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Petitioners call for Pittsfield to remove North Street bike lanes. City officials say they're still studying the project

bicyclist rides in bike lane on north street (copy) (copy)

Pittsfield residents are sharing a fast-growing petition to remove the bike lanes from North Street downtown. City officials said Monday they are studying the pilot project's impact on city life and won't be making any changes soon.

PITTSFIELD — A petition to remove the bike lanes from North Street in downtown Pittsfield once again is picking up steam — championed by a new member of the City Council.

City officials say the project, funded by two grants from the state’s Shared Streets and Spaces program, is being studied and that this isn’t the moment for another reconfiguration of North Street.

“As a pilot program, we are gathering information throughout the entire year — so, all weather and seasons to see what the impacts are,” Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales said.

“The most important thing right now is maintaining — we need to know what the effects of the bike lanes are on North Street in all seasons,” he said.

Morales said his department is studying traffic patterns, biking patterns, and car and pedestrian accidents and will be ready to present its findings in a presentation to the City Council at the end of the spring.

The Change.org petition, started six months ago by a user identified only as “John Q Public,” sat idle for months, until new At Large City Councilor Karen Kalinowsky found and shared the petition on her Facebook account Friday.

“When campaigning for Pittsfield City Council the biggest complaint I heard over and over was the bike lanes and park-let’s on North St,” Kalinowsky wrote in the post. “I will be filing a petition to the Mayor and City Council requesting we convert North St. back to a four/five lane street.”

In the early hours of Monday morning, the petition reached 250 signatures. By about 4 p.m. Monday, it was up to 500. Now, the petition’s goal is 1,000 signatures.

Kalinowsky, who campaigned on removing the bike lanes, said she only expects the support for the petition to grow.

“This isn’t my personal thing, this is me listening to my constituents when I was running,” Kalinowsky said. “When I ran and I talked to constituents, they were very adamant about certain things, and I told them, ‘I need you to support me — I’ll support you, but you need to support me.’”

Kalinowsky said she intends to keep that promise to residents and will be distributing a paper version of the petition throughout the city before bringing the signatures to a City Council meeting in February.

A similar petition, submitted by former Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, failed before the council’s subcommittee on public works almost a year ago.

Kalinowsky said the landscape of the council has shifted since Morandi’s petition, and that she is hoping for a different outcome, given several councilors’ opposition to the design during the campaign.

During the debates leading up to the City Council election in November, Council President Peter Marchetti and At Large Councilor Earl Persip III said they were against the way the project was rolled out. Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick called the project the “epitome of the frustrations people have with city government,” and said it should be removed.

Morales and Mayor Linda Tyer say they are open to feedback from residents, but that no changes will be made to the downtown thoroughfare during the study period.

“We generally will not respond to a Change.org petition, but we are certainly aware of it,” Tyer said. “We will certainly take public feedback into consideration and also weigh it against things that we’ve already put in place and policies that we proposed that the City Council approved, like the Complete Streets policy, and the Bike Facilities Master Plan policy.”

Tyer added that the feedback from business owners along North Street has been supportive of the move from two lanes of traffic to one lane, and that business owners are focused on other issues besides the bike path.

“The businesses just jointly submitted a petition to have the parking meters adjusted to a three-hour time limit,” Tyer said. “And in the course of that petition, they did not indicate to us that the bike lanes are problematic.”

“I think this is really less to do with one or two lanes and, potentially, it has more to do with being opposed to something that is different in the region and in the city,” Morales said.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

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