Sitka to host inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 4-8

Are you looking for ways to make Alaska more walking and bicycling friendly? Sitka will host the inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 4-8.

While the agenda is still being finalized (a tentative agenda is posted below), there will be a two-day Smart Cycling class (from the League of American Bicyclists training program), and two days of work sessions about how to be a better bicycling and walking advocate. The last day includes a Saturday hike and bike ride, and maybe a harbor cruise.

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, and some of the challenges it still faces in its efforts to become more walkable and bikeable.

Prices are low for this event — $25 for the Smart Cycling training on June 4-5, $25 for the Walk/Bike work sessions on June 6-7, or $40 for the whole conference. If we are able to secure the harbor cruise, there probably will be an extra fee for it. There also are special conference rates at the Aspen Hotel, which is downtown and within easy walking distance of most community facilities.

For more details, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 747-0373 or akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com.

• Tentative agenda for 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka (last updated March 29, 2019)

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.

 

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.

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?