SAN RAMON -- Don't mess with the trees on Bollinger Canyon Road.
That message was heard loud and clear when an overflow crowd of about 130 people showed up at a San Ramon City Council meeting Tuesday night to oppose the removal of 84 leafy sycamores that line the Bollinger Canyon Road median.
Because of public opposition, the council decided to hold off on a widening project for the roadway, and instead directed city engineers to look at other options for improving safety.
"The outpouring of concerned citizens is a good indicator that we probably could have done a better job communicating," Mayor Bill Clarkson said.
In March, the City Council approved a $1.1 million road improvement project to widen the eastbound lanes by four feet. Safety has been an issue on the uphill eastbound lanes, where a fence separates the roadway from a sidewalk. Speeding cars have hit the fence seven times since May 2010, necessitating major repair work.
On Sunday, a 72-year-old female pedestrian was killed by a car turning onto Bollinger Canyon Road from Canyon Lakes Drive; however, the fatality occurred just outside the limits of the proposed road-widening project, and police said speed was not a factor.
The wider lanes are intended to end crashes with the fence by giving drivers more recovery room between lanes and by providing a larger buffer area.
The sycamores were set to be cut down this month and eventually replaced by about 50
"They totally underestimated how important that drive is to the residents of San Ramon," said Todd Erickson, who drives Bollinger Canyon Road every day to his home at Vista Pointe. "We see it as a beautiful, stately gateway to Dougherty Valley. It's a beautiful stretch of road that has a country club charm to it."
When signs went up last month on the road stating the project was about to begin, residents began asking questions, Erickson said. Homeowners began going door to door informing neighbors about the project. An informational Facebook page was created, and about 850 people from around San Ramon have signed a petition to save the trees.
Erickson said neighbors began mobilizing just last week. He said they are upset by what they feel was a lack of outreach by the city to the public. "There was so much outrage," he said.
Former San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson spoke at the meeting Tuesday in opposition to removing the trees. "I drive Bollinger Canyon Road every day and there are people just flying past me. Speeding is the whole problem. There are so many other things that you could possibly do to slow people down instead of removing all the trees."
During the meeting, Clarkson asked whether anyone thought the trees were worth the loss of one life.
"Nobody raised their hands," he said. "We want to keep people safe, and secondarily save the trees."
Clarkson said city officials will look at other options to improve safety, to include a 2½-foot-high concrete wall to replace the fence to serve as a protective barrier for pedestrians. He said the council will revisit the issue as soon as city engineers are ready with their recommendations.
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.