PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council may be looking to drop speed limits throughout a majority of the city now that it has the authority to do so.
Previously roads in thickly settled or business districts were 30 mph and the only way to lower that would be to petition the state. The state required a speed study done, paid for by the city, and the study would determine a speed limit based on actual speeds traveled by vehicles on the road.
When the state's municipal modernization bill goes into effect on Nov. 7, the requirement for a speed study and state approval will be removed, giving the council the authority to lower speed limits in those zones to 25. The bill also allows the designation of safety zones, where the speed limit can be dropped to 20.
Already two councilors have petitions lined up to lower a speed limit. Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi jointly filed to lower the speed limit on Springside Avenue between Grove Street and North Street to 25. Morandi has a second petition requesting a 25-mph speed limit on Kellogg Street. Those petitions remain with the City Council until the modernization act is adopted.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell is suggesting efforts to change the limit on many roads all at the same time, either by doing it per ward or by another geographical method.
"I don't have any streets in my ward, Ward 4, I wouldn't suggest we go to 25 miles per hour," Connell said. "We've been told for as long as I've been on the Traffic Commission for seven years the lowest was 30."
Connell said combining many roads at the same time would save time and efforts of each councilor filing individual petitions with the clerk's office.
City Solicitor Richard Dohoney said each individual road has to be designated, so the council can't just cast one overarching determination. Further, only roads considered "thickly settled" or in a business district can be dropped to 25.
"You have to set speed limits according to the neighborhood all the way," Dohoney said. "Not every street in the city of Pittsfield is thickly settled."
Dohoney said the council does also have to accept the state statute giving the council that authority, which could come on the agenda in November.
With Tully and Morandi's petitions, the City Council cut the Traffic Commission out of the conversation. The council discussed sending the petitions to the advisory commission for review but since its input isn't needed, the council opted to just table the petitions.
"Without Traffic, we can still make decisions up here once this statute is approved on what streets we want to see," Morandi said. "I don't see the need to go to Traffic."
Councilor at Large Peter White did urge for the petitions to be sent to the Traffic Commission so it would teed up to be passed in November. He said the city has a long tradition of having the Traffic Commission weigh in on these type of items and wanted to see that continue — the commission's recommendation do not need to be followed by the council.
"I would rather see us not wait, send this to Traffic and get this approved as soon as we can," he said.
Connell countered saying the petitions don't need anything from the Traffic Commission and by staying at the council level, that means the petitions will be ready for a vote as soon as the state statute is adopted.
The Traffic Commission will weigh in on Connell's petition to increase the number of handicapped spaces downtown. He motioned to refer that petition to the commission for input in what has become a lengthy endeavor. It started with Connell calling for one handicapped space per every 10 regular parking spaces and has since morphed to eliminate the ratio and instead identify areas for new spaces.
Connell said the new version calls for six or seven new handicapped spots on North Street, four more on Tyler Street, two more on Elm Street, one more on East Street, and moving one space on South Street. He said no spots were designated on West Street because of the steepness of the hill.
Resident Bill Sturgeon has been advocating for more handicapped parking downtown since the petition was filed.
"We desperately need those handicapped parking spaces on North Street. To keep delaying it is wasting time," he said. "We are an aging city, everybody knows it."
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