Tyer says she won’t remove Pittsfield’s bike lanes, declines to endorse Harrington a second time
Pittsfield, Massachusetts Mayor Linda Tyer is facing pressure to remove the bike lanes on North Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. A petition on her desk from at-large city councilor Karen Kalinowsky calls for the street to be restored to its previous design. At the August 9th city council meeting, Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales presented data showing that the lanes have made the downtown corridor safer, alongside endorsements from first responders like the city’s police and fire departments as well as local emergency response services. WAMC Berkshire sat down with Tyer at city hall this morning to discuss the bike lanes and more.
TYER: Well, I continue to be encouraged by the data that shows that the bike lanes are having a positive effect on the downtown experience. I especially am happy when I see people using them whether they're on a bike or on a scooter. I think we are building an infrastructure not just in downtown but throughout the city, which is the ultimate plan, that will allow for this type of micromobility and traffic calming so that people can experience places like the downtown or Tyler Street in a variety of ways.
WAMC: Sent to your desk was a petition from at-large City Councilor Karen Kalinowsky to revert North Street back to its original design. Now that this is in front of you, do you have any intention of following through with that request?
I don't have any intentions of returning North Street to its previous footprint. I think that we are, we've completed the pilot program, I think that Ricardo was able to show to the city council and to the community that the bike lanes are having a positive effect on the downtown experience. And so now is not the time to go back to the way that North Street was designed in the past. We are forward, future thinking about how to design downtowns, how to make downtown enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities, and people who want to experience the downtown in a variety of ways.
Another petition sent to your desk was from Kenny Warren of Ward 1 about the creation of funding for an alternate emergency response infrastructure from the city. Obviously, this comes in the wake of not just the Miguel Estrella shooting, but conversation about Daniel Gillis’s death a few years back. What are your thoughts on the petition as it sits in front of you?
So first, I really think that Councilor Warren has very good intentions, and I really respect his desire to want to participate in solving problems and finding solutions that are in the best interest of the city. There's sort of two aspects to the petition that I've been thinking about. First of all, the theory that he has about how the city council can appropriate funds and if I don't respond within seven days, the funding is available. We've examined both the state law and we've had a consultation with Department of Revenue. He's just not right about that. But we can set that aside for the moment, because I do think there's some value in what he's asking for, and I would encourage the city council to put together a proposal with more specificity so that we can provide funding to accomplish the goal that they're trying to achieve. So, I'm open to the idea of what they're trying to do, but I need more specificity, and I'm open to funding it, if they can provide me with more specifics.
Councilor Warren did specifically reference models in places like Northampton and Cambridge and other Massachusetts communities. Have you given any thought to those models?
I have. And I think those models are fairly new, and I think we need to give them time to understand how they've been structured and the impact that they've had on the community. I think there's lots of things that we can do that don't cost money. We can invite them to meet with us, we can have conversations with them, we can do some site visits. So I think there's lots that we can do. And I also will say that I think there is going to, it's going to be necessary for us to have a multiple pronged approach to solving the problem of the mental health crisis that Pittsfield and many communities are experiencing.
Another program that's been much referenced over this conversation is that in Eugene, Oregon, which has a lot of history, and at this point, a pretty solid track record in place that's got a longer footprint than some of these, as you mentioned, younger programs. So with that in mind, are you open to this idea of there being a community based, non-police oriented mental health response?
Yes. Yes, I am. And we need community partners. For example, the model in Eugene, Oregon has a very strong connection to the hospitals and the mental health care providers that are part of the community in Eugene, Oregon. We need the strength of those partnerships in order for us to replicate that model.
Now, the whole reason we're talking about this is because of the conversations around the death of Miguel Estrella. With the DA finally releasing this mammoth report on the incident and agreeing with the Pittsfield PD that the officers were not in any sort of violation of criminal statute, what were your thoughts on the report? What did it tell you about Pittsfield?
I still feel that it was an extraordinarily tragic moment in the lives of many people in this community, and the friends and the family of Miguel continue to have broken hearts. And we as a community- Miguel represents people who struggle in our community with mental health crisis, with mental health issues. And it is a complicated, it’s a complicated issue. We as a city, as a governing body have an obligation to be part of the solution. And that's what we're going to be aiming for.
Now, both protesters around the death of Miguel Estrella and Councilor Warren in his remarks about this funding for alternate emergency responses have been very critical of the city and saying that not enough has happened, and that there's sort of been a lot of conversation without what seems like a lot of implementation on the streets. So- Any thoughts to those criticisms?
I understand that everyone feels a sense of urgency and immediacy, and I do too. Although rebuilding programs and building back confidence in the community is going to take time, and as I said a moment ago, it isn't just one solution. It's going to take a multi-pronged approach between the nonprofit groups, the hospital, the city of Pittsfield, we all have to be engaged actively in solving this problem so that we can better serve the people of our community. We have not been slow to respond. I mean, we've, we're in the process right now of bringing aboard two social workers, one to be assigned to the city's Department of Public Health and to the police department. I view in particular the position in the Department of Public Health as a critical convener for all of the things that everyone is talking about. I'm not an expert in the field of social work, so I need the expertise on my team to help us sort through all of these potential models that we might be able to partner with community nonprofits around.
So at this point in your mind do you have a timeline of when the city might put forward something in the wake of this tragedy to fully address it along those terms?
So really, I'm aiming for the selection of the two social workers by September, and then we will immediately put them to work helping us build out a co-responder program. We've decided that we want to expand the co-responder program and bring it in-house. And we know from the data over the years that we've had a co-responder program that it works. And we want to expand that and bring it in-house instead of partnering with a nonprofit group. So that'll be one of the very first things that we do in the fall is to beef up our co-responder program. At the same time, we will continue to work towards understanding some of these alternate models. We know that the new 988 system has been released. We know that the Brien center is going through challenges with staffing. We're probably going to be confronted by those things as well. We're just going to keep moving forward as fast as we can to bring help to this community around these kinds of incidences that are happening in our neighborhoods.
And lastly for today, the clock is ticking to primary day. I would be remiss to not ask the mayor of Pittsfield, are you making any endorsements and the DAs race for Berkshire County and the sheriff's race for Berkshire County?
I am not making any endorsements.
You did endorse Andrea Harrington in her first run for DA. Is there anything to read into in the decision to not endorse her in this cycle?
I wouldn't say there's anything to read into it. I would say that I'm always intrigued by candidates who step forward for the first time and want to make a contribution to their community. And so when I'm looking at where I want to make an endorsement, that often carries a big weight. First time candidate, woman candidate, progressive thinker. That's what goes into my decision to endorse candidates. For example, I was happy to endorse [Salem] Mayor [Kim] Driscoll for [the] lieutenant governor's race because she's stepping outside of her role as mayor and taking a shot at a state office and I really felt strongly about endorsing her candidacy for lieutenant governor. And so that's part of what goes into my decision when I'm thinking about endorsing candidates.