Stevens Creek Trail repair sheds light on safety concerns

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Highway 101 traffic drives over a Stevens Creek Trail pedestrian tunnel, where Mountain View workers recently repaired lighting.

After months of darkness, a lighting repair along the Stevens Creek Trail has some Mountain View residents breathing a little easier but also questioning whether more can’t be done to ensure safety on the popular pedestrian and cycling thoroughfare.

Back in October, Victoria O’Neil, a frequent trail runner from the North Whisman area, notified city officials of broken lights within the Highway 101 pedestrian tunnel. The lights had been out since April, O’Neil estimated in a work request she submitted online.

“It’s a long-ish tunnel, and running through it always feels a bit dangerous, even if there aren’t any other people immediately around me,” O’Neil wrote.

Shoreline Park supervisor Stephen Achabal responded within a few days: The lights were out courtesy of copper wire thieves. He assured O’Neil that city officials would review methods for preventing such theft in the future, but a subsequent response surprised her.

“Unfortunately any temporary fix would be vulnerable to theft and vandalism, which is an ongoing and increasing issue,” he wrote in an email sent Oct. 11.

“I was just blown away at the fact that they just weren’t going to do anything,” O’Neil said later.

Then the assaults happened, three separate attacks that all occurred less than a mile south of the Highway 101 underpass.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. Jan. 21, a man groped a 34-year-old Mountain View woman walking the Stevens Creek Trail near Central Avenue. The same man is suspected of groping another woman at approximately 5:15 p.m. the following day as she traversed the trail near the Highway 85 underpass.

A suspect has been identified, but a warrant request for his arrest is still being processed, said Mountain View Police Department spokeswoman Katie Nelson.

On March 1, Mountain View Police officers arrested Michael Wendy Adonis, a 29-year-old French national suspected of committing a third and seemingly unrelated attack on the trail near Creekside Park: the Feb. 25 evening assault of a woman visiting from Massachusetts.

Referencing the recent crimes, O’Neil emailed Achabal again on Feb. 27 and again requested repair of the Highway 101 underpass light. He didn’t immediately respond to her, but he did email Veronica Witham, another resident who urged action.

“Due to the proximity of the trail to the Stevens Creek, the environment limits the City’s ability to provide additional lighting on the trail,” Achabal wrote to Witham. “The lighting that does exist on the trail will be reviewed to ensure all lights are functioning properly.”

Residents weigh in

Workers rewired the Highway 101 underpass lights on March 6 and 7. Achabal said the repairs have nothing to do with crime in the area but are meant to prevent bicycle and pedestrian accidents in the dark tunnel, of which there have been several. There are no new security measures to keep thieves from stealing the new wiring.

Whatever the impetus for the fix, residents said they are pleased to hear of it. Some pondered whether additional changes should be forthcoming.

Carrielynn Haedtler, whose Mountain View home served as a short-term rental for the victim of the Feb. 25 assault, said the experience was especially upsetting to her because she recommends the trail to her guests. Although trail use is officially limited to between 6 a.m. and 30 minutes after sunset, she knows it’s a popular artery for all hours. She expressed reservations about transforming it into a mini “freeway” blazing with illumination, but said additional lighting could be useful.

“I’m glad our activism got one part of the trail lit, but in the long range, they may have to think what the real use of this trail is,” she said.

As a parent of young children, North Whisman resident Stuart Eichert plans to continue monitoring reports of crime in the area.

“I’m certainly going to get more concerned if incidents start happening during daylight hours, when the trail is open for normal use, especially if it’s near schools, where kids are,” Eichert said.

Although limited resources don’t allow the police department to assign a dedicated Stevens Creek Trail detail, bike teams, patrol officers on foot and community outreach officers routinely monitor the path during daylight hours, Nelson said.

Instances of crime on the trail do not appear to have increased, she added, but it’s possible news reports about high-profile cases like the Feb. 25 assault may amplify the perceived danger.

Nelson offered the following tips to trail users.

• Always leave at least one ear free of headphones to remain aware of one’s surroundings.

• Keep a cellphone handy.

• Bring a canine or human companion along.

• Wear bright clothing when traveling at night.

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