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Suicide Prevention Hotline to the Rescue on RFK Bridge

RFK Bridge Phone
MTA workers install an emergency phone on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, on July 29, 2019.
Photo: Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

An MTA work crew installed a suicide-prevention telephone on the Queens side of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge Monday — hours after THE CITY reported the absence of an advertised lifeline.

A gray phone box is now located by a staircase along the pedestrian path on the Queens end of the span, formerly known as the Triborough Bridge.

THE CITY reported Monday that a sign on the bridge between Queens and Randall’s Island promised a suicide-prevention hotline was available. “LIFE IS WORTH LIVING,” the sign said. “PHONE AHEAD.”

The sign provided the number to a 24-hour hotline run by NYC Well, part of the ThriveNYC — a mental health program started by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray. But until Monday, no phone had been installed on the walkway on that end of the bridge.

The Queens span of the RFK Bridge crosses about 140 feet above the East River, and has been the scene of multiple fatal leaps from the pedestrian path.

Christopher McNiff, an MTA spokesperson, said the new phone is operational and connects to NYC Well. He called suicide prevention an “essential priority” for the authority.

RFK Bridge Phone
The new phone on the RFK Bridge.
Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

“We recently began taking a fresh look at the issue, and are partnering with experts in the field and the [city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] for a reassessment of the phone technology and messaging,” said McNiff. “This includes reviewing the location of phones.”

In addition to the new phone, he said, four signs were being posted Monday, providing directions to the phone’s location on the bridge.

‘Happy to See It’

After THE CITY published its story on the lack of a phone on the RFK Bridge, Mark Thomas visited the scene.

Thomas, who runs the website the Payphone Project documenting the demise of the once ubiquitous devices, has been writing since 2012 about the lack of a suicide-prevention line on the bridge.

He became elated Monday when MTA workers told him a phone was being installed.

“I was like, ‘This is wonderful, this is a great thing you are doing,’ and they all seemed to concur, that they were doing something was a positive thing. So, I was happy to see it and I hope somebody else is, too,” Thomas said.

Passersby shared in the positive feelings.

“That’s the way to go,” said Ysnaldo Perez, 30, of Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, who rode his bike across the bridge Monday. “When you’re in that train of thought, you need someone to talk to.”

“A phone is going to help,” agreed Gus Disko, 72, of Astoria, Queens, as he prepared to walk across the span. “It’s going to save a lot of lives.”


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