East Palo Alto police plan to patrol the new bike-and-pedestrian bridge over U.S. Highway 101 and are looking into adding surveillance cameras after two people reported being attacked by groups of youths on the span, police Cmdr. Jeff Liu said this week.
The two attempted robberies on the overpass, which connects Clarke Avenue to West Bayshore Road, occurred on June 13 within 90 minutes of each other, according to police. Around 8 p.m., a man walking west on the bridge encountered six to seven Hispanic teenagers. One teen asked the man for his backpack and cellphone before the rest of the group attacked him. The pedestrian was treated for moderate injuries at a hospital, police said in a June 14 press release.
Later that evening, another pedestrian crossing east was surrounded by six to eight teens of mixed race who asked what he had in his pockets. When the man pulled out a knife to defend himself, the group grabbed bricks and threw them at him before fleeing west on the bridge. He suffered minor injuries but didn't need treatment at a hospital, Liu said.
The crimes come less than a month after the May 18 grand opening of the bridge connecting the east and west sides of the city. On Wednesday, resident Charmae Martin, a mother of two who lives down the street from the Newell Road/West Bayshore entrance to the overpass, said that she would like to see a greater police presence in the area.
"It makes me a little bit nervous," she said.
Her family moved to East Palo Alto last August. Since then, they've been waiting for the overpass to be completed. It connects her to the shops east of the freeway and her children to playgrounds, so they don't have to make a long trip to play areas in Palo Alto, she said.
Martin said she can see how such criminal activity would affect people who work at the Ravenswood 101 shopping center, at the bridge's east end. But such crimes won't necessarily affect her, she said, because she only uses the bridge during the day and she comes back before dark. She did recently go on a walk at night, however, which could put her in danger whether using the bridge or not.
"You win some and you lose some. I just take it with a grain of salt and keep my fingers crossed; that's all I can do," she said. "Things are going to happen no matter where you are."
But at the same time, she said she hopes "police activity will be prevalent."
She recently saw an officer parked on the east side of the overpass near the Home Depot and would like the department to have more of that kind of presence. She suggested that East Palo Alto police patrol the area on bikes.
"It really wouldn't be that hard," she said.
Soren Tirfing, another nearby resident, said he would like to see the city install cameras, but he doesn't think it's possible due to a lack of funding for the police department.
Wednesday was the first time he crossed the bridge, and he hopes to use it as part of his exercise routine. He doesn't have any concerns about crossing during the day but would have concerns at night, he said.
Still, the robberies did happen while some daylight remained, which gives him pause.
"I don't know what to think about that," he said, adding that he plans to continue to use the bridge during the day.
When East Palo Alto celebrated the bridge's opening last month, city leaders hailed it as a major step toward uniting the city, which was bisected decades ago when the freeway was built. The crossing is the first of two bridges the city plans to construct to aid biking and walking. The second will be adjacent to the existing University Avenue freeway overpass in the north part of town.
With the bridge's opening, East Palo Alto residents living on the east side of the city now have access to routes to Stanford University, libraries and parks to the west. Westside residents can cross to get to schools, City Hall, the senior center, open space and shopping on the city's east and south sides. Palo Alto residents can use the bridge to access open space, including the Bay Trail and Cooley Landing; jobs, including at Amazon in East Palo Alto and Facebook in eastern Menlo Park; and shopping center Ravenswood 101.
Palo Alto police spokeswoman Janine De la Vega said that the Embarcadero/Oregon Avenue bike and pedestrian overpass in that city, which also crosses the freeway, has not had any robbery incidents in the last 12 months.