More than 50 concerned residents packed the Arlington Park Clubhouse Tuesday night for a community meeting on traffic safety on Arlington Boulevard where a last month.
Representatives from the El Cerrito Public Works Department and Fehr & Peers, a transportation consulting firm, presented proposals for improving the safety of the intersection of Arlington Boulevard and Brewster Drive.
The proposals were met with passionate reactions from residents, who voiced special concern about speeding near the intersection and raised multiple suggestions about how to stop it.
It was at this intersection, where a sharp bend in the road limits visibility, that by a northbound bicyclist while she was crossing Arlington Boulevard.
One of the primary road changes suggested by the city was the relocation of the nearby crosswalk, which connects with a downhill footpath on the west side of Arlington.
The crosswalk is south of the Brewster intersection in an area with limited visibility. The proposed new location is at the bend where Brewster Drive enters Arlington.
Ian Moore of Fehr & Peers said in his presentation that the new location would provide better sight lines for pedestrians.
Smith's son, James, who was at the meeting, said he was pleased with the crosswalk change, adding that he told his mother to never use the crosswalk because of its dangerous location.
The day she was hit, Smith was crossing as usual at the apex of the bend at Brewster, but her son said the vegetation between the roadway and the sidewalk was likely one of the reasons she was unable to get out of the cyclist’s path.
This vegetation, including view-obstructing trees and bushes, will be taken away, according to the city's plans.
In addition, the city is proposing to add pedestrian crossing signs so drivers have advance warning, stripe off sections along the side of the road to create a safer area for pedestrians, and install "Botts' Dots"—round, small bumps on the pavement—on the center line to deter drivers from exiting their lane.
All these suggestions are part of the city's short-term plans, while proposals like adding a sidewalk to the outside part of the bend and installing a railing are longer term projects.
"We’re trying to make incremental improvements and change the environment here,” Public Works Director Jerry Bradshaw said during the meeting.
But residents wasted no time in speaking their minds about the city's proposals, raising questions about the placement of the crosswalk, the impact of the nearby bus stops, and the use of Botts' Dots instead of rumble strips.
Apart from measures to protect pedestrians, residents at the meeting also expressed a concerted desire for active steps to prevent speeding.
Lara Smith, whose house is on the inside of the bend, said she hears speeders every night.
“We hear how fast the traffic is, and we hear how fast it is not only coming in—the screeching—but we hear the acceleration out of the curve,” she said.
Smith and others suggested adding speed bumps, signs that display how fast drivers are going, and flashing lights at the crosswalk as methods to eliminate speeding.
Members of the El Cerrito police department also were in attendance, including Police Chief Sylvia Moir and Sergeant Shawn Maples, who heads the traffic division.
Maples said that over the last decade, average recorded speeds along that stretch of Arlington have decreased from 33 to 31 miles per hour.
“Based on the changes that the city has done to the Arlington, and the enforcement efforts that have been done by the police department, you’re seeing a steady decline,” he said.
In response to many residents' concerns about enforcement of the traffic safety measures, Maples added that El Cerrito police issue an average of 9,300 tickets each year, a substantial amount for a small-sized police force.
Though resident views didn't entirely coincide with the city's presentation, Bradshaw and Moore said they were pleased with the turnout and feedback they received.
"I thought it was really productive conversation," Moore said. "People were receptive to a lot of the ideas we brought forth and then had a lot of alternative suggestions, which is good.”
One unresolved issue is how fast the city will act on proposed solutions.
Denise Sangster, moderator of the Arlington Neighbors email list who pushed for the city to hold Tuesday’s meeting, said after the meeting that the city seems to be taking a common sense approach, but the implementation of the plans must happen soon.
“Every day somebody is risking their life walking the street, walking across—we just can't wait,” Sangster said. “It has to get done quickly and I just hope the city decides to move rapidly, and when I say 'rapidly,' I want to see this done in July.”
But it is doubtful that any major changes will happen in the next two weeks.
"We're going to need a couple weeks just to digest this and figure out what direction we're heading," Bradshaw said. "In the meanwhile, I'm going to start chipping away at some things."
One of the first things Bradshaw hopes to do is clear out the overgrown vegetation on the bend. Once he and other city officials confer about cost estimates and who to hire to complete the job, Bradshaw hopes some changes to the roadway will get done by the end of August.
For now, most of the residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting are content with the city’s willingness to take public input and improve Arlington’s safety.
"They’ll come up with some set of actions right now in the near term, and we’ll measure that progress," James Smith said. "If it’s not sufficient, hopefully they’ll have enough momentum to do more. It’s a good start."