PITTSFIELD -- Despite questions raised by some residents living near Conte Community School, the City Council on Tuesday approved restricting South Atlantic Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in the section to one-way vehicle travel.
The changes, which were proposed as part of a comprehensive plan to increase safety for students and others walking in the area, are a component of a federal grant-funded construction project.
Residents said they fear the changes could force traffic onto other streets, such as Pacific Street, endangering children used to playing there and causing bottlenecks, parking or other traffic problems.
The high-traffic times for the area are when parents of Conte school students pick up or drop off their children, about one hour per day during the school year.
Project design consultant Kevin R. Dandrade of TEC Inc. of Lawrence told councilors the project will add a new sidewalk area to make walking safer and allow for easier traffic flow in the one-way sections and throughout the neighborhood.
He added that "this is a chance to get 100 percent federal funding and an opportunity to extend the sidewalk network in the area."
The project would receive more than $600,000 in grant funds.
In response to several suggestions from residents and councilors for minor revisions to the overall traffic plan, Dandrade said the plan could not be altered at this point as the project design has been completed. He said it was determined to be the best solution that would allow greater safety for walkers and easier traffic flow.
However, he said "this is not the end of the discussion," and changes could be considered after the work is completed and traffic changes in place.
Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo said she supports the concept but questions whether residents dropping off or picking up children might ignore no parking signs that are to be installed to facilitate traffic flow.
"I understand what you are trying to do, but the signs for no parking could be ignored," she said, adding that the impact on a number of streets "is a really drastic change for this neighborhood."
Ward 6 Councilor John Krol and others asked whether changing the direction of the one-way traffic or other alterations might be a better approach. He said that although he would support the changes, he will ask "to evaluate the plan soon after it is implemented."
Also on Tuesday, the council approved accepting a $250,000 state Department of Energy Resources grant to convert the electric heating system at the Berkshire Athenaeum to a gas heating system -- projected to save about $43,000 a year in utility costs.
James McGrath, the city's Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program manager, said that since becoming involved in the statewide Green Communities Competitive Grants program, Pittsfield has benefited twice. The city received $256,000 for an energy management system at City Hall that saves $22,000 annually and a $92,000 grant for conversion to gas heat at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts building that saves $12,000 annually.
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