PLEASANT HILL -- Using the Contra Costa Canal Trail is safer in the city, thanks to improvements at six street-crossing sites. "Two middle school students were hit by a vehicle at the Oak Park Boulevard crossing in October 2009," said Eric Hu, associate civil engineer and project manager. "We've gotten calls ongoing about the need for enhancements at key crossings such as Gregory Lane and Oak Park."

The street-crossing enhancements were officially opened when Mayor John Hanecak "switched on" a new stoplight on Gregory Lane near Christ the King Catholic Church in November.

"The enhancements to the six trail crossings are vitally important in providing safe routes to schools for our children," said Hanecak. "In particular, the signal light installation at the crossing on Gregory Lane was a critical component since Gregory has four lanes of traffic and a speed limit of 35 mph."

Improved crossing locations are at Chilpancingo Parkway, Gregory Lane, Boyd Road and Oak Park Boulevard and another two trail crossings along the East Bay Municipal Utility District Trail at Oak Park Boulevard and Astrid Drive.

Enhancements designed to give drivers more advance warning of crossings include in-pavement flashing warning lights before the crossing, colored crosswalks, pedestrian-activated LED signage, ADA curb ramps, concrete curb extensions or "bulbouts," high-visibility signs and radar speed feedback signs, and additions to connect existing sidewalks to the trail.

One of the new sidewalks is on the south side of Oak Park Boulevard between the EBMUD Trail crossing and Eccleston Avenue. Some traffic signal modifications were also made at the Oak Park Boulevard/Monticello Avenue intersection to help Pleasant Hill Middle School students access the EBMUD Trail.

The Gregory Lane crossing is the only place where a new pedestrian signal and landscaped median island were installed. That crossing is heavily used by students from Strandwood Elementary School and Christ the King School.

"Parents say it is much safer and more visible," said Debbie Wilson, Christ the King office manager. "People are not just darting out when you can't see them. The streetlights totally improve it."

Wilson is so pleased that she suggested the colored crosswalk and lighting at the Brandon Road/Gregory Lane crossing.

Strandwood Elementary School Principal Liz Kim said, "I think it is a wonderful thing. That is a challenging place to cross and as a resident of Pleasant Hill, I appreciate it."

Trail users acknowledged the safety standpoint and noted changes.

"The fact that I can keep going is what I like about the trail," runner Leslie Irving said as she waited for the new signal light to change from red to green. "I can appreciate the safety for others."

Dick Kearns said, "The warning signs are good, but I think the light creates more traffic."

Kearns has been walking the neighborhood for 30 years and suggested that the light may not have been necessary because the light at the intersection of Gregory Lane and Pleasant Hill Road is nearby.

Pleasant Hill public information officer Martin Nelis said the safety of the schoolchildren was the determining factor for the decision to put a stoplight at the Canal Trail/Gregory Lane crossing.

Construction for all of the sites was a four-month job costing $1.2 million, but three years and $3 million more were required to obtain funding and easement agreements.

Long-term maintenance easements were needed from the United States Bureau of Reclamation, Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Regional Park District, Contra Costa County, and from EBMUD for the construction of the various project improvements.

State of California financing came from Proposition 1-B and the Safe Routes to School funds, and a federal Transportation Development grant, plus $525,000 from the city's capital improvement provided the balance, according to Hu.

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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