After fatal accident, Center Street safety improvements eyed


PITTSFIELD -- Safety improvements are being considered for a section of Center Street following the death of a pedestrian who was struck while crossing the street on Jan. 17.

Lisa Phillips, a cousin of the victim, Michael J. Rathbun, 30, of Pittsfield, said she has contacted city officials and hopes to spur improvements, especially concerning lighting around a railroad overpass above the street.

"The lighting is terrible there," Phillips said. "It is hard to see under the bridge at all and around it there are shadows."

After hearing her concerns, Ward 6 City Councilor John Krol said he talked to city Highway Superintendent Peter Bruneau. The councilor said he was told additional signage on the Center Street islands could be installed to warn of pedestrians crossing the two-lane street near the Big Y parking lot, and during warm weather additional markings could be painted on the street.

Krol and other officials said they are trying to learn whether unlit lighting fixtures mounted on the railroad overpass can be activated. He said the fixtures have not been lighted for many years.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo said she was contacted by Phillips via email and has corresponded with Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood, City Engineer Matt Billetter and other councilors.

Mazzeo said she also advised Phillips to contact Krol, who as the ward councilor could put a petition into the council seeking the changes.

Phillips said she also is circulating a citizen petition to submit to city officials.

Safety improvements at the site would benefit many residents who live in the area and walk to the Big Y or nearby stores and must walk along or cross Center Street, she said.

Mazzeo said that after she talked with Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell about the problem, he visited the area and determined there was a need for additional warnings about pedestrians and for more lighting.

She said she asked Billetter to conduct a site visit during the nighttime.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said this week that safety improvements will be considered, but he also wants to see a completed police investigation report concerning the accident and its cause, which might help determine what is needed.

Police said the accident remains under investigation, and because of the fatality a statement on the findings will be released at the conclusion through the Berkshire District Attorney's office.

"This is something we certainly will look into," Bianchi said. "This was very unfortunate. Believe me, we take these things very seriously."

Taryn Mancivalano, 54, also of Pittsfield, was the operator of the 2005 Chevrolet Suburban that police said struck Rathbun. The SUV was traveling southbound at around 5:45 p.m.

The site of the fatal accident was marked this week by a balloon display and a sign dedicated to Rathbun.

Pittsfield Police said Rathbun was hit Jan. 17 while crossing the street at the overpass and suffered head trauma.

The decades old design of Center Street in that area would not likely be allowed today, Krol said, because it makes it difficult for pedestrians to come down to the Big Y and other stores, especially from senior housing facilities on Columbus Avenue and nearby neighborhoods.

"It's a poor design if you are trying to encourage downtown urban living," he said.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
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