ALAMEDA -- Bike lanes, high visibility crosswalks and bus stop improvements are part of a $9 million plan to make Central Avenue safer for cyclists and pedestrians that has been greenlighted by the City Council.
The proposed changes are still at the concept stage and will be adjusted in the months ahead, especially reconfiguring the busy Central Avenue and Webster Street intersection. The council considered the plan Feb. 24, when it heard from dozens of public speakers, then took it up again Monday, when the plan got unanimous support.
"When it comes to securing the safety of our kids, the concept before us needs to move forward," Councilman Tony Daysog said. "That trumps a lot of issues."
The changes would take place along Central between Pacific Avenue and Main Street and Sherman Street and Encinal Avenue, a 1.7-mile stretch that includes Paden Elementary School and Encinal High School. The proposals include installing bike lanes from Sherman Street almost to Paden school, where a two-way bike lane would be installed that would continue past the Encinal campus.
Encinal High's marquee also would be moved, a student pedestrian plaza built at the front of the campus and a traffic light installed at Central and Third Street, as well as other changes.
"It creates substantial safety benefits in an area that's concentrated with schools," said Jennifer Ott, the city's director of base reuse.
Dozens of kids urged the council to support the changes, saying they often ride their bikes on Central Avenue and said that speeding cars and distracted motorists are threats to their safety.
Doug Biggs, executive director of the Alameda Point Collaborative, said the former homeless who use the agency's services regularly travel along the street, including to visit Alameda South Shore Center.
"A lot of them don't have cars," Biggs said. "And it's tough to be a bicyclist or walking."
Business representatives said they feared the changes would lead to fewer people visiting Webster Street, including if two parking spaces were removed as part of creating a new designated right turn lane from Central onto Webster.
"We like cyclists," said Tony Kuttner, president of the Greater Alameda Business Association. "We just don't like this plan as implemented because we don't think it meets its stated goals."
Other opponents recommended the plan direct cyclists to Santa Clara Avenue, which has less traffic.
Mayor Trish Spencer said the proposed right turn lane at Webster and Central would be especially unsafe for kids because they would to have maneuver out of a bike lane and through traffic to avoid it if they wanted to cross the intersection and continue toward Paden Elementary School or Encinal High School.
"That is not safe," Spencer said. "That is not best practice. And it's not appropriate in my opinion for the council to suggest that it is safe."
City officials pledged to come back with other options for the intersection, alternatives that Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese said were also necessary because of the likely increased traffic after the East Bay Regional Park District expands the nearby Crab Cove Visitor Center.
Councilman Jim Oddie noted the plan was just a concept, but said it promoted safety and that having just one cyclist or pedestrian killed would be "one too many."
What helps makes the upgrades necessary is that the thoroughfare accounts for a higher number of injuries because of collisions compared to other neighborhoods, according to a background report prepared by a consultant for the city's Transportation Commission.
Eighty-nine people have been injured in approximately the past 10 years, 20 percent of them pedestrians and 25 percent of them cyclists, the study found. Citywide, pedestrians and cyclists account for about 16 percent of people injured as a result of collisions during the period.
The proposed bikeway on Central Avenue is listed as a high priority in the city's Bicycle Master Plan Update and the street is shown as a bicycle and transit priority street in the Transportation Element of the General Plan.
The proposed changes, which follow three community workshops and reviews by the Transportation Commission, would also increase public access to the San Francisco Bay Trail, according to city officials.
Along with possible revisions as to how the intersection of Central and Webster will be reconfigured, the next steps include securing funding, design approval by the Transportation Commission and the council's approval of a construction bid.
Central Avenue is designated as Caltrans State Highway 61 between Webster and Sherman streets. No bikeways currently exist on the street except for a path between Pacific and Lincoln avenues.
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.