Sitka earns renewed Bronze-level designation in Walk Friendly Communities program

The City and Borough of Sitka earned a renewal of its Bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities (WFC) designation, joining 22 other communities announced on June 21 that earned designations. In 2013, Sitka became the first and so far only town in Alaska to earn a Bronze-level or higher designation from the Walk Friendly Communities program, coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Juneau has honorable mention status). Sitka earned its first Bronze WFC renewal in 2017.

“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.

The Walk Friendly Communities program was launched in October 2010. It is coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), which is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is funded by FedEx Corp.

The next WFC application deadline is Dec. 15, with the results announced in April 2023. Interested communities can go to http://www.walkfriendly.org/, where they can learn more about the program and review the community assessment tool and application.

Registration open as the 2020 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference goes virtual and free

(Thank you to everybody who participated in this year’s virtual conference. If you missed any of the presentations, their slides are posted on our Agenda link.)

The 2020 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference is going virtual, and now it’s free. It will take place from 9:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday, June 9-12. Click this link to register for the conference.

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 themes and speakers for each day are:

Some of our speakers include Ana Lucaci and Nicole Huegenin of Denver-based Walk2Connect, Dr. Elliot Bruhl of SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC, Chief Medical Officer based in Sitka), Bonita Banks BSN RN of South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alfgeir Kristjannson PhD from the University of West Virginia and Reykjavik University (Iceland), Maeve Nevins-Lavtar from the Municipality of Anchorage Department of Parks and Recreation, Dr Frederick Foote MD, Sarana Schell of AARP Alaska, Ken McLeod JD policy director of the League of American Bicyclists, Lee Hart of the Alaska Outdoor Alliance, and Scott Menzies and Charlie Lowell of the Sustina Bicycle Institute.

Click this link, https://www.kcaw.org/2020/05/18/alaska-walk-and-bike-conference-goes-virtual-this-june/, to hear Sitka’s Doug Osborne of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) and Anchorage’s Dawn Groth RN BSN of the Alaska Division of Public Health discuss the conference during a May 18 morning interview on Sitka’s KCAW-Raven Radio.

A tentative agenda is posted below. To register for this free, virtual conference, click this link, https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_u_Hpx4yzQtK4khFeIX5BMg. For more information, contact Dawn Groth at dawn.groth@alaska.gov.

• Alaska Walk and Bike Conference flier (PDF for printing)

• Tentative Agenda for the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference (updated June 4))

Alaska Trails Conference goes online on Thursday and Friday, April 23-24

The Alaska Trails Conference is going online this year due to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus outbreak (which leads to COVID-19) and takes place on Thursday and Friday, April 23-24, using Zoom meetings. This event is hosted by Alaska Trails, and will be free to attend this year.

The online format will include a series of webinars covering a variety of topics, such as mapping, funding, trail construction, a legislative update from Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s staff, and more. Each webinar will have its own Zoom meeting room and password to enter the meeting. You can register for the conference here.

For more details, contact Steve Cleary of Alaska Trails at steve.cleary@alaska-trails.org.

Second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference postponed until June 2021

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.

Sitka to host second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 9-13

Are you looking for ways to make Alaska more walking and bicycling friendly? Sitka will host the second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 9-13, with the theme of Walk.Bike.Roll. Creating an Equitable Transportation System For All.

While the agenda is still being finalized, but the plan is to bring in a couple of national speakers talk about walking and biking policy, as well as some Alaska and local presenters to round out the event. Our tentative national speakers are Ken McLeod, policy director of the League of American Bicyclists, and Ana Lucaci and Nicole Huguenin of Walk2Connect, a Denver-based nonprofit that has recently worked with Kodiak Walks.

The first two days will mostly be geared toward walking and the second two days will be geared toward biking. To get you out of the conference room, we hope to include group hikes, bike rides, a walk audit, a bike maintenance workshop, and other events throughout the week. Saturday features some free community events — a guided hike, a Sitka Cycling Club group bike ride, and an open house at the Salty Spoke Bike Collective. We will post a tentative agenda when it is ready.

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, learn more about Walk Sitka and the Sitka Cycling Club and how they deal with some of the challenges they still face in their efforts to become more walkable and bikeable.

Prices for the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference are low — $50 for the full conference, or $30 for the two days of June 9-10 or June 11-12. This year we also will have a special half-day price for either a morning or afternoon session. There will be a couple of lunchtime events, such as lunch-and-learns, that will be open to the public.

Please use this website to register online. We accept online payments by PayPal or credit/debit cards, and if you select the invoice option there is info about where to mail your check. You can find more details about the event at https://walkbikealaska.wordpress.com. You can register at http://akwalkbikeconference.eventsmart.com (click on the event name and follow the instructions).

For more details, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 966-8674 or douglaso@searhc.org, or email akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com. We will have a limited number of travel scholarships available. To learn more and to get an application, contact Dawn Groth at dawn.groth@alaska.gov.