EL CERRITO -- The status of cyclists on busy San Pablo Avenue turned out to be a major focus of a meeting Saturday between residents and planners who are working on plans for the city's transportation future. The thoroughfare needs to accommodate growing numbers of bicyclists and encourage walking, while maintaining adequate parking for businesses and allowing for buses and continued use by cars and trucks, said Melanie Mintz, the city's Environmental Service Division manager.

It became clear that addressing the needs of more forms of transportation in the same amount of space will involve trade-offs.

For example, El Cerrito is considering placing "buffered" bike lanes on San Pablo.

These lanes would be placed between street parking spaces and the sidewalk to separate bike riders from vehicular traffic.

The lanes would reduce accidents from drivers and passengers opening car doors in the paths of bicyclists and from vehicles running into bicyclists.

But, they would create another hazard by requiring passengers emerging from parked cars to cross the bicycle lanes to reach the sidewalk, said Garland Ellis, a resident of nearby Richmond Annex.

Ellis suggested moving bike lanes off San Pablo entirely, encouraging riders to move a block east to Stockton Street or to other side streets when travelling north and south within the city.


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El Cerrito resident Rinda Wardle disagreed, saying she was really excited by the buffered lanes concept on San Pablo and that the city should make all of its streets bicycle friendly.

Wardle said she has trained her 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter to ride bikes at an early age rather than become dependent on automobiles.

"I'm here to give my positive input about doing without a car," Wardle said.

Residential and commercial development are also a key component of the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan and other initiatives that aim to make El Cerrito a greener city with a tighter, more focused central core.

Breaking up long blocks, requiring variations in facades in terms of setbacks, colors and textures, and respecting existing buildings with the height and mass of new structures will be in guidelines for new construction, said Mukul Malhotra, a Berkeley-based consultant.

The city also wants to cut parking requirements for new residential units from two spaces to one space per unit to help encourage walking and use of public transit, Mintz said.

Planners favor providing tiny "pocket parks" and other smaller areas of open space within a more densely developed community, in keeping with El Cerrito's Urban Greening Plan, Malhotra said.

That goal could be more difficult to reach because most existing open parcels are very small, he said.

"There aren't many contiguous large parcels that we can draw on," Malhotra said.

Nick Arzio, who lives in a second-floor flat on San Pablo Avenue, spoke in favor of higher-density housing, especially if it makes units more affordable.

"I think teachers who work in El Cerrito should be able to afford to live here," he said.

Most participants seemed pleased by the general direction of the city's goals, including Berkeley resident Betsy Morris, who said she thinks El Cerrito is "a lovely city on a humane scale that could be more filled in and more inviting."

But Ellis and fellow Richmond Annex resident Dave Harris went against the flow, saying that although much of the west side of San Pablo Avenue is in Richmond, El Cerrito isn't paying attention to Richmond residents' concerns.

"High density is not compatible with Richmond Annex," Harris said. "Taller buildings, restricted parking for business and bike lanes badly situated for parked cars are bad ideas."

About 50 participants attended at least one of two sessions held at the El Cerrito Community Center.