updated 2/24/2005 11:05:15 PM ET 2005-02-25T04:05:15

Golden Gate Bridge officials Thursday moved closer to building a barrier to prevent people from jumping off the famous suspension bridge, where about 1,300 people have killed themselves since the landmark opened in 1937.

Officials voted to develop a plan and explore funding for the suicide barrier after hearing emotional testimony from friends and family of people who jumped off the iconic bridge connecting San Francisco and Marin County.

The decision by a committee of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District still must be approved by the district’s board of directors when it meets March 11.

All the nearly 20 people who testified Thursday urged committee members to erect the barrier.

“I don’t want one more family member to go through this pain,” said Terry Oxford of San Jose, whose 26-year-old daughter, Jennifer, jumped to her death last week. “She chose this bridge because it was accessible.”

An average of 20 people a year commit suicide by pitching themselves over the bridge’s 4½-foot-high rail. Four have already done so this year.

“This is the place where the most preventable suicides occur,” said Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention. “These are the most impulsive, least planned and least strategized suicides.”

Building a suicide barrier on the bridge has been suggested for decades, but the idea gained momentum earlier this year when bridge officials learned that a filmmaker had filmed 19 people jumping off the bridge. Eric Steel told the bridge district he had intended to “capture the grandeur” of the bridge but ended up making a movie about its history of suicides.

Earlier this week, district staff members said it would take about two years and $2 million to develop a plan for the barrier and another two years to build it. The cost of the barrier depends on the design.

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