Pittsfield council asked to OK $500K to overhaul parking

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PITTSFIELD -- The City Council will be asked this week to approve $500,000 to begin funding a comprehensive overhaul of Pittsfield's downtown parking system.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi seeks borrowing authorization to pay for the development of bidding specifications, and to pay for a "smart meter" system for North Street, parking garages and other downtown locations; to purchase informational and directional signage to reduce confusion about parking regulations and clarify where parking is available; and for new lighting for parking lots and other improvements.

Community Development Director Douglas Clark said a consultant would be hired to develop specifications for the new meters, signage, new lighting and other features included in the wide-ranging recommendations, which resulted from a $75,000 study that began in fall 2013.

Working since then with a study committee of local officials and representatives of downtown businesses and other stakeholders, parking consultants Nelson Nygaard produced the report upon which the borrowing request is based.

Among key recommendations are the creation of "demand-based pricing" for premium parking spaces, primarily along North Street, while eliminating time limits. Essentially, that means charging for spaces in the most sought-after areas of the downtown during daytime business hours, while allowing free or lower-cost spaces elsewhere to encourage their use by employees of businesses or agencies to free up more premium spaces.

That format has been used successfully by a number of cities to increase the availability of premium spaces for residents or visitors heading for shops, restaurants or entertainment venues, the consultants said.

A map included in the report recommends a 50-cent-per-hour charge to park on North Street from Housatonic Street to White Terrace, and a 25-cent-per-hour charge for spaces on North Street from White Terrace to Stoddard Avenue, and along Wahconah Street between North to Seymour streets, as well as around City Hall on Fenn Street, Bank Row and nearby streets.

The map shows three hours of free parking allowed on Wendell and Bartlett avenues, and on side streets off North Street.

The full Nelson Nygaard report and related maps can be viewed under City Council agendas, on the city's website at www.cityofpittsfield.org.

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Other than the new system, which would include some form of kiosk metering in which a motorist pays with cash or a credit card and selects the amount of time required, new signage would direct motorists, especially visitors to Pittsfield, to lot parking and better explain whether spaces are free or metered and the cost details.

Other key recommendations include to streamline the divided management structure overseeing parking spaces, garages and fee and fine collections, as well as to consider zoning or other changes to enhance the overall parking system.

Clark said city officials have been discussing options for streamlining management operations, part of which are handled through city government offices and part of which the police department handles.

The consultants also recommended considering a separate authority to oversee parking issues and facilities, including maintenance issues and future enhancements, and to ensure the system is financially self-supporting.

The consultants likewise recommend considering the creation of new parking spaces in areas such as on West Street near Park Square and elsewhere in the downtown, and improving several alleyways between buildings to facilitate pedestrian traffic from lots or side streets, where free or low-cost parking is available, and North Street.

Many of the recommendations, including the exact parking fees charged and management structure for the system, will require further approvals by city boards and the administration, Clark said. But he added that the report's recommendations has received wide support -- after some initial skepticism -- from many downtown merchants, and the overall proposal was recommended by the city Traffic Commission.

The study process included an online survey of residents and others, meetings to discuss the evolving draft report and other outreach efforts by the consultant and city officials.

The $500,000 for parking-related improvements is requested to the council among $4.9 million in proposed capital projects for the city, including $3 million for street improvements, $1.2 million for replacement of an airport hazard beacon and $200,000 for Streetscape Phase 4 design work.

The council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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