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Public meeting Thursday in Pittsfield on efforts to make well-traveled thoroughfares safer, more accessible for pedestrians

One of the North Street bike lanes in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at the center of recent debate.
Josh Landes
Traffic calming measures on North Street, one of the most trafficked streets in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is hosting a public meeting Thursday on traffic calming projects in two densely populated neighborhoods. On Holmes Road on the east side, the work will focus on a stretch between Elm Street and Williams Street, while across town, a section of West Street between Valentine Road and Government Drive will receive similar updates. The move comes after a pedestrian crossing West Street with a toddler died after being hit by a car in February. The incident prompted public outcry, and in April the city council approved the use of $7.5 million in free cash to carry out infrastructure improvements across Pittsfield — including the traffic calming measures on Holmes and West. To find out more about the project, WAMC spoke with Pittsfield Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales.

MORALES: We're looking at things that put the pedestrians and someone on a bicycle or someone pushing a stroller or someone on a wheelchair on the road outside of a vehicle in a setting where they are safe. So, we're designing streets to be safer for the most vulnerable user of the street.

WAMC: When it comes to the sort of measures that will be materially realized on the ground as far as actual infrastructure, what might those look like?

We're looking at how we can reduce speed. That's the biggest factor. If we have to maintain some form of traffic on a stretch of road, which in this case, we do- [West Street] is a main connector to the west side of Pittsfield. We cannot just eliminate traffic from there. So, the next best thing is to have traffic flow at a lower speed. What that means is expanding the field vision for someone on a vehicle by reducing the speed. We achieve that by reducing the width of the street- Of the lane, specifically. So, what it looks like for West Street, for example, is instead of having 13-to-16-foot lanes on West Street, we go down to 10-and-a-half feet wide lanes. And we use the additional space that we gain by reducing that to accommodate better accessibility for someone walking or someone biking. And then the other thing we can do is reduce the radius at any of the turns, so that sweeping movements made by vehicles cannot be accomplished. You have to almost come to a full stop and then turn. And then we also eliminate the unnecessary dedicated lanes for right turns in this stretch, which are not really necessary. And at the same time, by including better infrastructure for bicyclists, we can move through that space with a much safer way. We're accomplishing that, hopefully, once we finish the design, by including a raised bicycle path next to the sidewalk, and then adding better positioned crosswalks.

Now, tell me about the Holmes Road part of this project. What is that going to look like?

We are specifically addressing a section of Holmes Road that is very similar to the section on West Street between Williams and Elm Street. So, it's residential in nature, with very few if at all, nonexistent until you get to the to the Elm Street area, commerce. And the main part we're addressing is a very used, traveled connection for kids to go from one neighborhood to where the school is on the other side. So, it is between Elm and Williams. So, not the Holmes Road rural side, but the Holmes Road more suburban turning into urban side.

The death of pedestrian Shaloon Milord on West Street earlier this year helped galvanize a call from the public and action from the city to address these kinds of pedestrian safety measures on these well-traveled thoroughfares. Any thoughts on what that means, the fact that it took a tragedy to elevate this to immediate action for the city?

It is very unfortunate, of course, that it takes such a tragedy. We would like to think that we can come before things like this happen and address our dangerous intersections, our dangerous streets and crossings. And we try to capture all of them in our planning, in our deployment of work. We have to prioritize. If we had all the time and all the money in the world, we would be able to accomplish much more and hopefully minimize that risk. But at the end of the day, we need to prioritize, and unfortunate as it is, the instance, the incident, the tragic incident spurred some movement in the right direction for a section of the of the city, for a section of West Street that is in need of something like this at this point over other parts of the city.

Thursday’s meeting at the Berkshire Athenaeum begins at 6pm.

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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