Instead of Safety, Md. Footbridge Brings Muggings
Monday, January 22, 2007
A long-awaited $7.7 million footbridge that opened in the summer to allow pedestrians to safely cross the Capital Beltway along Georgia Avenue has brought new danger to a nearby Silver Spring neighborhood: muggers.
Since the bridge opened in August, linking walkers to the Forest Glen Metro stop north of the Beltway, there have been three armed robberies, two at gunpoint and one with a knife. The incidents have frightened commuters and residents and caused headaches for police and county public works officials who are struggling to find ways to stem the crime.
The three robberies -- the most recent Jan. 11 -- took place near the middle of the footbridge as it dips under the elevated Beltway a few miles north of downtown Silver Spring.
Many parts of the half-mile-long bridge are open and visible. But the section that runs for about one-tenth of a mile under the Beltway is dark, has places where a would-be mugger could lie in wait, and is so noisy from the traffic above that cries for help would be drowned out, police said.
In interviews and on online mailing lists, residents have said they try to avoid the bridge, turning it into an expensive but little-used monument. It is often empty except during rush hour, police and residents said.
Caren Madsen, one of many residents who had pushed county officials for several years to fund the bridge, said she is heartsick about the muggings.
"It's like a little cave. It's dark, a perfect place for a crime. You can't escape anywhere. You are completely penned in," she said. "I don't want to use it."
The robberies have stood out because violent crime in the area is uncommon. In 2005, there was one robbery in the neighborhood. In 2006, there were six, and two of them were on the footbridge, police said.
"If someone is up there to do harm, no one is going to see you. Before this, the danger was you might be hit by a car," said Carla Haywood, who lives near the bridge. Like many in the neighborhood, she had enthusiastically welcomed it as a way to get pedestrians off busy Georgia Avenue, where cars often whip around the Beltway's exit ramps at high speeds.
"They put you right under the Beltway into this dark place," Haywood said.
Haywood said she and others had raised questions about safety while the bridge was being designed. There appeared to be little consultation by public works officials with police about safety issues, she said.
Bill Warren, president of a nearby neighborhood association, said design concerns arose early. "There is no question there are some issues with the bridge and the way it was designed. Unfortunately, they have been quick to surface," he said.