The bridge connects Ringwood Avenue over U.S. 101, and serves about 50 students a day who walk and bike from the city's largely low-income Belle Haven neighborhood to Menlo-Atherton High School on the affluent west side of town.
But residents on the west side of the freeway say the bridge is a conduit for crime, providing criminals an easy escape route from their neighborhood to Belle Haven.
At a heated Dec. 18 meeting, council members voted 4-1 to accept a plan by Caltrans to replace the bridge, but exactly where the new bridge will be built is still unknown.
The council asked Caltrans officials to work with city staff and a working group of neighbors on both sides of the freeway to figure out where a new bridge could be built as part of Caltrans' $111 million effort to add lanes to U.S. 101 between Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto and Marsh Road in Menlo Park. Due to the construction, a slightly higher bridge has to be built.
Councilman Andy Cohen voted in opposition, arguing that Caltrans' previous efforts to work with neighbors were inadequate, and that he had no faith future efforts would be any better.
About 15 homeowners — all of whom live on the west side of the freeway — blamed the bridge for crime in or near their neighborhoods.
"Some people call this the crime access route — it's an easy way to get away," said Paul Hugo a 22-year homeowner on Ringwood Avenue whose home was recently burglarized and a member of his family tied up. "I don't believe [the need for] this overcrossing trumps the safety of our residents."
Residents from nearby streets begged the council not to allow bridge access to their respective blocks, and urged the city to shuttle or bus students from Belle Haven to M-A High School instead.
Menlo Park Police Cmdr. Lacey Burt said residents' claims that the bridge is the cause of more crime can't be substantiated. She said the bridge is part of the regular police beat, but doesn't get any special attention.
According to police records, the area bordered by Willow, Marsh and Bay roads and U.S. 101 — the census tract that includes the bridge — has seen 25 serious crimes this year from January to May: 12 home burglaries, 12 car burglaries, and one robbery.
Four other census tracks have seen more crime, including two areas near Middlefield Road, the Willows neighborhood, and Belle Haven, which has seen 93 serious crimes.
Neighbors' tying the bridge to crime didn't go over well with several Belle Haven residents, who said the neighborhood as a whole was being unfairly blamed for terrorizing residents on the other side of the freeway.
"All I've heard is that the people that cross that bridge break into your houses and commit crimes," said Shintiara Moore, a Belle Haven resident and substitute teacher. "The people crossing that bridge are taking the initiative to go to school in the morning."
She noted that in the case of the bridge debate, as with other Menlo Park issues, the east side of the freeway is practically considered a separate city.