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Pittsfield Council to Tackle North Street Petitions on Tuesday
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
12:09PM / Sunday, March 12, 2023
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Despite a report stating North Street's new configuration is safer, there has been a push by some to put the question of bike lanes to a ballot vote.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City councilors may put the North Street ballot question to rest this Tuesday.

After weeks of confusion, the council at its last meeting voted against sending the question to City Clerk Michele Benjamin and Councilor at Large Pete White motioned to table with the intent to rescind in two weeks.  

On Thursday, White confirmed that he still intends to motion to rescind this week.

Early this year, Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky put forward a petition to allow voters to decide if North Street should be two lanes with bike lanes or a four-lane way without. She has spoken against the bike lanes since being elected.

In January, the council voted in favor of Kalinowsky's petition to place a question on the general election ballot to return North Street to four lanes of traffic with turn lanes. In the draft question, a "yes" would require the city to remove the existing protected bike lanes from North Street and a "no" vote would allow the protected bike lanes to remain on North Street.

President Peter Marchetti said this was unclear because the question makes no reference to bike lanes, as the language was amended out the question for repetitiveness, but the summary refers to bike lanes.

There was a perceived understanding that it would be referred to the city solicitor for revisions and returned to the council at its next meeting. Two weeks ago, a charter objection hauled conversation on the petition because there was confusion on whether the former vote confirmed it on the ballot or not.

At the last meeting, confusion remained about whether or not the January vote did place the question on the ballot. The city clerk even weighed in, saying she was not comfortable with taking on this question given its shaky introduction.

"There is so much confusion here tonight I would never want to make the decision of this question on what to put on the ballot," Benjamin said.

"The question doesn't match the 'yes' and 'no' and everyone here is still completely confused.  Every resident in the city is probably confused but I can say that I would not want to make a decision on what the 'yes' or 'no' should stay on the ballot."

The conversation also brought forward many bike lane supporters who said that the lanes are a means of safety. Disability Commissioner Patricia Sheely said she is against putting a safety issue up for a vote.

"In this case, we are setting our voters up for failure," Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi said at the last meeting.

"There is a possibility of returning to a situation of death for some people. Somebody just died on West Street and we're actually debating whether or not to have more people die on North Street. This is ridiculous."

Also on Tuesday's agenda is a petition for diagonal parking from Downtown Pittsfield Inc. that had been sidelined because of the ballot question confusion.

DPI is petitioning for North Street to have diagonal head-in parking after a survey found that 60 percent of downtown residents support the reconfiguration.
“We believe the increased number of parking spaces would help business and make parking easier, while
simultaneously helping to maintain reduced speeds on North Street,” the organization wrote.

Earlier this year, the Traffic Commission referred the petition to Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales and City Engineer Tyler Shedd.

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