Editorials

Public Safety Over Aesthetics

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In its two-and-a-half years as an eye-catching centerpiece of Manhattan’s gleaming Hudson Yards complex, the Vessel became a major attraction that drew locals and visitors alike.

Thousands each day snapped selfies in front of its unusual rippling frame that stands 150 feet above the ground, the equivalent of 16 stories. Visitors stood on lengthy admission lines for a chance to walk to the top along its circular path of staircases and landings bordered by waist-high glass barriers that allow magnificent open views of the city in every direction.

For now, and maybe forever, those days are over.

A rash of suicide jumps have resulted in the Vessel being closed to visitors for the second time this year while Hudson Yards officials consider how, and if, it can safely reopen.

Until an effective plan is in place, the structure should remain shut.

We join the local community board, suicide prevention researchers and even the architectural firm that designed the Vessel who have repeatedly called for higher barriers and other measures to prevent people from climbing over the railings to kill themselves.

The latest tragedy occurred July 29, barely two months after its May reopening with some new safety measures in place, when a 14-year-old boy leaped to his death in front of his horrified family.

Before that, two people had committed suicide in a span of a month leading to the January shutdown; the first suicide at the Vessel was in February 2020.

The Related Companies, developer of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s Far West Side, has said the Vessel will remain closed indefinitely as the company conducts a full investigation of its safety and considers its future.

Yes, the company should investigate. They’d better come up with a better plan that the one they adopted after the first shutdown, a major part of which was an increase in security, the institution of an admission charge, and a ban on people entering alone. Only people in pairs or groups were permitted.

Sadly, that did not work as hoped, and a family tragedy ensued.

It is well known that high physical barriers and adding nets in suicide-prone locations can help considerably. The George Washington Bridge installed such preventive measures years ago; in San Francisco, a similar project is under way at the Golden Gate Bridge.

But Related Companies has resisted the urgings of community leaders and others to raise the height of the barriers, and even if it did it might not be enough to change things in a structure used by such large numbers of people.

In 2003, for example, two students jumped to their death from the open atrium of New York University’s Bobst Library. The university attempted to remedy the problem by installing an 8-foot-tall plexiglass barrier, but in 2009 another student managed to climb over it and jump to his death. NYU’s solution in 2012 was to encase the area with laser-cut aluminum panels that allow light to come through in intricate patterns.

Could something like that work at the Vessel?

Perhaps. As the developers ponder its future, we’d like to remind them that that even though aesthetics of public spaces are important, public safety matters more.

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