By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, AUG. 19, 2011 — There are many “eternal debates” in Pittsfield. The rotary around Park Square went on for 60 years before Mayor Jimmy Ruberto set in place the decision to implement the “straight shot” from south-to-north. That’s a rare example of an “eternal” issue the politicians actually addressed. Most “eternal debates” never reach resolution. Examples: the parking problem in downtown Pittsfield, pedestrian crossings downtown, coordination of vehicular traffic in that location, and the Route 7 bypass.
Funny how the examples that pop quickly to mind center on The Car, actually, motorized vehicles of all sorts. No modern device changed the way we live our lives more deeply than The Automobile — not the phone, computer, or the pet rock.
The Auto broke up families and neighborhoods. It introduced ugly asphalt-and-tar ribbons of roads to dissect communities. It made our world dirtier, noisier, faster, and more convenient.
Crosstown Traffic: Rending the Fabric of Life Assunder
No one has to point out to THE PLANET how The Auto has made possible economic development and contributed greatly to the emancipation of subclasses of people (women, for example, were no longer tied to the house). Few, however, ponder how The Auto has complicated life and greatly increased stress levels. Mother Earth also would rather we hadn’t created a world economy predicated on gasoline and oil and perpetuated only by the ecological rape that assures stockpiles of these poisonous fuels.
But back to the Land of Benigno Numine. That latter phrase is the Latin name for Pittsfield. It means, “When you drive or walk downtown, you take your #$%^&*!@ life in your hands.” Where to begin to identify the problems?
Downtown Pittsfield: An Accident That Isn’t ABOUT to Happen; It HAS Happened
— Traffic volume and flow: Downtown Pittsfield is in the Guinness Beer of World Records for having more traffic signals (lights, signs, painted, pictoglyphs) than any spot on earth, including downtown Tokyo after its rebuilding from the latest attack from —insert name of monster here— (Mothra, Gorgo, Godzilla, Gihdra, or Rodan).
— Too many wheels: With every person 14 and over now owning his and her own vehicle, with every lazy-assed porker (grossly obese because of their own negligence and nothing else) who needs a motorized wheelchair-scooter to get around), and with every work or service vehicle that must pass through North Street to or from another destination, the amount of traffic boggles the mind’s steering wheel.
— Signal corps: Traffic signals in downtown Pittsfield are as coordinated as the Keystone Kops responding to a liquor store robbery. THE PLANET took information from various urban design websites:
— Traffic Signals may work in isolation responding to local traffic or pedestrian conditions, or can be controlled from a central computerized system known as Urban Traffic Control (UTC). The Urban Traffic Control system provides co-ordination between a network of junctions in order to provide progression during busy periods. The traffic signals in downtown Pittsfield are timed to assure that (a) the greatest amount of vehicular traffic will be inconvenienced and (b) the lives of the greatest number of pedestrians will be endangered.
— Fixed time control: The simplest control system uses a timer (fixed-time): each phase of the signal lasts for a specific duration before the next phase occurs; this pattern repeats itself regardless of traffic. Many older traffic light installations still use these, and timer-based signals are effective in one-way grids where it is often possible to coordinate the traffic lights to the posted speed limit. They are however disadvantageous when the signal timing of an intersection would benefit from being adapted to the dominant flows changing over the time of the day. Since when have you as a motorist or pedestrian had the sense that the time controls in downtown Pittsfield are responding to the ebb and flow of actual traffic volume. For example, do you sense that the signals do well adapting to busy versus dead times?
— Dynamic control: Dynamic, or actuated, signals are programmed to adjust their timing and phasing to meet changing traffic conditions. The system adjusts signal phasing and timing to minimize the delay of people going through the intersection. It is also commonplace to alter the control strategy of a traffic light based on the time of day and day of the week, or for other special circumstances such as a major event causing unusual demand at an intersection. Do you, the Pittsfield motorist or pedestrian, have the sense that the dynamic controls actually match what’s happening in real life? In other words, when is the last time you sensed a strategy, a plan, a sense of competency in behind downtown Pittsfield traffic or downtown planning?
The controller uses input from detectors, which are sensors that inform the controller processor whether vehicles or other road users are present, to adjust signal timing and phasing within the limits set by the controllers programming. It can give more time to an intersection approach that is experiencing heavy traffic, or shorten or even skip a phase that has little or no traffic waiting for a green light. Detectors can be grouped into three classes: in-pavement detectors, non-intrusive detectors, and detection for non-motorized road users. Do you have the sneaking suspicion couple with the sinking feeling that the controllers and detectors in downtown Pittsfield are applied in random fashion, like the pattern of so many pick-up-sticks falling to the ground?
Video Monitoring Is Not the Answer and will only Add to the Problem
This discussion says nothing about bad drivers and careless pedestrians. It leaves out skateboarders and sidewalk cyclists. The incidence of each category of idiots seems to be on the ascendancy. That discussion shall be for another time.
One of THE PLANET’s respondents suggested the use of video surveillance to assist the police with their downtown duties. THE PLANET dislikes this suggestion.
First, we don’t see the need to go Orwellian when the problem is easily solved or at least managed with good old-fashioned police work. Simply put, downtown Pittsfield needs cops pounding the beat again. THE PLANET speaks for We the People in saying that until that happens, the deterioration downtown — divas or not, “renaissiance” or not, barbershops or not — will continue. Cops pounding the beat will at least stabilize the patient, who is now in critical condition.
Second, what’s lacking isn’t technology but good management. Pittsfield taxpayers could pay for a $2 million video system, but wouldn’t you bet it would be improperly installed, not set up right, not managed the way it should be, and not regularly maintained?
The downtown has many honest, good shopkeepers, service purveyors, artists, and entrepreneurs who have been left stranded in a conspiracy of ugliness and inattention. Before this year is out, several, at least four, will be out of business.
TIME TO “YEE-HA” OLD PAINT AND RIDE INTO THE REST OF OUR LOVELY DAY. UNTIL THEN, PARDS …
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.