PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Despite a recommendation to deny the proposed handicapped parking spaces, the City Council has adopted a measure increasing the number of downtown spaces.
The additional spots have been a long time coming since Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell pressed the issue of the number of spaces on North Street.
"It seems every time we have either a project on one of our main streets, either streetscape or new construction, we seem to be losing handicapped spacing," Connell said.
The construction on North Street had led to the removal of two handicapped spots, which were replaced on School Street. But, then the Onota Building went under construction and those spots were lost.
"Those got put on what I call, dead man's turn, which is coming from East Street, passed Berkshire Bank, onto North Street," Connell said.
Connell then noticed there were other issues with the number of spaces. There were stores that specialize in such things as walkers without parking spots near them. Elm, Tyler, and South Street lack of spaces, with Tyler only having one space for the entire street.
He put together a petition calling for one handicapped spot for every 10 spots, specifying the distance. That petition, filed last summer, ultimately fell apart because in some areas it just wasn't feasible to add parking.
Connell then took a trip throughout the downtown with Downtown Pittsfield, the city's Public Services Department, and the Commission on Disabilities and created a plan to add or relocate about 20 spots on the four streets.
"I think we came up with a pretty well thought out, comprehensive list," Connell said.
Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said the spots were identified for a number of reasons, not just proximity to stores but also accessibility.
"It is not just about finding a place to park, it is about finding the right place to park," Turocy said.
The Traffic Commission, however, said there were concerns from businesses who weren't informed about the spots and that some locations had handicapped parking designated elsewhere. The commission rejected the petition.
"I think North, South, East Street, there were very few disagreements about the locations. The concern was mostly Tyler and Elm Street, where the businesses weren't contacted," Turocy said.
On Tuesday, the City Council overturned the Traffic Commission's recommendation and opted to implement those spots on Connell's list. But, it added a provision to review the decision in one year to ensure there are no problems or complaints.
"It is not going to be the end of the world if somebody pulls up to a business tomorrow and there is a handicapped spot," Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said.
Mazzeo said if there are issues in the future, the spots can easily be moved. And she didn't want to see the work already put in fall to the wayside.
Councilor at Large Peter White had specific issues with the spots by 28 North St. and wants those moved immediately. He, too, didn't want to see the entire petition scraped and asked the council to make any amendments as needed instead of rejecting it.
"I think there are some of these we could approve," White said.
But, the council didn't bother making any changes. Connell said he had spoken to one business that raised concern and, on Tuesday, vowed that if the handicapped spot caused harm to the business, he'd personally write the petition to move it.
"That was the main one in regard to Tyler Street," Connell said.
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