About Us - History
In 2006, three years after Dave Hull’s 26-year-old daughter, Kathy, jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, Hull came out of mourning and decided that something needed to be done to spare future families from the tragedy this his family experienced. With two other like-minded individuals—Patrick Hines, a corporate banker whose son, Kevin, was one of the few people to jump from the bridge and live, and Paul Muller, co-owner of a small San Francisco marketing firm whose partner had a family member jump from the bridge—Hull pitched a San Francisco philanthropist who was interested in mental health issues. The trio explained the problem to her, as well as their general strategy for dealing with it. She was convinced that a suicide barrier on the bridge was needed, and the Althea Foundation provided $5,000 in seed funding. That was enough to officially incorporate and launch a new nonprofit organization named Bridge Rail Foundation. It began with a single mission: to see that the existing railing was raised or a net was installed so that suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge ended.
Marin County coroner Ken Holmes joined the all-volunteer organization early on, as did many survivor families. In district hearings and community forums, they told emotional, first person stories of tragic deaths, all preventable if the bridge had a barrier. Their efforts paid off. In 2008, the Bridge District board took a historic step by approving the addition of a suicide deterrent net under the bridge. At the same time that they approved the net, however, the board didn’t allocate any money to pay for it.
Over the next six years, Bridge Rail Foundation volunteers worked with Bridge District staff to identify sources of financial support for the net and push for funding. A significant milestone took place in 2012 when language was inserted in the federal Transportation Bill that allowed for the use of highway construction funds to be used for safety barriers and nets. It wasn’t precluded before, but it wasn’t specifically articulated. That opened up new avenues of funding.
Another milestone occurred when the parents of an 18-year-old boy who jumped posted a petition on Change.org advocating for a suicide deterrent on the Golden Gate Bridge. The parents were active members of Bridge Rail Foundation, and the petition garnered more than 100,000 signatures in only one month. It was a far cry from the early days when opposition to a bridge barrier exceeded support.
In 2014, funding was committed by three sources—the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans, and California’s Mental Health Services Act—if the Bridge District also contributed. The Bridge District board agreed, allocating the balance needed so that the full $76 million budget for the project had been raised.
With funding in place, engineering plans completed, and construction of the net scheduled to begin in late 2016, Bridge Rail Foundation board members have reexamined the agency’s mission. The goal of a suicide deterrent on the bridge would be achieved, so the mission would be fulfilled; however, many lessons had been learned along the way, numerous insights had been gained, and important partnerships had been established that could benefit other communities that were dealing with local suicide sites. Board members voted to expand the mission in order to support these efforts.