Monday April 19, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city's Traffic Commission has given partial support to a plan to provide more "consumer friendly" on-street parking in downtown Pittsfield.

The five-member panel has unanimously recommended a plan to increase the weekday parking limit from 90 minutes to three hours on the following streets: Edwin (both sides), Depot (north side) and the small open lot fronting the McKay Street parking garage. If the City Council eventually approves the changes, parking on the east side of McKay Street would also be bumped from 15 and 30 minutes to 90 minutes.

The rest of Downtown Inc.'s plan to create more uniform on-street parking was tabled by the commission on Thursday for further review. The other changes under consideration would allow 90-minute parking on North Street between Park Square and Columbus Avenue and a combination of 60- and 90-minute and three-hour parking on several side streets. In addition, South Street from the Colonial Theatre and Church Street to West Housatonic Street would have a mix of 90-minute and three-hour parking.

All the restrictions would be effective Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with unlimited parking allowed after 4 p.m. and on the weekends.

Downtown Inc. proposed the increased time limits -- especially more three-hour ones -- so consumers have more time to shop, eat or visit the cultural and entertainment venues in the areas of North and South streets.

"I have many people telling me, ‘I can find spaces to park, but 90 minutes doesn't cut it,' " said, Yvonne Pearson, the executive director of Downtown Inc.

Commission member Christopher J. Connell supported the organization's push to have the revised time limits enacted for the upcoming summer tourist season.

"Time is of the essence to make the changes," said Connell. "They are right around from the Beacon Cinema and a block away from the Colonial Theatre -- two areas we're trying to promote."

The revised plan also calls for installing new signs -- especially on North Street -- clearly stating when the parking hours are enforced and the times when parking is free.

"I can change those signs out now, because the city code was already changed regarding the 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. period," said Pittsfield Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

Meanwhile, city officials said they are also considering a revised off-street parking plan that would meet the current needs of both downtown employees and visitors. Deanna L. Ruffer, director of the Department of Community Development, presented "informal recommendations" to the Traffic Commission, which include eliminating the city's parking contracts with six businesses as they expire -- five as of June 30 -- at the McKay Street parking garage and the adjacent Lot 5A. The six agreements involve 313 of the 1,058 spaces -- or nearly half of the Pittsfield's downtown off-street parking.

Instead, only permit parking would be offered in the area, and public parking would be in either all the 112 street-level garage spaces or the 161 spaces in Lot 5A.

"McKay (garage) is underutilized, more so now that we've lost KB Toys from downtown," Ruffer noted to the Traffic Commission. "For example, moving all public parking to the lot and all permits to the garage would make the public spaces more visible."

Ruffer said any discussion of a revamped off-street parking should also include a change in the permit fee structure, which currently ranges from $25 to $50, and resurrecting old parking fees.

"I'm sure this will go over like a lead balloon, but we may want to start dialogue on paying for all public parking," said Ruffer. Pittsfield has had free public parking since 1993.

Ruffer noted the city has yet to officially propose an off-street parking plan for public debate and review by city boards.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.