Pittsfield Traffic Commission Talks North Street Parking, Bike Lanes
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — During its first meeting of the year, the Traffic Commission last week took up parking and bike lanes on North Street.
A petition from North Street business owners requesting that metered on-street parking is limited to three hours was tabled so that information can be gathered on parking trends.
A petition from Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky asking for a safety study on the new bike lanes and traffic pattern on North Street was referred to Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales and the Police Department.
Morales reported that the parking system is working as intended though there is a higher duration of parking on North Street than the city had anticipated. There are several ways to regulate that including the addition of a time limit and increasing the parking rate.
On-street parking is a higher rate than the city's off-street, long-term parking lots.
"The system we have does behave as intended with certain limitations. And what I mean by that is the long-term parking is designated as the surface lots, garage, and off-street essentially, I'm referring to here we're talking only about paid parking, and in that sense, it is that way by design because we have established a lower rate and if someone would like to park for a longer-term they would go naturally to the surface spots, off-street parking," he explained.
"The on-street parking, which includes North Street, Wendell Ave Extension, Federal Street, and the BMC section on Wahconah Street, it is a higher rank and normally we see shorter duration parking than the surface lots. However, we do recognize that there's a higher-than-normal anticipated parking duration on North Street than we had anticipated."
Morales said the city strives to see 80 percent occupancy with parking.
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey said he has noticed a lot of available on-street parking in the area of the Wright Building, which currently has many vacant storefronts.
It is realistic to expect that underdeveloped areas will have parking available, Morales said, in the same way, that popular areas will have less.
"With this, there will be a direct impact to availability in those spaces specifically with the shift being moving vehicles that are long term, which probably encompasses employees of the same businesses that sought limitation and other types of businesses as well, to the to the long-term parking spaces in the off-street zones," he added.
"The idea would be, as it's presented, is for North Street alone, so that would not include Wahconah, that would not include Federal or Wendell Ave Extension as it is presented, the other thing that we need to consider is that the original study that was done for parking included a limit on a street parking."
Commissioner Brian Andrews asked how food trucks would be affected by the change, as they reserve two spots for business just as a person would for parking.
Morales said the city recognizes the importance of food trucks as downtown businesses and can look for ways to accommodate them if a time limit were passed.
In addition to tabling the petition so that Morales can bring back statistics on parking times, the commission would also like to hear from the business owners who proposed the limit.
Kalinowsky said she brought her petition on North Street bike lanes forward because of complaints that she has gotten from constituents and what she has seen.
Last summer, the downtown corridor was made into one-lane traffic for vehicles and a bike lane. It is part of a pilot program to make the city multimodal, or not just relying on single-traveler cars.
"I'm just asking [Police Sgt. Marc Maddalena] to do a traffic safety study on North Street from Park Square to the hospital in regards to the traffic changes because of the bike lane," she said.
"I brought this forward one because of complaints from residents and business owners on North Street, two, things that I've seen myself up there in the 32 years of law enforcement, I have some concerns and asking for a safety study to get done."
Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick also came forward to say he has constituents on Hamlin Street who are concerned about an increase in traffic on Second Street and wonder if it is because of the bike lanes.
He asked that if the study is conducted, the city could also look at this area. Kronick later suggested that this be a separate study so that Kalinowsky's request is focused.
Maddalena said the request is beyond the technology of the Police Department, as he can mostly just document speeds and the number of crashes that have happened.
It was pointed out that Morales has been conducting a study of the bike lanes because it is a pilot and confirmed that data has been tracked since July and that a full study will be performed.
"When I say that this is at this point, still a pilot program, that means that we are expecting to see the results of this pilot installation to then make some final determinations," Morales said.
"And what we are seeing so far is that it is accomplishing what it set out to do."
He recalled from memory that volumes for North Street have behaved as expected through the pandemic with 2019 volumes going down in 2020 and then volumes going up slightly in 2021.
"The study will include evaluation of vehicle traffic volume for 2022 and that's going to be done in the next couple of months to finalize that report, for both First Street and Seymour Street the behavior is very similar with the magnitude being the only variant both pre and post-pandemic," he explained.
"There's a dip and then there is a rise and the dip and the rise almost match in reverse order on all three locations, so what that tells us is that there does not seem to have been a shift in volume between North Street and the side streets that are considered the principal side streets to North Street in this case."
He said there was a significant decline in crashes for the second half of 2021 and for the first part of 2022.
Maddalena reported that from Park Square to the hospital, there were about 40 accidents in the corridor in 2018, around 37 in 2019, and there were about 25 in 2020 and 2021.
Morales also added that business owners and the community were included in the process, as there was a first iteration of the new North Street layout that was modified to this one based on what the city has learned.
"We have already learned from business owners that the one-lane has made a more calm environment for everyone, for their customers, for themselves, for anyone visiting," he said.
"So that's something that we have learned anecdotally, we're not gathering that type of data although I am conducting some type of survey system where I'm documenting these things, but it's still considered anecdotal, it's not a graded system measure system, what we are measuring is volume crashes, what we're after is safety and a better quality of life."
Kalinowsky also said vehicles cannot be cited for driving in the bike lane because it is a travel lane, which concerns her.
"I think that this program has been rolled out at a time that has not been conducive to people being out and about because of COVID," Commissioner Mark Brennan said.
"And I'd be certainly interested to see how many people ride a bicycle down there because as a member of the North Street community, I don't see too many bikes. I'd like perhaps that those lanes would be used more so."
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