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.

Kenai and Soldotna earn Bronze designations in Bicycle Friendly Community program; Haines picks up Honorable Mention

Alaska has two new Bicycle Friendly Communities in Kenai and Soldotna (both at the Bronze level) after the League of American Bicyclists announced its Fall 2018 award-winners on Dec. 6. In addition, Haines received an honorable mention.

Sitka was Alaska’s first Bicycle Friendly Community, earning Bronze in 2008, repeating as Bronze in 2012, and upgrading to Silver in 2016. In addition, Anchorage (Silver) and Juneau (Bronze) are Bicycle Friendly Communities, and Fairbanks has an honorable mention. There are five official levels in the BFC program (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond), and Honorable Mention is a step below BFC.

The Bicycle Friendly Community program requires communities to answer more than 100 questions about bicycling in their area in five main categories, called the Five E’s (Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation). The BFC program is part of the League of American Bicyclists’ larger Bicycle Friendly America program, which also includes Bicycle Friendly State rankings and the Bicycle Friendly Business and Bicycle Friendly University programs.

Since Kenai and Soldotna are so close to each other, they worked on their BFC applications together. Matt Pyhala, a volunteer with the Biking In Kenai & Soldotna (BIK&S) program, told radio station KDLL they were looking for a progress report when they applied and didn’t expect to win the Bronze designations.

“We were applying and hoping they could give us some good feedback and we could start working on that low-hanging fruit to get up to a level where we had a designation. So the fact that we got the Bronze level, we were ecstatic,” Pyhala told KDLL (click this link for full story).

According to the League of American Bicyclists, there now are 464 communities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia with Bronze level or higher designations in the Bicycle Friendly Community program.

 

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?

Sitka’s Charles Bingham selected to participate in Walking College Fellowship program

(NOTE: This story originally appeared on the Walk Sitka website.)

America Walks, a national advocacy organization working to empower communities to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk, announced today that Charles Bingham of Walk Sitka has been awarded a Walking College Fellowship as part of the 2018 program.

The Fellowship will enable Bingham and other advocates from around the country to participate in a five-month training program designed to strengthen local efforts to make communities more walkable and livable.

“We are delighted to welcome Charles Bingham as a member of the Walking College,” said Emilie Bahr, Walking College Manager with America Walks, “It was a very competitive application process and he will be a great addition to the 2018 class. We look forward to developing his skills and are excited to see his work grow.”

Bingham will complete a six-module distance-education training program this summer, followed by an independent study project in Sitka, and then attend Walk/Bike/Places in New Orleans in the fall. He is the first Alaskan selected to the Walking College Fellowship.

“One of the goals of the first Sitka Health Summit (2007) was to become a walk and bicycle friendly community,” said Bingham, a former newspaper journalist who now works as a freelance media/public relations and grant-writing specialist. “In 2008, Sitka became Alaska’s first official Bicycle Friendly Community (Bronze level), but at the time there wasn’t a similar national program for walking. We repeated our Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2012, and moved up to the Silver level in 2016. In 2013, we became Alaska’s first official Walk Friendly Community with a Bronze level designation, and we renewed our Bronze level designation in 2017. Hopefully the knowledge I gain from being a Walking College Fellow will help Sitka upgrade to the Silver or Gold level in the Walk Friendly Community program. I also think I’ll be able to apply the knowledge to my cycling advocacy work.”

Bingham wrote Sitka’s two renewal Bicycle Friendly Community applications (he helped on the first) and also wrote Sitka’s two Walk Friendly Communities applications. In addition to coordinating the Walk Sitka program that came out of the Sitka Health Summit, he also is part of the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition.  He builds the Walk Sitka and Sitka Cycling websites (https://walksitka.wordpress.com and http://sitkacycling.wordpress.com) and administrates the corresponding Facebook pages for each (https://www.facebook.com/WalkSitka/ and https://www.facebook.com/SitkaCycling/). Bingham moderates the Alaska Bicycling and Walking Advocacy Group on Facebook, too.

The Walking College curriculum has been designed to expand the capacity of local advocates to be effective community change agents. Topics include the science behind the benefits of walking, evaluation of built environments, as well as communication skills and building relationships with stakeholders and decision makers. Fellows work with other members of their class and a set of experienced mentors to develop the knowledge and skills needed to create community change. At the conclusion of the Walking College, Fellows will develop a Walking Action Plan for implementation using their new skills.

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About America Walks: America Walks, a nonprofit national organization, is leading the way in empowering communities to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable walking conditions for all. We provide a voice for walking and walkable communities with federal agencies, provide strategy support, training and technical assistance to statewide, regional, and local organizations, and serve as the convener of the national Every Body Walk! Collaborative. Together, America Walks and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative boast 700 allied organizations who across the nation are working to increase walking and support walkable communities for all members. More at http://www.americawalks.org.

About Walk Sitka: Walk Sitka originated from the Sitka Health Summit, when Sitka residents chose making Sitka a more walkable community as one of its first community wellness projects. In 2013, Sitka became the first Alaska city to earn a Bronze level or higher designation from the Walkable Friendly Communities program. In 2017, Sitka renewed its Bronze level designation. Walk Sitka works with a variety of community partners to promote walking events, education, safety upgrades, and more. More at https://walksitka.wordpress.com.