PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Traffic Commission continues to field petitions to lower the speed limits in various neighborhoods, reinforcing a recent call from that body for the city to examine possible ways to exert some local control within state-mandated limitations.
Two Pittsfield residents on Thursday spoke in favor of a petition put forth by Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop asking for a reduction in speed limit to 25 miles per hour for a section of Hungerford Street on the north and south sides of West Housatonic Street, complaining that current speeds near the intersection with this busy stretch of Route 20 have made for dangerous conditions.
"The speed is so bad I can barely get out of my driveway, and in the winter, it's even worse," Bill Andrews of Hungerford Street told the commission. "It's a speedway there."
"The speed limit has become an issue to the point where my wife won't even go get the mail," said his neighbor, Vincent Garofoli. He also expressed concern for the safety of children along that portion of the street.
"The reason I suggest 25 miles per hour as a reasonable speed limit is because you have two sharp turns beginning and end, a bump in the middle, and it's all less than a half-mile long, and heavily populated with children," Garofoli told the commission.
While some of the issue may be addressed through enforcement of the existing speed limit of 35 mph, the Hungerford residents felt that this was still too high, given the geographical factors of this portion of the street.
"We do not have the authority to establish a 25-mile-an-hour speed limit without a speed study," commission Chairman Guy Pannesco told them, again voicing an issue which has been of increased concern to the commission in recent months.
Unless otherwise specified, Massachusetts maintains default speed limits for different types of roads. For a municipality to create its own speed regulation for a zone, it must collect traffic data through a speed study in conjunction with the Department of Transportation. The approximate cost to the city of such a study is about $6,000, City Engineer Matthew Billeter informed the commission last month.
Additionally, such a study measures the maximum speed that 85 percent of vehicles are travelling currently, and would set the new speed limit at that speed.
The Traffic Commission voted to refer the Hungerford Street petition to the Police Department to look at enforcement of the current speed limit, and to Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood for review of other options by the city's engineering department. Petitions by Councilor Kevin Morandi for speed limit signs in several locations throughout Ward 2 were similarly referred Thursday, because of the same limitations.
The commission has reviewed three other petitions within the last three months from city councilors asking for speed-limit reductions, for areas on Maple Grove Drive, Ontario Street and Wahconah Street. Following discussions at its meeting last month, the commission decided to handle the Maple Grove petition by forwarding its meeting minutes to the City Council for review.
"If residents on a street are looking for a 25-mile-an-hour speed limit and everyone on the street goes 40, the speed limit will be 40, according to what we've been told," Traffic Commission member Peter White explained to the City Council last week. He said the commission had voted to refer its own minutes to the council because its discussion ranged over a variety of suggestions for approaching the speed-limit conundrum.
Suggestions ranged from increasing the budget for police traffic enforcement, to regionalizing the costs of speed studies, or putting forth a home-rule petition to the state on speed regulation.
"We know we have speeding problems all over the city," said White. "I know that every councilor does everything they can for their area and their constituents. But I think we need to go a little bit further."
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