The nearly 30 people who turned out for El Cerrito's first-ever "" on city bicycle policy Thursday night heard a defense of the city's decision to combine bicyclists and pedestrians on the planned wider "multi-use" path along the Ohlone Greenway along the BART tracks.
Currently the Greenway features two paths: a winding, four-foot-wide one for pedestrians and another one marked for bicycles that ranges between eight and nine feet in width.
Since BART will along the Greenway in El Cerrito, the city and the transit agency agreed that the current paths would be replaced with a single, 14-foot-wide "multi-use" path open to both bicyclists and pedestrians.
Differing views on city plan
The plan has sparked some recent opposition following a letter to the editor and opinion column by El Cerrito bicyclist Neil Robertson. An unscientific Patch reader poll posted Wednesday so far has indicated strong support for separate lanes for bikes and pedestrians on the new, 14-foot-wide path.
But at last night's meeting, most of those who spoke from the audience about the issue seemed to favor the city's plan to have bicyclists and pedestrians using the same space on the path, which would be divided down the middle for those going in opposite directions, the same as roadways.
After the recent questioning of the city policy, city staff held several discussions and re-examined the plan, said Melanie Mintz, the city's environmental services manager, who led the meeting.
Reasons for city policy
"We considered it," she said. "... And what came out of the meetings was that no matter what you do in terms of paint in an environment like that, people are going to do what they're going to do." A couple of audience members also said that markings wouldn't prevent pedestrians and bicyclists from using whatever path is available, no matter what the markings or signs say.
Also, Mintz said, separate lanes designated for bicyclists could prove more dangerous: "Our thought is that if we put a stripe and put pedestrians on this side and bicyclists on this, that it would create an environment where bicyclists might not be as cautious for the erratic behavior of pedestrians and that they'd be going quicker than the conditions really warrant and that there'd be potentially not only more accidents but more dangerous accidents."
The decision to combine the two existing paths into one, much wider path is embodied in the city's 2009 Ohlone Greenway Master Plan, which was "developed through feedback received at many public workshops," according an article in the summer 2011 edition of the city's "News and Views" newsletter, which is attached to this article.
Mintz told last night's gathering that the city decided to get rid of the existing winding pedestrian path because its proxmity to columns felt unsafe to many users, because it's not as flat as the main path, because it's not compliant with the Americans with Disaabilities Act and because the police department prefers a straighter path with better sight lines from the street. Also, the wider path allows greater ability for people to pass and manuever around each other, and the city can no longer afford the higher maintenance cost of keeping two paths, she said.
Ohlone Greenway crosswalks
A related topic drew several comments and questions from the audience — the crosswalks where the Ohlone Greenway crosses city streets. Several bicyclists complained of the danger of being hit by cars, and a few urged measures such as stop signs, blocked streets or giving bikes a higher priority by reassigning some of the roadways now devoted chiefly to cars.
Mintz said that while cars are required to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, bicyclists are currently required to yield to cars. She said the city is investigating a possible revision of the law as it applies to the Greenway crosswalks and bicyclists.
Mintz also reviewed the many improvements the city has made in the past five years to make the city more bicycle friendly, as well as future enhancements. Attached to this article is a hand-out distributed at the meeting with images of the slides she presented on a screen.
The evening began on high note when Mayor Ann Cheng presented a new bicycle as the prize to the winner of a drawing at the city's Bike to Work Day in May.
The winner, Catalin Kaser, who bikes daily through El Cerrito from her Richmond home to her job in Berkeley, said the timing was opportune because her husband just had his bike wheel stolen at the BART station that morning.
By coincidence, Mintz announced that El Cerrito's two BART stations will soon be getting more and better bike lockers.