PITTSFIELD — It was the end of the road for a controversial push to place the design of North Street before voters on the November ballot.
After two months of debate, the City Council on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to reverse a January vote that called for a referendum on the street’s design. Councilors Charles Kronick and Karen Kalinowsky — the original petitioner for the ballot question — voted against the move and Councilor Anthony Maffuccio abstained from the vote. Councilor Jim Conant was absent.
But the meeting also showed that for many of the councilors, North Street’s layout is far from set in stone.
“I’m a big supporter of the bike lanes, but not the way they look,” Councilor Earl Persip III said, looking back to where Mayor Linda Tyer and Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales sat in the audience.
“Right now there’s confusion, there’s tons of confusion,” Persip continued. “This should be a wake-up call that we need to address it and to all sit down and somehow work it out. ... I think we can do better as a city and how we design it.”
A later vote signaled the council’s readiness to begin having conversations around alternative designs for the street. The council voted 9-1, with Maffuccio in opposition, to having the city’s engineer study a new design proposal by Downtown Pittsfield Inc.
The business consortium presented a survey to the council and Traffic Commission showing that 60 percent of the North Street businesses surveyed would be in favor of changing parking to head-in diagonal parking. The proposal would reduce the size of the bike lanes, keep the current two-lane design while rotating parking in an effort to squeeze out more spots on the street.
Morales told the council that his department was in the very early stages of discussing how the city could incorporate the parking changes into the street design with Downtown Pittsfield Inc. He said he has three main concerns with the plan: how can the new parking fit, how can it be changed safely and how would the design change restrict further movement on the street?
The council requested that the city engineer return to the council’s next meeting on April 11 to provide a status update on how conversations and planning on the proposal is progressing.
Even with talk of another redesign of the street in the works — and acquiescence from councilors that the current design has room for improvement — the exasperation was palpable from the councilors who pushed for a referendum on the bike lanes in particular.
Kalinowsky continued to question letting city department heads sort out the traffic flow on North Street without guidance from voters.
“I don’t see why you don’t want to give the public a voice,” Kalinowsky said. She added that she felt like the bike lanes were set in place without discussion or input from the council or residents.
Pittsfield received a $238,826 Shared Streets and Spaces grant in September 2020, which allowed for the first reconfiguration of North Street in October of that year. In April 2021 the city received a second iteration of the grant — this time for $162,880 — which allowed the city to take a second stab at carving out bike lanes along the road in May 2021.
Kalinowsky has been adamant that the resulting series of lines and street signals from these redesigns have only confused travelers on the road.
“We have lines on lines of all different colors on North Street and you expect people that drive down North Street to understand every single line,” she said.
Even so, pedestrians and cyclists have remained dedicated in appearing and speaking at every meeting in which North Street’s design has been on the agenda and supporting the design as a safer solution to the street's previous four lanes of flow.
These residents have asked time and again that the council not put “a safety issue” on the ballot.
“I think leaders need to get information and make decisions with department heads,” Councilor Kevin Sherman said. “I want to get the road right and I don’t think the referendum gets that done. I think we need conversation and more collaboration.”