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Pittsfield community members to hold walk-out on West Street to call for safer roads

Pittsfield Community Design Center

Activists in Pittsfield, Massachusetts are holding a rally on West Street tomorrow to call for increased safety measures on the roadway following a pedestrian death earlier this year.

In early February, 30-year-old Shaloon Milord died after being struck by a motorist while crossing West Street in late January. Milord was walking with a young child who suffered minor injuries. While the Berkshire District Attorney’s office says the investigation into the incident is ongoing, some Pittsfielders want to see action now.

“So, his stretch of West Street it's part of a long stretch of pretty much straight road that runs out to the edge of town where [Berkshire Community College] is," explained Nicholas Russo. "It's kind of a connector to other arterials that get you around Pittsfield, like Onota Street, Merriam Street. And then this very specific section is at the bottom of a hill, kind of on a river valley. You cross a bridge over a branch of the Housatonic River.”

Russo works as a transportation planner for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and is a member of the volunteer advocacy group Pittsfield Community Design Center. The group is holding a walk-out by the spot outside of Dorothy Amos Park where Milord was struck to call for safer infrastructure. He says that West Street is an unusually wide roadway, especially with its proximity to multiple housing complexes, a public park, and the neighborhood’s main grocery store.

“The lanes are up to 15 feet wide, the travel lanes in some sections, with an additional shoulder, with the white line on either side," said Russo. "So, you have almost 40 feet of asphalt width to move two lanes of traffic. And honestly that's almost double the size that you could use to move traffic. A traditional measure of traffic lanes is about 10 feet. So, if you do the math, 10 feet plus 10 feet, that's 20 feet, and you've got almost double that amount of space. So, it's a very wide open, straight stretch of road. It's easy to lose track of your speed, just get to the next intersection you can see straight ahead of you.”

Russo argues that simply addressing the width of West Street would immediately make it safer for pedestrians, bikers, and anyone not travelling it with a car.

“A narrower street is safer than a high-quality crosswalk," he told WAMC. "So, I think narrowing those lanes quickly to start, either with, even just traffic cones or barrels to make it that 10-foot width can really make a big difference and kind of grab people's attention as they're coming through here and slow people down. More permanent solutions could be adding like a refuge island in the middle of the crosswalks. So, if you're crossing, that can also narrow the lanes and kind of give that little kind of concept of constriction as you're driving through there. You could even look at a raised crosswalk. Those kind of force you to slow down and elevate a pedestrian to be more visible as well.”

Pittsfield Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales says he applauds and acknowledges the community’s cry for safer roads. He tells WAMC he plans to attend Saturday’s event, adding the city has considered bringing traffic calming measures to West Street.

“We are in conceptual stages for that section," said Morales. "We have known certain areas around the city need improvements based on what they had become from a very car-centric design which put everyone else in danger at the cost of providing safe and quick and easy access for vehicles. And that being said, we are implementing in multiple locations throughout the city essentially the same measure. It's narrowing the road down, making it so that it's not an option to drive fast, calling to attention to the driver. These are the specific traffic calming measures that we have already implemented in other parts of the city. We would do something like that at West Street.”

Russo sees multiple benefits to revisiting Pittsfield’s street design.

“I mean, there's the overall goal of reversing and reducing the trend of traffic fatalities, which have been increasing year over year for the past decade in the United States, which is bucking the trend of the rest of the world," he said. "Most developed countries have drastically reduced their roadway deaths in the past, you know, since the 70s. And the U.S. was on that trend, and it's kind of gone in the opposite direction since the mid-2000s.”

Expanding the vision of roads as not just for cars could also address climate change concerns and rebuild neighborhoods.

“We kind of want to go back to this idea that we can walk to the store, we can get what we need without having to get in the car unnecessarily and drive to the other side of town, getting neighborhood shops, like Mom-and-Pop local businesses, a better footing to compete against the big box stores and kind of these national trends like Amazon and Walmart,” Russo told WAMC.

The Pittsfield Community Design Center’s West Street Walk-Out kicks off at 1 p.m.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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