After considerable discussion and hearing objections from two public speakers, the El Cerrito City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to approve installation of curb bulb-outs and flashing lights on two Arlington Blvd. crosswalks near Madera Elementary School.
The enhancements will be placed on crosswalks at Arlington and Madera Drive and one block south at Arlington and Brewster Drive. They are being funded by a federal Safe Routes to School grant for students crossing Arlington to go to school.
A proposed $129,648 contract for Ray's Electric of Oakland to do the work had been on the council's consent calendar, where non-controversial items are placed and typically approved in one collective vote, but Mayor Greg Lyman removed it for council discussion following concerns raised by a number of residents.
A Madera parent and an Arlington Blvd. resident living near Madera said they welcomed the in-pavement lights and flashing beacons but not the bulb-outs, which they said will compound the heavy traffic woes that plague the neighborhood around the school during morning drop-off times and afternoon pick-up times.
"The intention of this project was to create a safer environment in the vicinity of Madera School," said Public Works Director Jerry Bradshaw. "... Our philosophy on this project was to try and bring more order to the circulation of all traffic there, pedestrian as well as vehicle traffic. One of the vehicles we've used to do that in many other projects is curb bulb-outs."
A bulb-out – which is rounded extensions of the curb into street – not only helps define the traffic path and shorten crosswalks but also "gives a little more visibility to the intersection."
Bradshaw acknowledged the complaint that bulb-outs could make right turns from Madera Drive onto Arlington more difficult as well as right turns from Arlington onto Madera, but he said this is an advantage to bulb-outs in this situation since it slows the turning vehicle and thereby increases safety.
He said the project design followed two community meetings and meetings with school officials and some individual residents of the area, as well as observation of traffic in the area and an extended test of simulated bulb-outs using cones, striping and other materials.
A staff report on the project is attached to this article.
Some council members suggested other measures to consider for the Madera traffic congestion, such as turning one side street into a one-way street during drop-off and pick-up times, a carpooling program and a designated student drop-out zone on Arlington just south of Madera Drive from which students could walk to school without having to cross a street.
Bradshaw said such measures certainly can be evaluated and could become improvements in addition to the crosswalk lights and bulb-outs. He said the city's grant is for the lights and bulb-outs and that a 60-day clock is ticking on awarding the contract following the Nov. 20 submission of bids.
The council's unanimous approval included the two newly elected members of the council, Jan Bridges and Mark Friedman, who have served on the council before.