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The city just released a report on the safety of the North Street bike lanes. Here's what it found

Bike lane markings on street (copy) (copy)

A bike lane is seen in downtown Pittsfield, part of a North Street redesign that was first launched in late 2020. The new lanes have “calmed” traffic and decreased accidents, a consultant's report says.

PITTSFIELD — Bicycle lanes on North Street have “calmed” traffic, decreased accidents and garnered the support of public safety officials in the city, according to a new report, accomplishing what the city set out to achieve nearly two years ago.

The result: “A complete street that promised greater access, safety, and enrichment to residents regardless of their mode or reason for use.”

That finding brought questions from city councilors Tuesday, after Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales presented the report, prepared by transportation and engineering consultants.

One councilor suggested the report didn’t square with the “eyeball test” — and continued criticism from city residents.

Leading the safety statistics were data from a two-year, month-by-month look at crashes on North Street. Crash data from police reports shows that a six-month period between October 2020 and March 2021 saw the most accidents of the two-year span, with 22 crashes.

This period encompassed much of the first iteration of the bike paths, installed with state funding in November 2020. In June 2021, the city implemented the current bike lane design — a double-buffered lane.

After the design change, Morales told the council, crash data showed a 77 percent decrease from a peak. Between October 2021 and March of this year five crashes were reported.

Bike lane (copy)

A bicyclist takes advantage in 2021 of newly created bike lanes on North Street in Pittsfield, part of a plan to make the city more bicycle friendly.

Morales said that downward trend is of particular note compared to city and state data. Between 2020 and 2021, crashes across Pittsfield rose 19 percent to a total of 897. In that same period, Massachusetts saw a 23 percent increase in crashes to a total of 124,353.

“It’s very important to place all these numbers in context to understand what we accomplished safety wise on North Street,” Morales said.

The decrease in vehicle crashes has come as more cars are driving closer to posted speed limits on North Street. Data from the report shows that 85 percent of drivers on the street are traveling around 23 miles per hour between Market and Depot streets, about 26 miles per hour between Bradford and Linden streets and 29 miles per hour between White Terrace and Orchard Street.

The survey included a 40-person survey which councilors pushed the commissioners to expand. Morales said the results of the one-day survey, taken on North Street in June, turned up 24 people who said they liked the bike lanes, nine people who were neutral on the lanes and four people who disliked them.

The commissioner also said his department’s review of parking data shows that though there was a dip in vehicle trips after the design changes, drivers continue to treat the street as a destination.

Morales, steadfast in the survey’s methodology, faced pushback from several councilors who questioned how the report could say one thing and frustrated residents could say another.

“I don’t debate your numbers, you clearly have a lot of analytics here,” Councilor Kevin Sherman said. “But it’s like sports these days, you have analytics and then there’s the play and the eyeball test.”

“And the eyeball test, I would say to the majority of the city is not favorable to it,” Sherman said.

BIKES2022-5.jpg (copy)

Ricardo Morales, Pittsfield's commissioner of public services and utilities, often commutes to work on an ebike. Morales briefed councilors Tuesday on a report about new bike lanes on North Street. “It’s very important to place all these numbers in context to understand what we accomplished safety wise on North Street,” he said.

Councilor Karen Kalinowsky said she used to patrol North Street by bicycle in her days as a Pittsfield police officer. Now she says she fields calls and complaints from residents who say the design has made driving more dangerous and confusing.

In January, Kalinowsky signed on to a public petition to revert the street to its original two lanes of vehicle traffic. That petition received just over 1,200 signatures.

“I’m not against bike lanes,” Kalinowsky said. “When you do it correctly it’s safer. It’s nice to say that you got input from like the [police chief] down to everybody — but I will tell you the people I’ve talked to think it’s dangerous up there, in regards to law enforcement.”

Kalinowsky’s comments came in reference to three letters from the city’s top public safety officials: Chief Michael Wynn of the Pittsfield Police Department, Chief Thomas Sammons of the Pittsfield Fire Department and Brian Andrews, president of County Ambulance.

“As controversial as the bike lanes are, I wanted to let you know how the response from headquarters on Columbus Ave. have been,” Sammons wrote in a June email to Morales. “The consensus is that the bike lanes give vehicles a place to move during [an emergency] response.”

“We have since discovered our trepidation to be unfounded and find the new traffic configuration to have no negative impact on our responses and it has had some positive benefit to us,” Andrews wrote, adding that “any negative issues we observe are almost always rooted in the behavior of drivers ....”

“From a traffic and safety standpoint, the results of the change have been successful,” Wynn wrote.

Morales said the city continues to seek ways to improve the street’s design. That includes other means of delineating the bike lane from the traffic lane, tweaking of stop signal timing and additional signs to direct residents through the lanes.

Councilors told the commissioner not to forget about North Street business owners.

“When we talk about the businesses and what we’re doing downtown, I don’t think we tell them enough about what we’re doing,” Councilor Earl Persip III said. “It’s important that we go back and talk to the business owners.”

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

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