A bridge too far?

Kenneth J. Cooper | 8/3/2010, 7:49 p.m.

A proposed walkway between Milton and Mattapan has neighbors at odds

The state’s plans to extend a walking and biking path along the Neponset River has shown that more than a shallow waterway separates Mattapan and Milton. Some of the suburbanites fear the city neighborhood, which they associate with crime.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is deciding whether the one-mile extension from Central Avenue to Blue Hill Avenue will follow the river on the Mattapan side, the Milton side or have stretches along both. Five routes are under consideration, with a decision possible in October. When the path will open depends on the availability of $3 million to $4 million to build it.

Mattapan residents have generally favored the new section of the Lower Neponset River Trail being in their community, as a recreational asset and a possible boost to property values. Some neighborhood leaders have endorsed a route connecting both sides, literally building a bridge between the two communities.

“On both sides of the river, people would want access,” Mary Burks of the Mattapan Civic Improvement Association said last week. “The river isn’t that wide. You could easily go back and forth.”

But some Milton residents, particularly around Capen Street, have said they fear creating what they see as a corridor for crime from Mattapan to their suburban neighborhood. In public comments to the department, Capen Street residents, whose street the path would cross in three of the five plans, characterized Ryan Park on River Street and busy Mattapan Square as crime havens.

Lisa McMullen urged state officials to place the path on the Mattapan side and added, “My husband and I are also very concerned about the options that link Ryan Park to Milton and on to Capen Street. We are extremely concerned about connecting a high crime area to our low crime area.”

Referring to Mattapan Square, another resident, Andrea Synnott, wrote that she and her husband “worry about the safety of our kids if the neighborhood is made more accessible to a busy commercial area with high crime. I believe it would cause fundamental changes to an otherwise quiet and isolated neighborhood.”

A stop on the Mattapan trolley line is located on Capen Street, which dead-ends at a northerly bend in the river. The stop is the closest one to the square.

DCR officials last week led a tour of the proposed routes on the Milton side. Questioning from 70 participants — mostly from Milton but some from Mattapan and Hyde Park — was easygoing until the tour reached Capen Street. There the exchanges with DCR consultant Deneen Crosby grew testy and, at times, argumentative.

Michael O’Hanlon of Capen Street asked: “What will T drivers do when they see unsavory characters along the path?”

Mark Boyle, a MBTA official present, said trolley drivers were responsible for safely operating the vehicles but would report any crimes they observed. He also noted the half-dozen security cameras mounted at the stop.

None of the Capen Street residents mentioned race in public comments emailed to the department or made during the tour. The Milton side is predominately white; the Mattapan side is predominately black.