Alaska Walk and Bike Conference to highlight ways to make Alaska more walk and bike friendly

The inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference takes place June 4-8 in Sitka — Alaska’s only community to hold national Walk Friendly Communities and Bicycle Friendly Community designations.

The conference opens with two days of Smart Cycling training from the League of American Bicyclists, followed by two days of walking and biking presentations. The fifth day includes an optional bike ride, an optional hike with harbor cruise, and a Walk/Bike Alaska organizational meeting. The conference costs $40 for the full conference, or $25 for each two-day segment. People can register at http://akwalkbikeconference.eventsmart.com. The Aspen Suites Hotel, where much of the conference will take place, has a block of rooms reserved for the conference, but will release them to the general public on May 3, so book now.

“Having this conference in Sitka is a great opportunity and I’m particularly excited about the team of speakers we have lined up,” said Doug Osborne, Sitka Community Hospital director of health promotion and one of the conference organizers. “The conference is designed so that people can participate ways that fit their interests and schedule. Some will want to complete the Smart Cycling course on Tuesday and Wednesday, others will enjoy doing the whole four-day conference while many will go for an individual session, a lunch and learn, a late afternoon group ride/walk or one of the evening special events. It’s going to be a fun week with a lot of learning, good discussion, and physical activity along the way.”

“The State of Alaska Physical Activity and Nutrition Program is excited to support the 2019 Walk Bike Conference in Sitka occurring at the same time as the Sitka Summer Music Festival,” said Dawn Groth, who works for the Alaska Division of Public Health’s Chronic Disease and Health Promotion program and is another conference organizer. “Sitka’s recognition as both a walk and bicycle friendly city make Sitka the perfect community to host a walk-bike conference. Building active and walkable communities can help support local economies, reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, and encourage safe walking and biking for all ages. Sitka is an example of a community Sitka is an example of a community working to create activity friendly routes to everyday destinations to encourage active people and a healthy nation.”

Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., shown here with her two sons (now ages 8 and 10), will lead the Smart Cycling training.

Sitka was honored with a Bronze level Walk Friendly Community designation in 2013 and 2017, and earned a Silver level Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2016 (with Bronze level designations in 2008 and 2012). Both designations came out of Sitka Health Summit projects, which also led to the creation of Walk Sitka and the Sitka Cycling Club groups to promote walking and biking in Sitka.

The Smart Cycling training part of the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference is designed to help cyclists feel more comfortable and safer riding in traffic. It also is good for educators (especially physical education teachers), youth leaders, and others who might be leading group bike rides with younger students.

The second two-day segment focuses on the Five E’s (Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation) that are the main components in the Walk Friendly Communities and Bicycle Friendly Community applications. In addition, there will be presentations on the health benefits of active transportation, accommodations needed for the elderly and disabled, how to start a bike school, and how to conduct a walk audit.

Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., who is a League Certified Instructor from the League of American Bicyclists and will lead the Smart Cycling training, will be one of the keynote speakers. She is board president of Trips For Kids Sacramento, a nonprofit that provides bike adventures for underserved youth, and also owns Whimsical Cycle, which promotes riding bikes for everyday transportation.

Lee Hart of Valdez and the Anchorage-based Confluence coalition promoting the outdoor recreation economic sector in Alaska will be a keynote speaker.

Another keynote speaker is Lee Hart of Valdez, who founded an Anchorage-based coalition called Confluence to promote the outdoor recreation economic sector in Alaska. She also founded the Valdez Adventure Alliance which introduced fat-biking and big mountain downhill fat-biking to new riders. Hart spoke about the benefits of outdoor recreation in Sitka in February 2019.

Other speakers include Doug Osborne, Charles Bingham, Holly Marban, Lynne Brandon and Rick Petersen of Sitka; Dawn Groth, Pierce Schwalb, Charlie Lowell and Sarana Schell of Anchorage; and others.

A tentative agenda is posted below. For more information, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 747-0373 or akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com.

• Tentative agenda for 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka (last updated May 30, 2019)

Register now for the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference taking place June 4-8 in Sitka

The inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference will take place June 4-8 in Sitka, and online registration has opened.

You can go to this link, https://akwalkbikeconference.eventsmart.com/, to register. You can pay online using PayPal or credit/debit cards, or you can be invoiced with information about where to send a check.

Remember the conference only costs $40 for the whole conference, or $25 for the first two days (the Smart Cycling training) or $25 for the second two days (the Walk/Bike sessions).

In addition, we do have a limited number of travel scholarships to the conference. You can learn more by clicking the form link below. The scholarship deadline is April 15.

Please note that our tentative agenda is evolving, so watch this website for updates.

• 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference Scholarship Form (opens as Word Doc)

Sitka to host inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 4-8

Are you looking for ways to make Alaska more walking and bicycling friendly? Sitka will host the inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 4-8.

While the agenda is still being finalized (a tentative agenda is posted below), there will be a two-day Smart Cycling class (from the League of American Bicyclists training program), and two days of work sessions about how to be a better bicycling and walking advocate. The last day includes a Saturday hike and bike ride, and maybe a harbor cruise.

Why is this conference in Sitka? Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both a Bicycle Friendly Community designation (Silver) and a Walk Friendly Communities designation (Bronze). This is a chance to see what works in Sitka, and some of the challenges it still faces in its efforts to become more walkable and bikeable.

Prices are low for this event — $25 for the Smart Cycling training on June 4-5, $25 for the Walk/Bike work sessions on June 6-7, or $40 for the whole conference. If we are able to secure the harbor cruise, there probably will be an extra fee for it. There also are special conference rates at the Aspen Hotel, which is downtown and within easy walking distance of most community facilities.

For more details, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 747-0373 or akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com.

• Tentative agenda for 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka (last updated March 29, 2019)

Alaska makes small gains in 2018 Bicycle Friendly States progress report

How does Alaska rank when it comes to cycling compared to the rest of the United States? According to the 2018 state progress reports released last week by the League of American Bicyclists for its Bicycle Friendly States program, Alaska ranks 35th, which is an improvement of one spot since the last official ranking in 2017 when Alaska was 36th.

While each of the 50 state progress reports shows a ranking in the upper right corner, the League of American Bicyclists did not make an official ranking in 2018.

“We did not update the ranking this year,” League of American Bicyclists policy director Ken McLeod said. “This year we only did an analysis of federal data and outreach to state advocates and agencies for comments. The ranking is based on a more comprehensive survey process, which we intend to do in 2019.”

Over the years, Alaska typically ranks in the mid-30s with a high of 29th in 2011 and a low of 47th in 2009. There were major changes to the ranking system criteria in 2012 and 2017, McLeod said. Washington has been ranked No. 1 every year since the rankings began in 2008.

“Since creating the Bicycle Friendly State Program in 2008, the League of American Bicyclists has ranked each state based on the actions taken to make bicycling better. Of special focus has been outcomes and activities by state legislatures and their departments of transportation,” the League’s website said. “For 2018, the League used federal data on bicycling to highlight the evolution of biking-related inputs and outcomes in every state during the last decade. The Progress Reports provide graphs of state ridership, safety and spending, including comparisons to regional and national averages for each indicator.”

The progress reports provide additional information based on federal, state, and local reports for each state’s ridership, safety, and spending on bicycle infrastructure. It also looks at whether or not a state has made policy changes in five areas — adopting a Complete Streets policy, adopting a safe passing law (at least three feet), updating the statewide bicycle plan within the last 10 years, creating a bicycle safety emphasis area, and using 2 percent or more of federal funds for bike/pedestrian projects in the past five years. Of the five policy areas, Alaska only answered yes to the statewide bike plan (the Alaska Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan is being updated this year for the first time since 1994 and is in final draft status, so this is a gain from 2017) and having a bicycle safety emphasis area (our only yes in 2017).

“The Bicycle Friendly State℠ program was launched in 2008 in order to better understand state efforts related to bicycling and provide a comparative framework that allows states to easily identify areas of improvement,” the League’s website said. “Through our ranking, we hope that states and the public can easily understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of each state’s efforts related to bicycling.”

Alaska’s progress report noted we rank seventh overall in bike commuting at 1.0 percent (a slight decrease since the rankings started in 2008), We also rank over the past 10 years as one of the most safe (top 10) for bike commuters as far as fatalities, and we also showed one of the largest decreases in the amount of Federal Highway Authority funding being used for bike/pedestrian projects (although that total did go up in recent years). In addition, the progress report noted the update of the Alaska Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and an effort by biking and walking advocates to create a statewide advocacy group called Bike/Walk Alaska.

While the 2018 progress reports don’t constitute an official ranking, here is how the states rank based on the numbers in the upper right corners of every progress report:

  1. Washington
  2. Minnesota
  3. California
  4. Oregon
  5. Massachusetts
  6. Colorado
  7. Delaware
  8. Utah
  9. New Jersey
  10. Virginia
  11. Maryland
  12. Pennsylvania
  13. Michigan
  14. Vermont
  15. Florida
  16. Illinois
  17. Maine
  18. Georgia
  19. Ohio
  20. Rhode Island
  21. North Carolina
  22. Arizona
  23. New York
  24. Connecticut
  25. Wisconsin
  26. Tennessee
  27. Louisiana
  28. Idaho
  29. Texas
  30. Iowa
  31. Nevada
  32. Missouri
  33. South Dakota
  34. New Hampshire
  35. Alaska
  36. Arkansas
  37. West Virginia
  38. Indiana
  39. Alabama
  40. Mississippi
  41. South Carolina
  42. Wyoming
  43. Kentucky
  44. New Mexico
  45. Oklahoma
  46. Montana
  47. Kansas
  48. North Dakota
  49. Hawai’i
  50. Nebraska

Alaska ranked 36th in the 2017 Bicycle Friendly States rankings. Let’s see if we can improve our ranking

When the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) released its Bicycle Friendly States rankings in 2017, Alaska was listed in 36th place overall.

Over the last several years, Alaska has floated between the mid-30s and mid-40s in the rankings. So how do we improve our ranking? We should be better than this.

When you look at some of the category rankings, we are even lower than 36th place. There are five main categories on the scorecard, and Alaska ranked 37th in Infrastructure and Funding, 37th in Evaluation and Planning, 45th in Policies and Programs, 47th in Education and Encouragement, and 50th (last) in Legislation and Enforcement.

According to the scorecard:

Alaska is a unique state, large and largely rural. Alaska typically has higher per capita transportation spending and their data on biking and walking reflects this as well, easily being the highest per capita spending figure in the United States, despite Alaska spending a smaller percentage of federal funds on biking and walking than average.

Each category reflects that Alaska does not have much supportive policy infrastructure to ensure the safety and mobility of people who bike. This may reflect the uniqueness of Alaska, which may make it more difficult to adapt successful policies and practices from more urban or more compact states. However, the state would benefit from a plan for promoting the safety and mobility of people who bike in Alaska in a way that is geared towards the unique characteristics of Alaska and takes advantage of the tourism potential and already relatively high percentage of the population that bikes to work. The experiences of states like Vermont (#14) and Maine (#17) may be instructive.

The scorecard listed five bicycle friendly action items, and Alaska hadn’t accomplished four of them — Complete Streets Law/Policy, Safe Passing Law (3-feet-plus), Statewide Bike Plan Updated In Last 10 Years, and 2-Percent or More of Federal Funds Spent on Bike/Pedestrian Needs. The only bicycle friendly action item we showed progress on was Bicycle Safety Emphasis Area.

In other words, we have some work to do. One place we should improve soon is in our statewide bike plan. The Alaska Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan is currently being updated, and is nearing the end of a process that’s taken nearly two years. While the process has taken a long time, it’s been needed since Alaska’s last plan was updated in November 1994.

Another need mentioned in previous scorecards is Alaska is one of the few states without a statewide bicycle advocacy group. That’s why we’re hoping the Walk/Bike Alaska spurs Alaska bicycle and walking advocates into creating a statewide advocacy group.

Alaska does have three Bicycle Friendly Communities (Sitka at Silver level, Anchorage at Silver level, Juneau at Bronze level, plus Fairbanks at Honorable Mention which is the level below an official BFC designation). Alaska also had 10 Bicycle Friendly Businesses at the time of the ranking (note, the number has dropped to eight BFBs since some businesses have not renewed their rankings), and one Bicycle Friendly University (University of Alaska Fairbanks at Silver level). We need to get more BFCs and BFBs in Alaska.

What other things can Alaska do to improve it’s ranking?