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.

Sitka renews its Silver Bicycle Friendly Community designation

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 League of American Bicyclists announced on Wednesday (Dec. 16) that it has renewed the Silver Level designation for Sitka, Alaska, in the Bicycle Friendly Community program.

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 the fourth time Sitka has been honored with a Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) award. Sitka became Alaska’s first BFC in 2008, after community members chose becoming a more bike- and walk-friendly community as one of the community wellness projects from the first Sitka Health Summit in 2007. Sitka renewed at the Bronze Level in 2012, and upgraded to the Silver Level in 2016. In addition, Sitka also earned the state’s first Walk Friendly Communities designations with Bronze Level awards in 2013 and 2017 (WFC is a newer program coordinated by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center and supported by the Pedestrian and Bicycling Information Center).

“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).

To learn more about the Sitka Cycling Club, go to http://sitkacycling.wordpress.com or like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SitkaCycling. Links to Sitka’s Bicycle Friendly Community application and report card can be found under the Documents tab on the Sitka Cycling Club website (previous year applications can be found by scrolling down the page). To learn more about the League of American Bicyclists and its Bicycle Friendly Community program, go to http://www.bikeleague.org/community.

Join Walk/Bike Alaska’s 2020 team in the APHA’s Billion Steps Challenge

Are you a regular walker, one who uses a pedometer or fitness app to track your daily step count? Then join the Walk Sitka team in the American Public Health Association‘s Billion Steps Challenge, a national event that runs from Jan. 1 through April 12, 2020. The contest ends after National Public Health Week (April 6-12).

This event is free, and the competition helps motivate people to get out and do more walking. Many people set a goal to walk 10,000 steps a day, and that adds up over the contest that lasts just a bit longer than three months.

Most of the final stats from the 2019 challenge aren’t available, but Walk Sitka’s Jim Rogers did finish in the top five individually with about 2.2 million steps. Another Sitka resident, Karen Hegyi, who was competing for a family team called AKtoAZ, ranked among the top 10 for the first several weeks of the challenge, but faded out of the top 10 after a back injury. There were a couple of other teams from Alaska, including Walk/Bike Alaska. In 2019, there were more than 5,000 walkers on more than 400 teams in the challenge, and together they walked 1.56 billion steps. The top three teams were CrisfieldWalks, Falisha Got This 2019 and Wonderful Walkers.

In 2017, Walk Sitka only had one person walking (Charles Bingham), but he recorded more than half-a-million steps while averaging about 8,500 a day (finishing in the top 60 teams). In 2018, Walk Sitka had two people walking (Karen Hegyi and Charles Bingham), and Walk Sitka recorded more than 2.8 million steps (an average of 14,655 steps a day) to finish fourth overall. There was one other identifiable Alaska team in the 2018 Billion Steps Challenge — Anchorage Public Health DHHS — which recorded more than 14.5 million steps but only had an average of 3,529 steps per day to finish 176th overall. There were 400 teams in the 2018 event, who totaled more than 2.2 billion steps.

To sign up, click this link. Once you’re registered, you should be directed to this link. Click on the Teams link, then scroll through the team names to find the Walk/Bike Alaska logo. or type our name in the search bar Click the Join Team button and you’re in. The Walk/Bike Alaska team is open to walkers from Alaska.

The challenge uses a website called WalkerTracker, which links to a variety of fitness apps for automatic registration of steps. But if you’re old school and use a pedometer clipped to your belt, there is a link so you can manually enter your steps.

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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Join Walk/Bike Alaska’s 2019 team in the APHA’s 1 Billion Steps Challenge

Are you a regular walker, one who uses a pedometer or fitness app to track your daily step count? Then join the Walk Sitka team in the American Public Health Association‘s 1 Billion Steps Challenge, a national event that runs from Jan. 1 through April 7, 2019. The contest ends after National Public Health Week (April 1-7).

This event is free, and the competition helps motivate people to get out and do more walking. Many people set a goal to walk 10,000 steps a day, and that adds up over the contest that lasts just a bit longer than three months.

In 2017, Walk Sitka only had one person walking (Charles Bingham), but he recorded more than half-a-million steps while averaging about 8,500 a day (finishing in the top 60 teams). Last year, Walk Sitka had two people walking (Karen Hegyi and Charles Bingham), and Walk Sitka recorded more than 2.8 million steps (an average of 14,655 steps a day) to finish fourth overall. There was one other identifiable Alaska team in last year’s Billion Steps Challenge — Anchorage Public Health DHHS — which recorded more than 14.5 million steps but only had an average of 3,529 steps per day to finish 176th overall. There were 400 teams in the 2018 event, who totaled more than 2.2 billion steps.

To sign up, click this link and register using the code APHA2019. Once you’re registered, you should be directed to this link. Click on the View All Teams link, then scroll toward the bottom to find the Walk/Bike Alaska logo. Then click the Join Team button and you’re in.

The challenge uses a website called MoveSpring, which links to a variety of fitness apps for automatic registration of steps. But if you’re old school and use a pedometer clipped to your belt, there is a link so you can manually enter your steps.