Bridge signs, barriers and Monica Dickens

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 2:45pm

To the Editor,
By the time letter article appears, The Samaritans of Rhode Island, a suicide prevention education and grief support program established in 1977, would have participated in its 9th annual “Cross the Bridge to Hope” at the 2021 Pell Bridge Run on Oct. 17, 2021.
The significance of this event grows each year. The excitement of the race is amazing but for members of Team Samaritans, our reason for being there is never forgotten. We start every walk with a moment of silence as our volunteers and grieving survivors honor and remember those lost to our state’s unprotected bridges and by other means.

From Cape Cod’s Bourne and Sagamore Bridges to Fall River’s Braga Bridge to Rhode Island’s own Jamestown, Pell and Mount Hope Bridges, Samaritan signs are iconic, encouraging those seeking a nonjudgmental listener to call.

But did you know the person credited for leading the way for bridge signs and bridge barriers was Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens? Dickens also is credited with being the impetus behind expansion of the international Samaritan movement to New England.
A driving force behind the first known installation of physical barriers on highway bridges in the United States, in the early 1980s, Dickens, working with The Samaritans of Cape Cod and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, managers of the canal, as well as the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges, successfully lobbied for a physical deterrent system.

Today, with barriers on both bridges, the Army Corps of Engineers reports the 12-foot deterrent system successfully prevents falls from the bridges and likely provides time for emergency services to respond. Only Rhode Island has not installed physical deterrent on its coastal bridges. Forty-year Samaritan volunteer Bryan Ganley and East Bay resident Melissa Cotta, both of whom have experienced losses from our bridges, have started a petition for physical barriers on the Jamestown, Pell, and Mount Hope Bridges. Join us and the more than 3,750 others who have signed in support of the petition. Go to:

Did you know that 100 percent of all donations to The Samaritans benefits our Rhode Island-based charity? Please consider a holiday season gift, memorial gift or gift to honor a loved one or friend at any time during the year. To learn more about our programs and year-end giving, please visit the “Cross the Bridge to Hope” page on our website at
Emergency? Call 911. Need to Talk? Call The Samaritans at (401) 272-4044 or 1-(800)365-4044.

Denise Panichas,
Executive Director
The Samaritans of Rhode Island