Do you want to learn how to be a better advocate for walking in your community? The Walking College Fellowship program is recruiting for is 2023 cohort.
Not only is there a national Walking College Fellowship program coordinated by the nonprofit America Walks, but this year in partnership with state AARP organizations, they are offering several special localized state programs, including one for Alaska and New Mexico (both states in one). Out of more than 300 Walking College Fellows over the years, only two have come from Alaska — Charles Bingham of Sitka in 2018 and Maja Pedersen of Fairbanks in 2021.
The Walking College is an online educational program and is geared toward early-to-middle-stage advocates eager to organize in communities to expand access to walkable, vibrant, safe, and accessible places. Fellows hone in on a problem in their community they wish to address, develop the knowledge and skills they need to help bring about positive change, with feedback from mentors and peers create a plan for getting the work done, and in the process become some of America Walks’ most valuable grassroots partners.
Participants are asked to commit to 5 to 10 hours a week to complete six online learning modules consisting of readings, videos, written assignments, discussion groups, one-on-one coaching sessions, and workshops. By the end of the program, they submit an action plan outlining goals and strategies and a timeline for taking meaningful action toward a problem of their choosing.
Applications are currently being accepted for the 2023 National Walking College and several State Walking Colleges (only available for residents of those states). Please click on the relevant link for more information about that program and the online application form:
There are a limited number of Fellowships available for each of these programs, so the selection process is competitive. You are welcome to apply both to a State Walking College (if you live there) and to the National Program – if selected, you will only receive a Fellowship to one of them. These application forms will remain open until Feb. 28, although the Alaska and New Mexico State Walking College has extended its deadline until March 10.
For more information on the Alaska perspective on the Walking College Fellowship, contact Charles Bingham at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general questions about the Alaska and New Mexico Walking College Fellowship, contact Patrick Curtis of AARP in Alaska at email@example.com, Gary Williams of AARP in New Mexico at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ian Thomas of America Walks at email@example.com.
“We are thrilled that Sitka has been renewed as a Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community, and proud to be the first town in Alaska to earn the designation in 2013,” Sitka Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz said. “A grassroots effort from a group of dedicated citizens to prepare and submit the application for this program has not only improved the lives of Sitkans, but has helped to posture our city for other federal funding opportunities.”
“Sitka is designated as a Bronze-level community due to its consistently high walking mode share and low crash rate, exceptional trail system, and community support for walking initiatives and events,” the WFC program wrote on Sitka’s community page on its website.
The WFC designation is awarded based on a detailed review of a community’s sustained efforts to elevate the needs of pedestrians across all areas of transportation programs. These communities also offer examples of steps that other cities and towns can take to improve walkability and safety.
Included among the June 21 designated communities are Arlington County, Virginia, and New York City, New York, with Platinum-level designations for their activities. WFC also issued four Gold-level (Ann Arbor, Mich.; Chicago; Corvallis, Ore.; Minneapolis), four Silver-level (Alexandria, Va.; Cary, N.C.; Lawrence, Kan.; Ypsilanti, Mich.), and 13 Bronze-level designations (Durango, Colo.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Fergus Falls, Minn.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Gainesville, Fla.; Mount Lebanon, Pa.; Northampton, Mass.; Rochester, Minn.; Sitka, Alaska; Stevens Point, Wis.; Wilsonville, Ore.; York, Pa.). In the 12 years since the WFC program began, it has recognized 82 cities and towns across 32 States with WFC designations.
“We are impressed by the commitments these communities have made to plan and design their communities around people on foot,” said Dan Gelinne, WFC program manager. “We hope these communities can offer inspiration to others as they work to prioritize pedestrian safety and walkability.”
Becoming a Walk Friendly Community was a community wellness project of the 2008 and 2012 Sitka Health Summits (the 2008 project was before there was a national Walk Friendly Communities program). In 2008, Sitka residents wanted the community to be friendlier to people walking or riding bikes (Sitka earned its first Bicycle Friendly Community designation that year), and in 2012 they wanted to add the new WFC designation to the BFC award. Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both Walk Friendly Communities (Bronze in 2013, 2017 and 2022) and Bicycle Friendly Community (Bronze in 2008 and 2012, Silver in 2016 and 2020) designations.
“At the very first Sitka Health Summit in 2007, participants ended the day by sharing ideas on next steps. One idea that filled Harrigan Centennial Hall with applause was being a more walk- and bike-friendly town,” said SEARHC Health Educator Doug Osborne, who helps coordinate the Sitka Health Summit. “Walking was again prioritized by citizen planners at the 2012 Summit and in the last 15 years Sitka has made significant strides in this important area. Since it was first selected as a community goal, multiple crosswalks have been improved, projects to increase visibility have involved hundreds of locals, plus a no-cellphone-while-driving policy to reduce distracted driving, new sidewalks, trails, signage, etc. So much has change and right now hundreds of commuters are stepping into better health and prizes with the Walk, Bike, Win! downtown commuter challenge program this summer.
“Walking is a natural for Sitka,” Osborne added. “For the last 10,000 years people have been walking here. Some might think that cars have taken over, but the vast majority of human beings who will be in Sitka in 2022 will get around on foot. The visitors from the cruise ships are often walking, the Mount Edgecumbe High School student body, locals who don’t have a driver’s license because of age, vision, or other factors. Additionally, we have people walking because they can’t afford to buy, insure, and fuel a car. Others walk because they are motivated to protect the environment for future generations and still more just like it. I get that because life at 3 miles an hour (the average walking speed) is a wonderful thing.”
Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments, according to the program’s website. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.
“The majority of trips in the car are for less than three miles, and if we can encourage people to walk or bike instead we promote a culture of wellness,” said Charles Bingham, coordinator of Walk Sitka and the writer of Sitka’s three WFC applications. “Not only are people getting heart-healthy physical health benefits from walking, there are benefits for mental and emotional health when you take a walk in the woods. In addition, by walking and biking we reduce the amount of car exhaust we have to breathe, and there are economic benefits when we have walkable communities. There also are increased social connections when people, because neighbors can chat with each other instead of being barricaded in a steel box on wheels.”
The Walk Friendly Communities program has two application periods each year, with applications usually due on June 15 and Dec. 15 (this year there was a special renewal-only survey communities could complete in February, due to the pandemic, which is what Sitka used for its renewal). Each application is reviewed by at least three reviewers to provide a fair assessment of the community and technical feedback on how to improve the community’s walkability.
Sitka Cycling Club President Doug Osborne, left, and Sitka Cycling Club Treasurer Charles Bingham show off their Bicycle Friendly Community Silver Level designation swag in 2016. Sitka just renewed its Bicycle Friendly Community designation at the Silver Level for 2020-24.
The Bicycle Friendly Community program promotes safer streets and better bicycling by awarding various levels to communities based on how their city or town meets standards in the Five E’s — Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Engineering, and Evaluation/Planning. A new E, Equity, is being introduced to the judging process and will replace Enforcement in future applications. Communities are required to resubmit applications at least once every four years.
“This is great news,” Sitka Cycling Club President Doug Osborne said. “Thanks to the League (of American Bicyclists) and everyone in town who’s helping us to be a Bicycle Friendly Community. Being a bike friendly community was identified as a top goal at the first Sitka Health Summit planning day in 2007. Since then, we have made steady progress and now we have more places to ride.”
Wednesday’s announcement honored 51 communities as renewing or new Bicycle Friendly Communities at the Platinum (1), Gold (3), Silver (11) or Bronze (38) levels (there also is a Diamond Level that wasn’t awarded this time). In addition, there were 16 communities that earned Honorable Mention status, just below the full BFC designation. Since 2002, the League of American Bicyclists has awarded 485 BFC designations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and has received applications from more than 850 communities. There now are five BFCs in Alaska — Sitka (Silver), Anchorage (Silver), Juneau (Bronze), Kenai (Bronze) and Soldotna (Bronze) — and two Honorable Mentions (Fairbanks and Haines).
“During one of the toughest years in recent memory, we have seen so many Americans turn to biking during the pandemic for fun and for necessary transportation options. It’s so important that communities like Sitka have laid the groundwork over several years to make biking a safe, accessible option for people when we all need as much health and happiness as possible,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. “This Bicycle Friendly Community award is the culmination of years of work put in by Sitka and its citizen advocates for better biking. This award round, Sitka joins 51 new and renewing Bicycle Friendly Communities in the movement toward healthier, more sustainable and connected places. As we turn the page on 2020 and look ahead to 2021, we’re proud that Sitka and communities like it are embracing bicycling as a solution to our collective recovery.”
The Bicycle Friendly Community program is part of the League of American Bicyclist’s larger Bicycle Friendly America program, which also includes Bicycle Friendly State, Bicycle Friendly Business, and Bicycle Friendly University designations. Sitka’s largest employer, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Sitka Campus, holds a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Business designation.
During normal years, Sitka is known for hosting a variety of community bike rides and education events, such as National Bike Month events in May and a Kidical Mass family friendly bike ride in September, and having one of the state’s highest rates of people who commute to work by bike. But the COVID-19 pandemic limited those activities this spring and summer.
Sitka still accomplished several cycling-positive projects over the past couple of years, such as building four single-track mountain bike trail loops off the Sitka Cross Trail this summer, opening the Salty Spoke bike cooperative at Hames Wellness Center, rebranding the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition as the Sitka Cycling Club and getting nearly 250 club members to register, starting a citywide bicycle parking plan, starting a Sitka mountain bike trails plan, launching a Bicycle Benefits program where cyclists can show participating merchants a sticker on their helmets to receive a discount at local businesses, and hosting the 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference that included a two-day Smart Cycling training (Sitka also was scheduled to host the 2020 conference before it went virtual due to the pandemic).
Each day’s agenda will open with a specialist discussing the science and evidence of that day’s theme, followed by another speaker who will feature an Alaska example. There will be an opportunity for attendees to ‘chat’ and share information after each day’s events. (NOTE: Presentation slides are posted on the Agenda link.)
The second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference, originally scheduled for June 9-13 in Sitka, is being postponed a year until June 2021.
The postponement is due to the COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on travel and hospitality services, and for our desire to prevent the spread of the disease. The conference organizers want everybody to be safe and to prevent the spread of a potentially lethal disease.
A rescheduled date will be announced as details are confirmed. Anybody who has pre-registered for the conference will be contacted about refunds.