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A bridge too far?

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

Not all Capen Street residents share the fears expressed about crime. In a June letter to the Milton Selectmen and DCR, Judy Lieberman said, “I don’t feel particularly worried about having a bike path near my house. The evidence for a bike path increasing crime is not there and the experience of the Neponset Greenway, from Central [Avenue] to Pope John Paul Park does not support these fears.”

Lieberman predicted a path that crosses Capen Street, where she said thefts of bicycles have occurred, would likely “have a beneficial impact on crime in the area, due to more frequent patrolling and the positive activities it brings, rather than the dire predictions I’ve heard.”

In a telephone interview, Lieutenant Commander Bill Fleming of the Transit Police suggested the opening of the Neponset River trail in 2003 has reduced crime along the trolley line.

“I think the bike path makes it safer — more people,” Fleming said last week. “Before the bike path, those stations were isolated. Now they’re all lighted, graffiti-free” and blanketed with security cameras.

So far this year, Transit Police have responded to 23 incidents on the trolley line, he said. Most involved disorderly conduct by bunches of students headed home from school. The most serious, he said, was an assault with a dangerous weapon that entailed a youth pointing a BB gun — from bushes in Milton — at passengers getting off at Butler Street.

“It’s very quiet on the high-speed line,” Fleming said. “There is no crime there.”

The State Police did not fulfill a request for crime statistics for the existing Neponset River trail. Nor did Milton Police respond to an inquiry for incidents near trolley stops. The Boston Police do not report crime figures for only the part of Mattapan along River Street.

Milton residents, including those who live on Capen Street, have expressed a variety of other concerns — increased traffic, illegal parking, tree removal, environmental impact, handicapped access, loss of privacy. Bicyclists have concerns about their safety, particularly crossing the congested intersection of River Street and Blue Hill Avenue.

But crime has been a consistent theme — not only on Capen Street. Judi Manning told DCR she opposed “a bike path that would involve adding additional bridges from Milton to Mattapan” because of their cost but also because they would be, “although not politically correct to say, an endangerment to the families along Eliot Street,” which runs along the proposed routes in Milton.

Manning added: “If you must  have this bike path, then put it on one side of the river or the other. But my vote is not for it to go through Milton.”

Yet a route along the Mattapan riverside, populated mostly by residents of single-family homes on quiet dead-end streets, with some apartment buildings north of River Street, has raised similar concerns.

A bicyclist who attended a May public hearing opposed a spur connecting Ryan Park to the new trail. “I would feel less safe with access or riding on the Mattapan side of the river. I am a woman who rides alone — sorry to be divisive, but I ride where I feel safe,” wrote the woman, who did not identify where she lives.

Cassandra Cato-Louis, a Mattapan resident who plays tennis at Ryan Park in the evenings, said she supports either of two plans that would put the path beside her home because it would increase property values and create a safer environment, with more people and police patrols.

The 100 Mattapan and Milton residents who attended the May public meeting favored a route that would start in Milton at Central Avenue and cross to Mattapan at Ryan Park, according to Cathy Garnett, who is managing the project for DCR. The second choice was the Mattapan-only route.

DCR is taking public comments through Aug. 14 at dcr.updates@state.ma.us or 617-626-4974. As of last Thursday, most comments had come from Milton.