposition to the suicide fences is not only about aesthetics. 

1. There is no evidence that suicide barriers on the bridges will reduce the overall suicide rate

There is no evidence that suicide rates are affected by erecting suicide barriers.

The studies Cornell University and the City of Ithaca have relied upon fail to show a statistically significant decrease on the overall suicide rate in the surrounding areas. In fact, the only statistical study on the effectiveness of fences in deterring suicide from bridges and the effect on the overall suicide rate shows exactly the opposite.  The study was released in July 2010 in the British Medical Journal. It showed that after erecting fences on a "suicide hotspot" bridge in Toronto, Canada, the suicide rate from other bridges significantly increased.  In the Toronto study the researchers concluded:  “This research shows that constructing a barrier on a bridge with a high rate of suicide by jumping is likely to reduce or eliminate suicides at that bridge but it may not alter absolute suicide rates by jumping when there are comparable bridges nearby.”

In December 2010 a Cornell student jumped to her death at Taughannock Falls, which is just outside of Ithaca. The danger of placing fences on the bridges is highlighted by this tragic death.  This is a clear case of substitution of location from the fenced bridges.  In other words, the fences prevented her suicide from the bridges in Ithaca, so the woman chose a nearby site to jump just as the Toronto study warns.

David Gunnell from the University of Bristol and Matthew Miller from Harvard School of Public Health, commented in an editorial accompanying the Toronto study:  “This study reminds us that means restriction may not work everywhere, and that we have much to learn about the determinants of the choice of method in suicidal acts.” 

We encourage you to read the Toronto study.  Here is the link:

More information on this topic is available on our site in the Facts about Suicide page under Research Papers.

2.  The fences are unnecessary because the suicide rate in Ithaca is statistically much lower than the national average 

The facts show that suicide from bridges is clearly not a serious problem in Ithaca.  The overall suicide rate in Ithaca is surprising low.  There have been 27 deadly falls or suicides from the bridges in Ithaca in the last 20 years.  15 of those deaths were Cornell students.
Cornell University has had 25 suicides (15 from gorges) in the past 21 years for an average  suicide rate of 1.2 per year which is much lower than should be statistically expected for this age group.

We do not believe this constitutes a "suicide contagion" or a potential risk of a "suicide contagion."

3.  The fences are a depressing and constant reminder of suicide

The fences are depressing, ugly obstructions that are a memorial to suicide.   Our position is that the fences constantly remind members of the community of suicide and are creating a potential public mental health crisis. Some argue that if the fences save one life they are worth it.  We argue that the overall mental health of the community is critically important and is being adversely affected by the fences. The potential effect of the fences on members of the community was not studied or considered before Cornell University rashly erected the fences.  And, there has been no effort by Cornell University to study or consider the real consequences of the impact the fences have had and continues to have on the mental health of the community.

It's depressing to walk across the bridges in Ithaca.  Winter in Ithaca is long and hard.  During the summer and fall it is crucial for people to have access to nature so they can go into the winter feeling strong and positive.  Instead, the citizens of Ithaca have been subjected to the daily stress and frustration of being blocked off from nature and the gorges by ugly fences and the ever present reminder of suicide.  For some, the fences make them feel like Ithaca is a prison.  The saying here is “Ithaca is Gorges”. Sadly, we are now cut off from any view of the gorges. This is making otherwise content people feel depressed, angry and frustrated and is adversely affecting the well-being of many community members.

4.  The fences detract from the natural beauty of Ithaca

The gorges in Ithaca are renowned for their awe inspiring beauty. The importance of the the gorges to city is indisputable.  In fact, the unofficial slogan Ithaca is GORGES  used to be proudly worn on t-shirts and displayed on bumper sticker.  Trees thrive in the rocky gorges and waterfalls cascade through them.  Before the fences were erected by Cornell University there was an unobstructed and breathtaking view from each of the bridges in Ithaca. 

Now, as you walk over the bridges in Ithaca you must walk on a sidewalk alongside a 8 foot high black metal fence.  The fences enclose both sides of the bridges and extend around the sides of the bridges creating an absolute barrier between you and the gorge. You cannot see over the fences.  The bars of the fences are roughly 2 inch apart so you can see the gorge in the background behind the fence.  If you place your face against the fence you can see the gorge without the fence in your view.

On each bridge Cornell University has cut a so-called "viewing hole".  These "viewing holes" are approximately 8 inches by 10 inches.  At first we thought these holes were the result of vandalism.  Later we learned that Cornell University intentionally cut these tiny holes into the fences.  Apparently, Cornell University believes these viewing holes are an adequate replacement for the prior unobstructed and beautiful view of the gorges.  These viewing holes are the greatest insult.  Looking through a viewing hole feels like looking through the bars of a prison cell.

5.  The fences are illegally placed on the bridges in violation of local and state laws

The fences were erected after Cornell University demanded that the Mayor of Ithaca, Carolyn Peterson cooperate with them.
Essentially, the Mayor declared a state of emergency for 10 weeks and believed that she could act unilaterally to suspend State and local laws.The law is clear that the Mayor can issue emergency orders for 5 days after publishing a proclamation of a state of emergency.  This proclamation does not exist.  The law is also clear that the Mayor DOES NOT have the authority on her own to suspend State and local laws.  In the most shocking affront to the Constitution and the rule of law, the Common Council voted to extend the Mayor's illegal actions. 

We find this abuse of power frightening.

What they have done is analogous to saying that it is probably going to snow at some point so we will declare a state of emergency from March 2010 until May 2011 - close the roads to all traffic and have snowplows driving on the roads during that time.

To put this in perspective, the power  that the Mayor invoked would permit her for 15 months to declare a curfew, curtail traffic, close places of amusement and assembly, suspend the sale of alcohol, and to prohibit people from being present on public streets and places.  Keep in mind that her power to actually suspend state and local laws is subject to stricter standards and limits.  What this means is that the mayor and the Common Council believe that they have the power to do all of those things in addition to the most extreme action of circumventing or ignoring established laws and the rule of law.

There is no question that if there is a true disaster the Mayor should be able to act quickly DURING the emergency to protect the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of Ithaca.  That is why the law gives these extraordinary powers.  But the law is also clear that any action taken under these powers is specifically limited in duration and scope.

The Mayor DID NOT have the authority or the emergency power to suspend State and local laws to permit the suicide fences to be erected.  The Common Council DOES NOT have legal authority to ratify an illegal act of the Mayor that circumvents State and local laws. 

For the full argument about why the fences are illegal see the History of the Fences page.

6.  Fences do not properly address the issue of suicide

90% of people who die by suicide suffer from depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder.

The bridges are not the reason people choose suicide.
The gorges are not the reason people choose  suicide.

Erecting fences will not stop people from dying by suicide.  People can climb over the fences.  People can go around the fences.

A NY Times article quoted a doctor who is among the most often-cited experts on suicide — and specifically on suicide by jumping. From the article:

                 “Of all the hundreds of jumping suicides I’ve looked at,” one told me, “I’ve yet to come across a case where a
                  mentally healthy person was walking across a bridge one day and just went over the side. It just doesn’t happen.
                  There’s almost always the presence of mental illness somewhere.”

Fences do not address the main issue which is that people who are suffering from mental illness are potentially at risk of committing suicide. Cornell University is using the fences to divert attention from its responsibility to its students and is not addressing the mental health issues of the students who may be considering such a tragic and drastic solution to their problems The focus on the fences is a misdirected waste of resources and energy that should be spent to help students who are suffering from mental illness NOW not when they have reached the desperate moment where they have decided to die by suicide.

We feel the fences are a political overreaction to bad publicity for Cornell University. They are nothing more than a band-aid and are not an appropriate long term solution to the problem. We want a real solution that will help those suffering with mental illness and considering suicide, not fences.

Here is a link to a recent article in the Cornell Daily Sun about Cornell University's continuing failure to meet the demand for mental health services for its students:

7.  The fences don't work

In Fall 2010, after the fences were erected, a Cornell University student lost his life when he fell into a gorge.  This shows that fences don't work. If fences cannot prevent an accidental death from a fenced area how can they stop a person determined to scale the fence to end his or her life?

Suicides have occurred from the fenced Suspension Bridge over the years.  The individuals who have died by suicide on the Suspension Bridge climbed the fence or went around it. Sadly, even fences and human intervention is not necessarily effective.  In one instance, a person died by suicide after climbing over a fence and speaking with passers-by who tried to convince the person not to jump. No matter how high a fence is, a determined person in crisis can find a way to jump. 

This is why we advocate placing a phone on each high bridge in Ithaca with a 24 hour crisis hotline number clearly visible. The New York Bridge Authority, the New York State Office of Mental Health, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the former Director of Suicide Prevention for New York State all recommended phones not fences in a 2007 report. 

Here is a link to a pdf of the New York State Bridge Authority Report:

Some facts are helpful in evaluating whether fences are necessary

  •       Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students.
  •       Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.  
  •       The average annual suicide rate for college students is 7.5 suicides for every 100,000 students. 
  •        Ithaca has had 27 suicides from bridges in the past 20 years.
  •       Cornell University has had 25 suicides (15 from bridges) in the past 21 years for an average suicide rate of 1.2 per year.
  •       The average annual suicide rate for 20 to 24 year olds is 12.5 per 100,000 .   
  •       Young people are much more likely to use firearms, suffocation, and poisoning than other methods of suicide, overall.
  •       More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide suffer from depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse                      disorder.

Fences can't be placed everywhere.  And, every means of suicide cannot be removed.  The City of Ithaca and Cornell University have acted unilaterally without properly evaluating whether fences are actually necessary.  The public has not been adequately consulted and laws have been violated to erect the fences.  We believe fences are an overreaction.  They must be taken down. We believe a more moderate response is more sensible. 

There are a range of other options that have not been considered because the advisors have overstated the effectiveness of suicide barriers.  Among those options: signs and a telephone hotline, suicide patrols, improved lighting/visibility at particular sites, training for Cornell University staff to identify individuals in distress, mentoring system for students to identify peers in distress, and doing nothing. Our suggestion is to place an emergency phone on each bridge with a sign that has a crisis line number clearly visible.

We encourage people to write letters, join groups, and act in any way they feel comfortable with to oppose the fences. 

Add Ithaca Isfences on Facebook ( or send an email to to contribute to the discussion and to get updates on actions against the fences.