WALNUT CREEK -- Within a few decades, the western portion of Walnut Creek's downtown will be a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly area with residents and workers who rely less on cars. There will be housing units near Mt. Diablo Boulevard, jobs for those who live there, and the historical Almond Shuey neighborhood would remain protected from high-density development.

This is all part of a vision laid out in the city's West Downtown Specific Plan. A City Council-appointed community group has been working for more than a year to map out commercial and residential development in the area north of Olympic Boulevard stretching to the Walnut Creek BART Station. The whole area within the next 30 to 40 years will likely become a higher-density urban area, with links to transit including new roads, walkways and perhaps even a pedestrian bridge.

On Tuesday the City Council held a study session to check in on how the plan is going -- and it seems to be headed in the right direction.

The map, which will be part of the overall plan, shows Mt. Diablo and California boulevards be zoned for retail or residential, office-oriented mixed use. Office-only uses are envisioned closer to the freeway. Multifamily residential is primarily located in the areas closer to the BART station, and no zoning change is shown for the historic Almond-Shuey neighborhood -- though development changes will almost certainly occur in the immediate surrounding area.

Councilwoman Cindy Silva cautioned that the focus of the plan should be on the southern portion of the area, mainly along Mt. Diablo Boulevard.

"This is where five times as many new housing units will be ... this is where the bulk of the additional office space will be," she said. "We need the people who live and work south of Trinity Avenue to have viable ways to walk and bike and eventually have shuttles to get them to BART and back."

Extending what is found in the traditional downtown should be the goal rather than, for example, what is found in Plaza Escuela, she said. Those who would live along Mt. Diablo Boulevard will need services, Silva said.

She also suggested the plan break areas into neighborhoods, and Councilman Bob Simmons agreed, saying the plan needs to focus on how to create a feeling of downtown in the southern portion. To do that, Simmons said planners perhaps should examine whether Mt. Diablo Boulevard should remain four lanes wide.

"If we are serious about extending the downtown character along Mt. Diablo ... somehow we have to narrow that road," he said. "We have focused on the importance of connecting south of Mt. Diablo to north Mt. Diablo, but as long as you have a four-lane semi-freeway dividing it, you aren't going to get there."

The next step is for planners to start laying out, in detail, where things such as grocery stores, hotels and open space areas belong.

Also, the longtime idea of another pedestrian-bike bridge over Ygnacio Valley Road will be studied. Though Silva said finding out whether the bridge is even feasible or necessary needs to be determined soon because it may not make sense to have a bridge to the north when most of the development is in the south.

Councilman Justin Wedel agreed, and said the walking and biking patterns should be examined to determine that a bridge is necessary.

"We may build something and nothing will come from it," he said.

But Simmons pointed out that a bridge is still of interest to many in the community.

"If one of things you are emphasizing is a bikeable, walkable community, you have to find a better way across Ygnacio Valley Road then what exists today," Simmons said.

Speakers Tuesday focused on the need for safe bike routes and urged that affordable housing be called out in the plan.

Walnut Creek received a $450,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to create the West Downtown Specific Plan, and the city chipped in $150,000. The specific plan area is generally bounded by Ygnacio Valley Road on the north, California Boulevard on the east, Olympic Boulevard on the south and Interstate 680 on the west.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.

West Downtown Specific Plan