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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Help your kids celebrate International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 10

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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. 10, is International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, and Sitka parents and teachers are encouraged to help their schoolchildren walk 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, Sitka Community Hospital Director of Health Promotion. “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 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.

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.