My First Planning Commission Meeting

by Hansa Jacob-Martin

It was with some trepidation and a good deal of excitement that I arrived at City Hall in El Cerrito to attend their Active Transportation Plan meeting on August 19. I work for Bike East Bay as their Administrative Manager and live in El Cerrito. At our weekly staff meeting prior to the Planning Commission meeting we realized we had numerous relevant public meetings that evening to attend all around the East Bay and I was asked if I could cover El Cerrito. I am newly planted in the West Coast having moved from Washington DC. While no stranger to civic involvement, community gardens, Earth Day, arts festivals, it would be my first where bicycling safety and planning was the central topic.

Bike East Bay is actively engaged with the City Council and is closely following updates to the first circulation plan for bicyclists and pedestrians that defined the city’s bicycle and pedestrian networks and identified improvement projects. Upon walking in to the meeting room, the uncertainty I felt swept away as Bill Kuhlmann, (a Planning Commission member) greeted and welcomed me. Meeting Commission members, city council staff and the journalist from Contra Costa Times who sat next to me helped me feel immediately at ease and present. Even in my short tenure here living in the east bay, I’ve grown quite passionate about the place I now call home and knew immediately after being engaged in conversation after conversation about the future of El Cerrito a sense of deep and meaningful connection, I was thoroughly glad I came.

Living up in the hills just below Arlington Boulevard gives me a great vantage point to watch traffic on the streets in the immediate vicinity. I notice which streets people use to take short cuts through, which ones have the heaviest traffic, which streets cyclists favor for commuting and which ones for recreation. None of these streets have bike paths or bike lanes. Walking these hills within a three-mile radius of my home, I see much opportunity to create safe routes for cyclists toward public facilities and main arteries. I learned that San Pablo Ave could take me straight to Oakland cutting through Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville; it’s a major artery for traffic. However, I wonder how safe it is for cyclists as there are no dedicated bike paths or bike lanes. And yet I see a strong number of cyclists bravely navigating all these streets without the support of clear and continuous safe routes dedicated to them. The Ohlone Greenway is an excellent bike and pedestrian path, however, in my experience it seems cyclists and pedestrians are more evident on San Pablo and it’s cross streets than on the greenway.

The presentation of the Active Transportation Plan (ATP) by Emily Alter and Yvette Ortiz addressed many of these issues and was well done. The plan proposed nine focus area projects, revised bicycle and pedestrian networks, a policy toolkit and program framework to make walking and biking easier and safer in El Cerrito:

  • BART to Bay Trail Access Improvements at Central Avenue, Carlson Boulevard, and Cerrito Creek Connections between Plaza BART and the Bay Trail
  • Ohlone Greenway Crossing Improvements - Citywide
  • Citywide Wayfinding at Key Walking and Biking Routes
  • Arlington Boulevard Pedestrian Improvements
  • East Side Bicycle Boulevard - Blake Street, Norvell Street, Schmidt Lane, Richmond Street
  • Moeser Lane, Norvell Street, Lincoln Avenue, Albemarle Street, Behrens Street
  • Wayfinding associated with East Side Bicycle Boulevard
  • Key Boulevard Improvements - between Humboldt Street and Hill Street
  • Fairmount Avenue Improvements - between Carlson Boulevard and Colusa Avenue
  • Potrero Avenue Improvements - between western City Limit and Ohlone Greenway

It was heartening to see that the Planning Commission had vested interest in supporting cyclists’ and pedestrian needs. The Commission passed the recommended resolution with one change to the ATP. A synopsis of the Planning Commission meeting is being prepared by Ms. Ortiz as part of the City Council agenda item, which is scheduled for October 6 and will be available on October 1st. Specific comments from the Planning Commission will be in the minutes to the meeting.

Additional discussion included comments from the commission as well as the public and the presenters; the need for more East-West Bike Paths that tied safe routes to the main streets, bike paths to the two BART stations in El Cerrito, sharrows that needed to eventually become bike lanes, safe cycling for families and stop signs at high traffic crossings of the Ohlone Greenway. The presenters also highlighted the need for safe routes for children to bike to school and for all cyclists to be able to access public facilities. I drive past City Hall countless times always admiring the fine yet simple architecture, the dry garden, the glass and the earth tones of its walls, thankful for the folks who worked hard inside. Now I look at the building and see myself in it, for, attending this meeting shifted me to a deeper level of appreciation and connection with my hometown I was becoming an active citizen.

Bike East Bay’s comments on El Cerrito’s Draft Active Transportation Plan