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Pittsfield's Kalinowsky Seeks Voters' Input on North Street Traffic Confirguration
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:34PM / Friday, January 27, 2023
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The council referred to the city solicitor a possible ballot question on restoring four lanes to North Street.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky wants to query residents on the downtown's reconfiguration using the 2023 ballot. 

The City Council on Tuesday supported her petition to place a question on the Nov. 7 general election ballot to return North Street to four lanes of traffic with turn lanes. 

It will be referred to the city solicitor for revisions and returned to the council at its next meeting. 

"I know this is my second petition, the last one went to the mayor," Kalinowsky said. "Ever since I was running for City Council, they had placed the bike lanes on North Street and as I was talking to constituents, most of them didn't like it.  

"They did not like the bike lanes, said they're confusing, they would avoid North Street and me personally, I think they're dangerous but that's me, this isn't about me." 

She said wants to allow constituents to tell the city if they want the bike lanes or the former four-lane traffic configuration. 

The original question was to "remove the presently existing bike lanes on North Street from Park Square to Wahconah Street and return North Street to four lanes of traffic with turn lanes" but Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren motioned to delete the first part. 

He said that language was "superfluous" and wanted it cleaned up. He added that bike lanes "could go anywhere," even on a four-lane highway. 

The petition passed 5-4 with President Peter Marchetti, Councilor at Large Peter White, Ward 3 Councilor Kevin Sherman and Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi voting against. 

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio were absent. 

Over the summer, a report was presented to the council that revealed a 77 percent decrease in crashes after the lanes were implemented. This was in response to Kalinowsky's petition to investigate safety issues with the bike lanes and decreased travel lanes. 

Warren is not in love with the bike lanes but he does believe that a single lane is safer based on the data that was presented to the council. Though as a Democrat, he said he believes that the public had the right to have a say on it. 

"There are a lot of really important issues that we could put to the voters and I don't think that this is the one," Lampiasi said. 

She pointed out that there was an immediate upset over the original bike lanes — which were between parking and curb — and the Public Works Committee reacted by reconfiguring them. 

"We haven't had enough time to fully flesh this out as a city and to completely go backward is just, we're running in place," she added. 

"We're already past the midpoint of getting to a better place so why not keep moving in that direction rather than going back to a situation that did not work and that was unsafe and starting all over again? It would be a really terrible waste of time I think."

White believes that the city can come up with a better solution that works for everyone. 

"I think there's a lot of different configurations that could make North Street safer for bikes and motor vehicles that does not go back to the four-lane highway that we had previously that makes it harder for people to cross, makes it more dangerous for bicycles to use the street, which are used every day if you're down there, including during the winter," he said. 

"I just think on the ballot process is not the right way to do this one. We all need to know what the best configuration for North Street is to make it line up with not only the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail but also bike lanes being put in throughout the city and throughout the state." 

White added that this petition ignores the entire population of people who use bike lanes as well as people in wheelchairs or scooters who use the lanes when sidewalks are not cleared during storms. 

"I don't think the current configuration, the current look is how it should be but I think those things should be worked on here," he said. 

"Not through a ballot initiative that really just says 'Do you want to go back to the way it was or do you want it the way it is now?' when neither is the solution to making a city safer for all who use it." 

In September 2020, the city received around $239,000 in a state Shared Streets and Spaces grant to support new bike lanes, curb extensions, vehicle lane reductions, outdoor seating areas, and enhanced intersections for better pedestrian safety and comfort.

The first pilot program was implemented the following November and in February 2021 the Public Works Committee voted to keep the bike lanes and changes made to North Street.

Another grant of around $163,000 was received in April 2021 to add parklets and double-buffered bike lanes on both sides of the street and in the following June, the current iteration of the pilot project was done.  

Kalinowsky argued that it is the council's job to listen to the citizens and said a majority want that choice

"It doesn't mean they're going to make the choice to get rid of it, they might sit there and decide they like the bike lanes and they want to keep it the way it is," she said. 

"But the thing is when we put it on the ballot we give them that choice. They get to decide which one they want." 

In other bike-related news, the council approved an order to take by eminent domain five temporary easements on Merrill Road and Crane Avenue to construct portions of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. 

The easements are for a maximum term of five years and then will be removed. They cost a total of $17,355, with three of the five donated. 

"The extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail into Pittsfield is a critically important community supported recreational enhancement project," Mayor Linda Tyer wrote. 

"Nearly 10 years in the planning stages, continued extension of the trail into Pittsfield has been noted as a community goal in both the Master Plan and the Open Space and Recreation Plan.  Full funding is currently allocated in this fiscal year through the state Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) and any delay in the acquisition of the temporary easements could present a result that the funding could be re-allocated." 

Kronick was the lone vote against the easements. He supports the trail, as many people enjoy it but not the funding at this time. 

The easements include: 

  • A portion of parcel land located on Merrill Road owned by General Electric Co. that is about 7,700 square feet, which was donated. 
  • A portion of parcel land located at 545 Merrill Road owned by O'Connell Oil Associates that is about 1,000 square feet and was donated. 
  • A portion of parcel land at 609 Merrill Road owned by Pitex Limited Partnership that is about 180 square feet and costs $675. 
  • A portion of parcel land at 609 Merrill Road owned by Pitex Limited Partnership that is about 4,600 square feet costs $16,680. 
  • A portion of parcel land located at 891 Crane Ave. owned by WJK Realty, LLC that is about 550 square feet and was donated.
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