Opponents to extending the Capital Crescent Trail along the border of Woodside are asserting that the trail will bring crime to the neighborhood. That was one of the issues a few residents raised at the Dec. 16th MTA Woodside meeting. The issue was raised again when Woodside residents expressed their objections to the trail in the Gazette article Residents fear extending Capital Crescent Trail would derail Silver Spring neighborhood.
The Woodside Civic Association (WCA) took up the CCT crime issue at its Feb. 13, 2011 winter meeting. Darien Manley, Chief, Montgomery County Park Police was the invited speaker. Chief Manley has had a decades long career with the Park Police, and has been Chief for the last 3 years. The Park Police patrol 100 miles of paved trails and 200 miles of unpaved trails within Montgomery County.
Chief Manley delivered a clear message to the WCA that trails do not bring crime to neighborhoods and crime is not a serious problem on trails. Some crime does occur everywhere and there will be some crime on trails, but typically there is less crime on a trail than in the neighborhood that the trail passes through. Manley stated that studies by the National Park Service and others show that the nationwide experience is similar to that he has experienced in Montgomery County – i.e. crime is generally low on trails.
Chief Manley asserted that criminals like secluded areas where they can have less concern about having witnesses to their crime. Trails, especially busy trails like the CCT, bring people who are using the area lawfully, and these lawful users put eyes on the trail that drives crime away.
A skeptical Woodside resident and CCT opponent challenged Chief Manley, asserting that the CCT in Silver Spring would be different than the CCT in Chevy Chase and different than the other county trails. The CCT will be extended into an area that has a higher crime rate and that has more low income residents than seen in Chevy Chase. The extended CCT will be close to homes, whereas the CCT in Chevy Chase is well separated from the homes and yards [she asserted]. Officer Manley disagreed that the CCT is not near homes in Chevy Chase. He then recounted his years of experience when he was a younger officer patrolling the Sligo Creek Trail and noted that in some sections that trail passes near to homes, and in the lower sections it passes through low income areas with high rise apartments nearby much like we see close in to Silver Spring. Yet the Sligo Creek Trail has not had a serious crime problem and is not bringing crime into the neighborhoods.
Chief Manley spoke about the crime that was predicted but did not come with the new Matthew Henson Trail. That new trail was built through public land that had secluded areas that were crime hot spots – with chronic problems from homeless encampments and some hidden plots for marijuana growing. The Matthew Henson Trail passes close by high density, low income housing in the Hewitt Avenue area, and also close behind the yards of private homes. Local residents gravely predicted the trail would bring crime into their neighborhoods from Hewitt Avenue. But since the trail has been built it has been well received by most area residents as a great new amenity, and the Park Police have found that crime in the area of the trail has gone down. The presence of the trail appears to have driven much of the criminal activity out of the formerly secluded areas.
The few opponents of the CCT extension along the border of Woodside appeared to still be opposed after Chief Manley spoke. But their number remains small, and later in the WCA meeting the large majority of Woodside residents present voted, by 50-4, to approve a working list of design issues and suggestions to be sent to MTA in preparation for upcoming meetings. MTA Purple Line designers will be leading a walk of the future trail alignment on the border of Woodside for area residents on February 26, and MTA Purple Line designers and representatives from several county agencies will be meeting with area residents again on March 8 to discuss the CCT preliminary design.