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

Please remember to keep the sidewalks clear of cars, garbage cans, vegetation, etc., for walkers

On my walk to a meeting at the Sitka Public Library this afternoon, I had an encounter with a young driver who had parked her SUV so it was blocking the sidewalk, forcing me to step into the road to get around the vehicle, only to find a car was coming my way so I had to hop back onto the sidewalk until the other car passed by.

I reminded the young lady that parking on the sidewalk is illegal in Alaska [13 AAC 02.340 (d)(1)(B)], and her reply was “it’s just for a couple of minutes.” In the meantime, I and other walkers had to step into traffic to get around her vehicle. If there had been someone in a wheelchair trying to get by at the same time, the person in the wheelchair wouldn’t have been able to get around the car because the curbs are high and the angle is too steep for a wheelchair.

After my meeting at the library, I picked up a copy of today’s Daily Sitka Sentinel and noticed an item (at 10:54 a.m.) in the Police Blotter where someone else had an issue with a car parked in the sidewalk and the Sitka Police Department had to call the vehicle owner to get him to move the car.

A maze of trash cans and potted plants makes walking difficult in front of the Pioneer Bar on Katlian Street.

I’ve been carless in Sitka for more than a decade, and finding a car, boat, delivery truck, or something else blocking the sidewalk is a frequent problem. I can understand the “I’ll just be a minute” mentality, but this is a dangerous practice, which is why there are laws against parking on the sidewalk. The sidewalk is supposed to be the safe place for walkers, and it’s no longer safe if people have to walk into traffic to get around a vehicle parked in the walkway.

This isn’t just a Sitka problem, as this article from an Anchorage TV station shows. “Parking on the pavements” (parking on the sidewalks) also is a major problem in the United Kingdom, as these recent articles from the BBC and the Daily Scotsman demonstrate.

Don’t do it. Find another place to park. In a lot of Sitka neighborhoods the sidewalk is only on one side of the street, and it’s barely wide enough for one or two adults. We need the safe space to walk.

But it’s not just vehicles that sometimes block a walker’s path.

There are power poles in the middle of the sidewalk and shrubs from the yards of area houses creeping into the sidewalk on Sawmill Creek Road across from Baranof Elementary School and the Elks Lodge. Note the pedestrian under the speed limit sign to get a scale of how tight things are when you try to get by the poles.

You can always tell when it’s garbage day in Sitka neighborhoods because there are a few cans that wind up blocking the sidewalk. In most cases, there is a spot on the property that’s off the sidewalk and not in the street where you can put your garbage can and the big claw from the garbage truck can still reach the can to dump the trash into the truck. If there isn’t a space, please pull your cans back as far as you can so someone can still get by, especially if they’re in a wheelchair.

The placement of street furniture, such as benches, tables, business signs, etc., also needs the consideration of keeping the sidewalk clear so walkers still have safe passage. It’s summer, which means it’s tourist season in Alaska, and there are a lot of those sandwich boards that end up blocking the sidewalk instead of being at the edge so walkers and wheelchair users still can get by them.

One of the problems with sidewalks is most cities and states will take care of plowing the roads and fixing potholes, but they dump the sidewalk maintenance (trimming vegetation, shoveling snow, putting down ice melt, etc.) onto the property owners next to the sidewalk. What happens now is you get a patchwork where in front of one house or business the sidewalk is nicely plowed or cleared of vegetation, but in front of the next house/business a walker is post-holing up to the knee because the snow didn’t get cleared. This might be laziness, or it could be because there’s an absentee landlord who doesn’t know it snowed or the brush has overgrown the sidewalk. Just like roads, sidewalks are public rights-of-way and should be taken care of by the city or state, just to give them consistent maintenance.

And then there are major design flaws, which the city and state are trying to correct. These include large power poles placed in the middle of the sidewalk, as well as support poles on buildings.

The power poles in the middle of the sidewalk on Sawmill Creek Road will hopefully disappear in the next year or two when the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities renovates the sidewalks from the roundabout to Jeff Davis Street. But the project probably won’t start correcting this problem until 2019 at the earliest.

Finally, we need enforcement to keep the sidewalks clear. There is supposed to be a $20 fine for parking in the sidewalk, but that fine wasn’t mentioned in the Police Blotter item.

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?

Welcome to Walk/Bike Alaska

Walk/Bike Alaska is a new group designed to help promote biking and walking in Alaska. We have several small community biking and walking groups, but nothing organized as a statewide advocacy program. It’s hoped this group will help foster some statewide bike and walk advocacy programs.

Why should we promote bicycling and walking? Obviously, any kind of physical activity is good for you and the health benefits are many. But this is about more than just exercise. For many Alaskans, bicycling or walking is their only form of transportation, especially for our children and our elders. If we don’t provide safe places to walk or bike, then these people can’t get around without feeling like their lives are in peril. Many of our roads are not designed with adequate bike lanes or sidewalks, and so we advocate for Complete Streets policies, http://www.completestreets.org. Another good site is the National Center for Bicycling and Walking, http://www.bikewalk.org/.

Here are a couple of other national sites to check out:

Alliance for Biking and Walking (formerly Thunderhead Alliance), http://www.peoplepoweredmovement.org/

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/

League of American Bicyclists, http://www.bikeleague.org/

Please keep an eye on this site, because we will be adding lots of content and there will be links to dozens of local bicycle, pedestrian and trail organizations from around the state. We also will link to national and international groups that promote bicycling and walking as modes of transportation.

For more information about this new group and to volunteer, please contact Charles Bingham in Sitka at 907-623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com