Be Safe, Be Seen during Alaska’s dark winter months

When you walk or bike through Alaska during winter’s dark months, are you making sure to “Be Safe, Be Seen?”

Even though a pedestrian may be on sidewalks separated from cars, you still need to make sure your clothes are bright and reflective. That way drivers can see you when they leave their home and business driveways and enter traffic.

Why wearing white is not enough.

Too many people in Alaska wear black clothes during the winter, including when they are walking or biking. This doesn’t give the drivers a fighting chance to see you before it’s too late. Not only is it dark during the winter, but in heavy snow years there are berms that can make it difficult to see walkers and bikers. Also, some drivers don’t wait for their windshields to fully defrost, so their vision is obstructed.

The typical driver needs 260 feet to stop at 60 mph, but dark blue or black clothes only give them about 55 feet. Red clothes are a little bit better, giving drivers 80 feet, while yellow clothes give 120 feet and white clothes give 180 feet (if you can pick the person out from the snow background). People wearing reflectors can be seen as far away as 500 feet.

This is why many Alaska walkers and bikers wear reflective tape on their clothes or reflective vests, even on short trips such as checking the mail or walking the dog. Click here to learn more about the state’s Alaska Reflector Program. The Center for Safe Alaskans’ Bike and Walk Safe Program will mail free reflective tape to people who call (907) 929-3939, or click this link. The Center for Safe Alaskans (when it was known as the Alaska Injury Prevention Center) also produced a YouTube video that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see.

Don’t forget to put reflective tape on your sleeves, backpack, rain pants, bike helmet and bike frame, not just on the trunk of your jacket. And if you’re biking, don’t forget you are required by state law to have a solid white light on front and red reflector on bike when you are on the road after dark.

“I have found that cutting the (reflective) tape length-wise and placing it on the jacket exterior on a moving part of the body (such as around the wrist area), in addition to placement on the torso, yields high visibility,” said Lulu Jensen, Center for Safe Alaskans project director.

Help your kids celebrate International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 2

walk-to-school-1

WalkToSchoolDay_HomepageMapNot too long ago, most of us walked or biked to school. But now, most kids arrive at school via their parents’ cars or school buses. Wednesday, Oct. 2, is International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, and Sitka parents and teachers are encouraged to help their schoolchildren safely walk or bike to school on this day.

In 1970, more than half of all elementary school students ages 6-11 walked to school. By 2006, only 15 percent were walking to school. Alarmed by this trend, a group called the Partnership for a Walkable America started National Walk To School Day in 1997 as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. In 2000, the event became international when the UK and Canada (both of which had already been promoting walking to school) and the USA joined together for the first International Walk to School Day. In addition to expanding into several other countries, the dates also have expanded and October is International Walk To School Month.

“Walking or biking to school is an excellent way to add some physical activity into your day,” said Doug Osborne, a health educator with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). “It can be a great way to start the day. Walking or biking can be a lot of fun. It’s also important to remember to be safe.”

WBTSD_12inch_ColorWalking or biking to school with their children is a good way for parents to catch up on what’s happening in their children’s lives. Other benefits to walking or biking to school include less traffic, cleaner air, and friendlier communities. Walking with their children is a good way for parents see if there are things along the route that can be done to improve safety, such as improving lighting, checking crosswalks and watching for aggressive pets along the route.

International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day is a great teaching tool for safety. Parents and teachers can teach the kids about road safety rules and the importance of being visible when they walk or bike alongside the roads. They also can check their kids’ clothes and backpacks to make sure they have reflective tape on them.

Why wearing white is not enough.

Reflective tape is particularly important as we enter the dark months of the winter. Students need to Be Safe, Be Seen, and reflective tape can make a big difference in their visibility. Not only are kids sometimes hard to be seen because they’re blocked by cars, but many cars in Southeast Alaska experience condensation problems during the fall and winter that make it hard to see through windshields. Reflective tape and blinking lights can make it so kids are seen hundreds of feet before they would be if they wore plain dark clothes. Parents can buy reflective tape from local sporting goods, fabric, and similar stores. Sometimes it’s available from local health organizations. The Center for Safe Alaskans (formerly known as the Alaska Injury Prevention Center) produced a YouTube video (also embedded below) that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see, and will have some free reflective tape available starting in October 2019.

To learn more about International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, contact your local school to see if any events are scheduled, or check with the Alaska Safe Routes To School program. The official International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day website also has a lot of information about how to set up an event for your school, including tool kits to help you arrange an event. Even if your kids don’t walk the entire way to school, you can drop them off a mile or so away and walk in with them. Many parents create walking school buses to bring several students who live in the same area to school together in one group.

Alaska ranked 25th most dangerous state for fatalities of older pedestrians; Anchorage the most dangerous area 

(The following is a press release from the Alaska office of the AARP)

ANCHORAGE, AK— The rate of pedestrian deaths in Alaska has quadrupled in the last decade, according to Dangerous by Design 2019. The new report from Smart Growth America highlights the risk of being struck by a car and killed while walking in Alaska. The report ranks Alaska 50th in the nation in terms of the number of pedestrian fatalities overall, but the 25th most dangerous state for older adults.

Between 2008 and 2017, adults age 50-older were 45 percent more likely to be struck and killed while walking compared to people younger than 50.

From 2017 to 2035 the state’s 65-older population will grow 68 percent, Alaska’s state demographer projects in the August 2018 Alaska Economic Trends.

“Alaska has traditionally had one of the youngest populations in the nation, but we’ve been the fastest aging state for years, too. Our community design needs to shift to reflect this, with short- and long-term fixes to increase safety for all ages,” said Terry Snyder, AARP Alaska volunteer state president. “Changes like longer crossing times help everyone who moves a little slower, like young children, frail elders, or fit young adults who on crutches.”

Nationwide, the number of people struck and killed while walking increased 35 percent in the past decade, according to the Dangerous by Design report released in February 2019. The last two years tracked, 2016 and 2017, had the highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 1990. Older adults, people of color and people walking in low-income areas are disproportionately likely to be struck and killed while walking.

Anchorage’s pedestrian death rate is the highest in the state, and matches the national average.

“The good news is that Anchorage’s and Fairbanks’ Metropolitan Planning Organizations have adopted Complete Streets policies, which look at the needs of all street users, including walkers and bicyclists as well as drivers,” said Snyder. “This is an important first step towards improving pedestrian safety.”

The Alaska state report is linked below, as is the full Dangerous By Design 2019 report. Learn more about AARP’s work to promote complete streets and livable communities at www.aarp.org/livable-communities/getting-around/.

• Dangerous By Design 2019 full report

• Dangerous By Design Alaska Report 2019

• Anchorage Vision Zero Report Executive Summary

• Anchorage Vision Zero Final Report

• Anchorage Complete Streets Policy

Scenes from the inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference held June 4-8 in Sitka

The inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference took place June 4-8 in Sitka, and the weather cooperated with mostly sunny skies in the rain forest. Each day of the conference featured a group bike ride or hike around Sitka.

The first two days of the conference featured Smart Cycling training (a League of American Bicyclists program), taught by Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., and Pierce Schwalb of Bike Anchorage. There is a plan for Bike Anchorage to teach more Smart Cycling classes around the state in the next year or two, and even some League Certified Instructor classes. There also was a presentation to the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday about the advantages of being a walk- and bike-friendly community.

The next two days featured a variety of presentations on a wide range of topics. On Thursday, these included sessions on engineering and infrastructure planning, pop-up projects in Anchorage, working with law enforcement, a session for motorists, a lunch-and-learn about basic bike repair led by Charlie Lowell of the Susitna Bicycle Institute in Anchorage, starting a bike school, youth and family cycling, equity and access of all ages and abilities, and best practices for developing a mountain bike culture. After a group bike ride, the day concluded with a Bikes and Bites presentation from Lee Hart of Confluence AK, who discussed how communities have transformed themselves with mountain biking.

On Friday, the session topics included making systemic changes and working with various partners and decision-makers, creating behavior change, a lunch-and-learn on walkable communities, a series of three walk audits using wheelchairs and other assistive equipment loaned from Southeast Alaska Independent Living, and a chance to work on developing projects to do in your home communities as a follow-up to the conference. On Saturday, participants had an optional bike ride or hike with boat trip, followed by an organizational meeting about starting a statewide active transportation group.

Event organizers plan to host a second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in 2020, so watch this website for more details.

Some of the presentation PowerPoints are linked below as PDF files, and there are a few handouts people might want. If other PowerPoint presentations become available, they will be added below. A slideshow of scenes from the conference is linked below.

• Best Practices for Developing Bike Culture

• Behavior Change Presentation

• Making systemic changes

• Complete Streets For Planning Presentation

• Statewide Organizations And Decision Making

• Walk This Way Main Presentation

• Trails and Active Transportation

• Tips For Leading A Walk Audit-Mark Fenton

• Safe Routes To School — Get to know your neighborhood with a walk audit

• Walkability and walking tour assessment of land use

• Three page walking biking traffic counts form

• Alaska Complete Streets

• AARP Livability Fact Sheets

• AARP Walk Audit Tool Kit

• AARP Walk Audit Leader Guide

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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