One Christmas, a Boston mother flung her two young children, and then herself, off the roof of a parking garage. It was the third suicide at this garage in less than a year. The sad fact is that parking garages are common locations for suicide by jumping, second only to bridges. While it’s difficult prevent people from jumping from garages, there are measures that can be taken to make it more difficult for them to succeed. It’s possible to add design elements that can interfere with a suicidal person’s intentions, delaying them and hopefully providing enough time for police or others to intervene to prevent suicides in parking facilities.
Parking garages are typically designed for easy public access. They are also designed to be efficient, often taking advantage of open wall designs to capitalize on airflow for natural ventilation, as well as material and weight reduction. But these same design elements can pose suicide or accident risks. Simply put: these elements also make it easy to jump or fall from them.
The first step in improving safety is to add protective fencing on the rooftop levels of parking facilities. Protective fencing is an obstacle to self-harm that can easily be retrofitted into an existing garage, or included into new facility design, and that can make a lifesaving difference. Of course, it may not ultimately keep a person from ending his or her life, but it may prevent the act in that moment. And that just might be enough. Enough time for them to reconsider. Or to reach out for help. Enough time for a change of heart, or for the impulse to pass. And even that alone, might save a life.
As a rule, fencing should be high enough to discourage people from attempting to climb over the barrier. A 10- or 12-foot fence should be sufficient to dissuade people from climbing. Fences that curve in on the top are even more difficult to climb.
Of course, garage roofs don’t present the only suicide risk. Because parking decks tend to be open, sealing wall openings with screening infill mesh should also be considered. The infill mesh prevents people from jumping, and they can also serve as an attractive architectural element. Some designers even cover the frames with plants, turning them into living walls. It’s an attractive, sustainable feature to parking design that provides an additional safety benefit. Screens and living walls can be added as part of a retrofit or as elements of original garage design.
These safety measures can save lives, while potentially reducing the liability of garage owners and operators. It’s a simple fact that facility providers must offer reasonable safety considerations in their structures. While laws, codes, and safety requirements differ by location, parking owners and operators should do as much as they possibly can to make to make their parking structures safer and reduce the likelihood of loss of life.
Since joining Rich & Associates in 1986, David has served in a variety of roles including work on parking planning studies and design/build projects. As Vice President/Director of Business Development, he is responsible for establishing new business and maintaining client relationships. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org