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.

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))

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.

Save the dates of June 9-13 for the second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka

Did you miss the inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in June 2019 in Sitka? Well, now is the time to save the dates for the second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference: Walk, Bike and Roll, Equity For All. The dates for 2020 are June 9-13 with events happening at various locations around Sitka, with presentations at the Aspen Suites Hotel.

Details are still in the planning stages for the conference, and we are consulting with a couple of national and statewide speakers who can give presentations on various topics related to active transportation and equity. The timing is set so participants also can attend Sitka Summer Music Festival events.

The inaugural conference, held June 4-8 in Sitka, featured a two-day Smart Biking training certification, a series of walk audits, an after-hours discussion of outdoor recreation, community bike rides and hikes, bike maintenance workshops, and more. In addition, there were  speakers on a variety of topics such as how outdoor recreation (including hiking and mountain biking) is an economic driver in Alaska, what makes a walkable community, how active transportation makes us healthier, and what we need to do to make sure our seniors and kids can safely walk and bike in their communities.

Please mark your calendars now if you hope to attend the conference. We will announce conference rates and possible travel scholarships as we get closer to the dates. If you are interested in presenting, please contact us at akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com, or email Doug Osborne at douglaso@searhc.org or Dawn Groth at dawn.groth@alaska.gov