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Pittsfield Council Puts North Street Ballot Question to Rest
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:26PM / Wednesday, March 29, 2023
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A ballot initiative on the North Street bike lanes has been rescinded but some councilors acknowledged that the streetscape can be confusing and needs more work.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The North Street ballot question was put to rest on Tuesday.

In a 7-2 vote, the City Council rescinded a Jan. 24 vote on Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky's petition to place a question on the Nov. 7 ballot that asks voters if North Street should return to a four-lane way.

Because Councilor at Large Peter White announced his intention to motion to rescind, it required a majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote, as clarified by City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta.

Kalinowksy insisted that constituents want a say in the road configuration. She feels that the city did not properly consult the council and residents before making the change.

"I think to not allow people to make a decision on whether they want North Street to look how it does now or take it back to the way it was," she said.

"We should be able to give the voters that."

Kalinowsky's attempt had been supported by the panel earlier this year with the majority understanding that it would come back for a final vote after being referred to Pagnotta. She asserts that this action solidifies it on the ballot.

After confusion and a charter objection, a motion to refer the ballot question to City Clerk Michele Benjamin failed and White announced his intention to propose rescinding.

Bike lane supporters have flocked to council chambers to speak against the ballot initiative, highlighting safety concerns with returning to a four-lane way.

Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi regularly travels the corridor and said she has seen the number of bike travelers increase since the lanes were implemented.

"If we want to have a downtown that is thriving, if we want to attract businesses and more arts and more culture, we need a place that pedestrians, residents, bikers feel safe, people of all ages and all mobilities," she said.

"This is the right thing to do and we can do better for our residents."

Councilors recognized that there are design issues that need to be resolved but want to work collaboratively with the city to find the best solution.

Ward 3 Councilor Kevin Sherman has voiced safety concerns with the current configuration but he believes that they should be resolved with discussion rather than an up or down vote.

Sherman is philosophically against referendums, he said, and has been against it from the get-go.

"I think leaders lead. We get information, we make decisions, we work with department heads," he said. "So as a person who has been criticized for being on both sides of this position, which I have not been, I am simply in favor of what's right."
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III was absent from the January vote in favor of Kalinowksy's ballot question.  

"I am a big supporter of the bike lanes. Not the way they look right now. There's confusion. There's tons of confusion," he said.  "I've had conversations about this before. This should be the wake-up call we need to address it. To all sit down somehow and really work it out because this petition came from maybe social media, maybe not, but I think a majority of it came from frustration from councilors and from residents."

Kalinowksy said she had the support of 32 business owners and downtown residents on this initiative about a year ago and that 90 percent of people she spoke to while campaigning asked if she could do something about the bike lanes.

"There's so much contradiction," she said. "I was willing to sit down and talk to people. I was willing to work with people. Nobody wanted to work with me so I got some signatures and I asked to put it on the ballot and it got voted to put on the ballot."

After clearing up the ballot question confusion, a petition from Rebecca Brien of Downtown Pittsfield Inc. requesting to change parking on North Street to head-in diagonal was referred to the city engineer.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio abstained from the vote because he has not been present for several City Council meetings.

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