Residents on Ringwood Avenue west of U.S. Highway 101 say that a pedestrian bridge linking their neighborhood to the community across the highway on the east side has become a conduit for crime — one they want destroyed.
The California Department of Transportation is weighing whether to spend $5.7 million to demolish and replace the aging bike and pedestrian bridge in 2011 when it begins adding auxiliary lanes on the highway, spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said. The bridge is used by roughly 50 people per day to get to and from Menlo-Atherton High School, said Richard Angulo of the city’s transportation department.
Residents who oppose the replacement say $5.7 million — which would come from San Mateo County and regional transportation funds — could be put to better use. But many also believe that the criminal activity in their neighborhood could be stopped if residents from Belle Haven, on the east side, couldn’t cross the freeway by foot.
"There’s a fair amount of petty crime — cars broken into, cameras and radios stolen," resident Paul Hugo said. "This is over a period of years, but the question is, how much crime do you put up with?"
Between May and December of 2007, the neighborhood immediately west of the bridge saw 25 crimes, including one robbery, 12 burglaries and 12 larcenies, according to data from the Menlo Park Police Department.
"We understand residents’ frustrations. People feel that criminals are using the bridge to come into their neighborhood," Menlo Park police Cmdr. Lacey Burt said. "However, we’d have to ask criminals, ‘Did you walk across the bridge?’ and we have no way of collecting data like that."
Meanwhile, the Belle Haven area saw 93 crimes in the same period, ranging from stolen cars to assaults and two rapes.
"The kids who use the bridge, some are rough around the edges," said Matt Henry, a longtime Belle Haven resident. "They’re teenagers. They’re laughing and talking and walking in groups, and that just scares the heck out of [residents]."
The communities on either side of the bridge are extremely isolated — and destroying the bridge would only make that isolation worse, Henry said.
The Menlo Park City Council has voted twice in favor of replacing the bridge with a new one, according to Navarro. However, if leaders in the city recommend not replacing it, Caltrans would seriously consider that input. Otherwise, construction on the new bridge is scheduled for completion in 2013.