|Pittsfield Commissioner Responds to Outrage Over Public Ways|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff |
05:10AM / Sunday, September 24, 2023
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Following outrage from City Councilors about the condition of public ways, Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales has responded with planning for improved maintenance.
The overgrown aesthetic is attributed to issues with contracted work, being short-staffed, and weather struggles.
"I acknowledge the concerns raised regarding the current state of our downtown streetscape, which has seen areas becoming overgrown, unsightly, full of weeds. Historically, relying on contractors for this kind of maintenance has not yielded the best results," Morales wrote in response to a petition requesting that downtown center medians and flower boxes are cleared of debris.
"Additionally, recent attempts to secure such services have resulted in very limited response to bids or lack of interest in taking on such tasks. This situation led to the city initiating a transition of the maintenance responsibility over to Downtown Pittsfield Inc. (DPI), however, it has been more prolonged than initially anticipated. Highway crews, after taking on some of this maintenance load since late June, have faced significant weather delays, short staffing, hiring challenges, and an ambitious workload planned for FY24."
To address the issue in the short term, overtime work from the Highway Department has been arranged. This will allow crews to focus on downtown maintenance, working alongside a different local contractor to address overgrowth and weeds, Morales said.
A new initiative, Downtown Blooms, is the long-term solution. Announced last week, it is a collaboration between the city, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., Pittsfield Beautiful, the Downtown Pittsfield Cultural Association, MassDevelopment's Transformative Development Initiative, Selbert Perkins Design, and Boston-based landscape designer Jennifer O'Donnell.
Nature-inspired gardens will be implemented downtown as part of a three-year project beginning this season.
"Outside of providing capable volunteers, PB will serve as experts in plant care and planting design, the city will furnish an on-call site contractor for more labor intensive tasks and will also supply the necessary materials," Morales reported.
"DPI will oversee the hiring of a professional landscaper who will commence duties immediately. While their initial responsibilities in the fall will focus on tidying up planting beds, next April, they will engage in a more expansive effort. This will include a significant replanting scheme, as designed by PB, covering 36 planting beds and ensuring the remaining beds are adequately cared for all season long."
Councilors had also been up in arms about crosswalk painting, emphasizing crosswalks near schools and the one in front of Dorothy Amos Park where, earlier this year, resident Shaloon Milord was struck and killed.
Morales clarified that the crosswalk in front of the park was painted earlier this year when warm temperatures made it possible, adding that it is essential to recognize that the efforts have already been undertaken to rectify potential misconceptions.
The councilors also requested a flashing sign with a crosswalk.
Morales pointed to the city's ongoing efforts to address pedestrian safety on West Street.
"Regarding the request to install a 'Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon' (RRFB), it is a significant element of a comprehensive design effort the department has been working on. The Council's allocation of $600,000 to this work has enabled progress on the design and installation. Concurrently, we're seeking additional funds from the MassDOT Shared Streets & Spaces program, with a very competitive design and feel it will be awarded without hesitation," he wrote.
"The main goal of the project is to enhance safety for all vulnerable users along West Street, from College Way/Government Drive to Valentine Road, ensuring children, elderly and people with limited mobility can use the street safely. It is important to note that the installation of a standalone RRFB is estimated around $45,000 and placing an RRFB at a 38FT crossing, where vehicles often drive at high speeds, can inadvertently give pedestrians a false sense of security. This undermines the goal of providing an effective safety enhancement to West Street."
He added that three public meetings have been arranged and the city has had interactions with stakeholders such as St. Mark's Church and the residents of the Berkshire Peak apartments.
The commissioner also responded to a citizen's petition for "no more roundabouts" that has nearly 90 signatures.
Last year, the problematic intersection of Tyler Street, Tyler Street Extension, Dalton Avenue, and Woodlawn Avenue was converted into a roundabout. Data has shown that a roundabout decreases the rate of injury caused during crashes, though a slight increase in crashes has occurred in the first year.
The state Department of Transportation is planning an overhaul of the corridor near Berkshire Medical Center that includes converting North Street between Tyler Street and Stoddard Avenue into one-way southbound traffic, a roundabout, bike lanes and shared-use paths, and new sidewalks.
"Safety is the number one priority with roundabouts. Their specific design reduces potential conflict points between vehicles, leading to fewer serious crashes. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has reported that roundabouts can lead to a 78-82 percent reduction in severe crashes. They are also beneficial in improving traffic flow and mitigating congestion. The continuous, slow movement of vehicles reduces long waiting times commonly seen with signalized intersections," Morales wrote.
Roundabouts are also beneficial for pedestrians. Crosswalks located at established safe lengths from the yield line allow pedestrians to have a safer path. When including median islands in the design, pedestrians can focus on one direction of traffic at a time, further enhancing safety. Environmentally speaking, roundabouts present advantages as well, with reduced idling at intersections, resulting in emissions reduction, which is beneficial for air quality and decreases the overall carbon footprint."
According to MassDOT, since Jan. 1, 2022, there have been five crashes at the Tyler Street roundabout with zero injuries. One "Front-to-Front," one "Rear-End," one "angle," one "Side-Swipe," and one "Unknown."
The annual crash rate (for the most severe consequence) of minor property damage is 3.6, with the crash rate for minor injury, major injury, and death at zero.
Data from the four years prior to the roundabout shows some years with fewer crashes but a consistent number of injuries. The annual crash rate for minor property damage was 1.66 and the crash rate for minor injury was 1.33.
2018 — 2 crashes, 1 injury
2019 — 5 crashes, 1 injury
2020 — 2 crashes, 1 injury
2021 (before roundabout) — 3 crashes, 2 injuries