PITTSFIELD — Change is coming to downtown. Again.
Beset by complaints from residents and businesses, the city is changing the traffic pattern it’s been piloting on North Street since last fall, and will be nixing the deeply unpopular protected bike lanes.
But there are no plans to revert to two lanes of vehicular traffic for the time being, and there will still be bike lanes, just in a different configuration.
The changes are happening after the city received another grant through the state’s Shared Streets & Spaces program, and will be moving into a “second phase.”
“I actually think that this is going to be, this iteration at least, is going to be well received,” said Ricardo Morales, the city’s commissioner of public works and utilities.
The current traffic situation on North Street has generated disapproval in the community, with residents and businesses complaining about confusing lane shifts, unclear line painting and the protected bike lanes present on some blocks but not others.
Described by Tyer Administration officials as a pilot project, the reconfiguration was funded by a $238,826 grant received last fall.
The state says the Shared Streets & Spaces program is meant to help municipalities “improve plazas, sidewalks, curbs, streets, bus stops, parking areas, and other public spaces in support of public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce.”
But the reception from the community has been chilly, with persistent complaints about three primary issues: the abrupt lane shifts, the “very unpopular” protected bike lanes and poor signage.
The city’s Commission on Disabilities also had concerns about the protected bike lanes — travel lanes for cyclists that are flush to the curb and “protected” to the left by parking spaces — impeding mobility. And some worried that the poorly marked and shifting lanes could make it harder for emergency vehicles to pass.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi last year filed a petition on behalf of his constituents trying to force officials to eliminate the changes and revert to the old setup; two lanes of vehicle traffic without a dedicated bike lane. A City Council subcommittee voted narrowly to reject that petition.
At a second outreach meeting about the changes with Downtown Pittsfield Inc. held Wednesday, Morales said the next traffic pattern will have none of those issues.
“All of that has been addressed,” he said.
The city is making it happen using another round of funding through the Shared Streets and Spaces program. Most of the second-round grant, totaling $162,880, will be spent implementing the new traffic pattern on North Street from Park Square up to Wahconah Street, he said, with remaining funds earmarked for parklets and for studying the reconfiguration once complete.
On both the northbound and southbound sides, the lanes closest to the center median will be for vehicular traffic, while the lanes closest to the curb will be for bike traffic, Morales said. The lanes for cyclists will have a bike lane about 6 feet wide with buffers.
Gone will be one of the biggest headache-inducing aspects of the current traffic pattern: That it shifts from one vehicle lane, to two lanes, then back to one lane, then back to two lanes, in the span of several blocks, causing bottlenecks and confusion among drivers.
The city put the project out to bid on Wednesday, and the work will be complete by the end of June, Morales said. Asked whether the next iteration may be permanent, Morales said officials plan to study traffic pattern for several months, then hold community forums before making a decision.
No businesses attended the virtual DPI forum on Wednesday, but Morales said he would be willing to hold another outreach meeting to keep them apprised of the changes.
Cheryl Mirer, executive director of the business group, said the city is responding to the group’s concerns.
“Ricardo and his team have listened to what the businesses have to say on North Street and South Street, and have taken into consideration everything that was deemed wrong with the first pilot,” Mirer said. “So I’m happy that we’re going to see some changes here that will address those issues.”
Ward 6 City Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi said she supports redesigning North Street, and said she’s looking forward to seeing the confusing designs get fixed.
“I think its no secret that the rollout was not well received by some of the community,” she said, “and now that we’re getting into the summer months, I’m really excited to see some of the corrective measures be taken.”
Morandi said the new pattern doesn’t address the safety concerns he has about limiting vehicle traffic to one lane in favor of bike lanes, like the potential for emergency vehicles having to slow down en route to the hospital. He said there should have been more public input in the designs before the rollout, calling the project a “very expensive test” of a new traffic pattern that wasn’t needed.
“I don’t feel that North Street should be one lane on either side,” he said. “[Morales] says it’s for traffic calming; I see it creating even more of a problem for drivers and pedestrians.”