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Pittsfield Community Design Center founder Nick Russo speaks at Sunday's event remembering traffic victims held on the steps of City Hall.
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The group walks from North Street to City Hall for a vigil in memory of the nine people killed in traffic incidents this year in the county.
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A ghost bike and shoes symbolize the victims.

'Ghost Bike' Memorializes Road Traffic Victims at Pittsfield City Hall

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales, right, walked with the group and spoke about what the city is doing to improve pedestrian and biking safety. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pairs of shoes were solemnly placed next to a "ghost bike" in front of City Hall on Sunday, the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

Countywide, there have been nine people killed in pedestrian or traffic incidents this year and many seriously injured.

"For me, I don't want to see memorial crosses and stuffed animals on the side of the road, I want to see sidewalks on the side of roads. I don't want to see flashing ambulance lights on our streets, I want to see flashing crosswalk beacons instead," Pittsfield Community Design Center founder Nick Russo said.

"I want to put the accident reconstruction team out of business. I want our streets to be safe for everyone and not have these preventable deaths and serious injuries in the system that we built. We can fix it."

A small group began at the design center on North Street and marched to City Hall where a vigil was held. That night, the building was lit up yellow for the cause and a bicycle painted white, called a ghost bike, will be chained in front for a week.

Early this year, Shaloon Milord was struck by a car and killed crossing West Street near Dorothy Amos Park and last month, Shane Cassavant was struck and killed farther up the street while working on the roadway.

Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales recognized that the city saw an increase in deaths, adding that "our hearts are with their families."

He said the community needs to recognize that it can do better and that the city can't do it alone. The design center and the Berkshire Bike Path Council, who also participated in the event, were recognized as important partners.

Morales detailed the city's efforts in addressing pedestrian safety through multiple projects.

"We have plans for our future. We have not stopped developing what West Street is going to look like because someone lost their life crossing the street. We want to change that. We want a street that protects people no matter how they decide to interact with that street and we have plans for Holmes Road in the move. We want to improve how that street is as an experience for anyone using it, especially kids that use it to cross around and go to school," the commissioner said.

"We just finished Tyler Street and improving that mostly for kids. That's where it was born from to improve the experience and safety of kids going to Morningside School and we're not stopping there. We have the work on Berkshire Medical Center, around that area, starting next year, as soon as winter allows, as soon as winter goes away we're going to start that project and that's going to be major. It is going to connect Tyler Street to North Street and it's going to have this compounding effect."

The redesign of North Street to include one lane of travel each way and bike lanes has been a topic of criticism over the last few years but "hate it or love it," Morales pointed out that it has reduced the amount and severity of collisions.

"I'm sure we can do better. We can have better-looking infrastructure in our downtown. I think we deserve that as a community and I'm happy to be part of that conversation and get that going but the reality is that these things work. Bike boxes, bike infrastructure, race tables, horizontal and vertical deflections, they work," he said.

"We don't have to leave it up to the driver to make the right decision. We can cause and induce people to make the right decision based on how we build our environment so I think the only thing I have to say other than remembering those that we lost is let's take the opportunity to also celebrate that we are doing a lot of good things so that we don't have to suffer as a community from any more losses and in doing so I think we can build a Pittsfield we want in the future."

Bike Path Council President Marge Cohen pointed to the importance of the Vulnerable User Laws passed this year that provide safeguards for people walking and biking, roadside workers, people using wheelchairs, micromobility devices, and farm equipment.

She thanked everyone who travels at the speed limit, stops at lights, wears bright colors when they are walking or biking, rides with the flow of traffic and walks against traffic, drivers who give non-vehicular travelers four feet of space, and everyone who wants to share the road.

"Today we remember those who have passed away too early," Cohen said. "Their lives cut short reminds us that every day is a gift. Today we must recommit our efforts to making safe streets."

Russo said the design center at 429 North St. is gearing up for regular events such as talks and debates and aims to be an accessible neutral space that is not a government building and not a person's private home.

"This isn't the thing about bikes versus cars or scooters versus pedestrians. It's really all of us versus streets that were made for sending cars quickly through from one place to another but not always considering the people outside of the cars were trying to also get around," he said, adding that being divisive is counterproductive and everyone is really on the same side.

Tags: biking,   pedestrians,   traffic safety,   

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Pittsfield Lights Permanent, Young Christmas Tree

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Linda Tyer welcomes the crowd to her last tree lighting as mayor. She leaves office in January. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's permanent Christmas tree was lit for the holidays for the first time on Friday. Though the young tree is currently 9 feet tall, it is expected grow up to 50 feet in time.

"Look at our petite sweet little Christmas tree. I know it's a surprise to all of you to see that we have planted a tree in Park Square instead of our past tradition of having a big tree donated," Mayor Linda Tyer said.

"We really felt strongly that this was the time for us to preserve our natural forests by not cutting down trees and planting a tree here in Park Square that will grow and grow and grow, and I encourage moms and dads and grandparents and caregivers to get a photo with your kids next to this tree every year so you can watch them and the tree grow."

The rain didn't stop the tree-lighting ceremony on Friday. Families gathered with umbrellas around the conifer that was planted in October as they waited for Santa and Mrs. Claus to arrive.

"Here comes Santa Claus," Recreation and Special Events Coordinator Maddy Brown said as the Pittsfield High School chorus sang "Winter Wonderland."

The jolly duo pulled up on firetrucks to a long line of children waiting to recite their Christmas lists.

The tree was lit before the guests arrived, as the city felt due to its small stature it would be more festive to have it that way. Additionally, the shrubs around the fountain were illuminated.

Last year, the tree lighting ceremony returned in person after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. Over the years, it has become harder for the city to locate a tree and transport it for installation.

This type of fir has a silver blue color, is more desirable under urban conditions, and has the least pest problems of many evergreens, Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said. It will grow about 10 inches per year and will typically reach 30-50 feet tall and 15-25 feet wide when mature.

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