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Archive for October, 2009

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From a press release from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Communities to Receive Safe Routes to School Grants

(JUNEAU, Alaska) –- More Alaska communities will soon receive grants under the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.

The program provides federal funding to local communities to plan improvements to the routes children take on their way to school. It also provides funds for planning and design of pedestrian and bicycling improvements in the vicinity of elementary and middle schools.

Sitka, Naknek, Fairbanks, Cordova, Seward and Palmer are the communities which submitted projects for SRTS grants. Those projects were approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

Two Seward schools and a charter school in Palmer will also begin a SRTS program.

At the Bristol Bay School in Naknek, students initiated their own SRTS program, and now their efforts will be rewarded with funding for a local pathway project.

“Sitka and Cordova will develop education and encouragement activities to teach pedestrian and bike safety and begin planning for infrastructure improvements,” said Steve Soenksen, the SRTS Coordinator for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

According to Soenksen, all of the projects encourage children to walk or bike to school where it is safe, as well as making their routes safer. Applications for next year’s grants are being accepted through Dec. 15, 2009. Application information can be found at http://www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/saferoutes/grants.shtml or by calling (907) 465-4069.

With this latest round of approved grants, the DOT&PF, managing the program at the state level, has disbursed more than $1 million federal dollars for improvements, programs and activities in communities under the federal SRTS program.

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According to Bicycle Newswire, Anchorage has just earned a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community award from the League of American Bicyclists. Anchorage is Alaska’s second Bicycle Friendly Community, joining Sitka which earned a bronze level award in May 2008. Congratulations, Anchorage.

The League of American Bicyclists cited Anchorage’s education efforts with local schools as one of the main reasons for the award. Also cited was the completion of Anchorage’s first bicycle plan and the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage hosting the Alaska Bike Summit in April 2009.

In order to earn a Bicycle Friendly Community honor, communities have to prepare a lengthy application that shows the city’s efforts in the Five E’s — Engineering, Education, Education, Enforcement and Evaluation. Communities can earn BFC honors at four levels — Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze — and there is an Honorable Mention award for those communities that aren’t quite there yet. Of the 318 communities to submit an application in recent years, only 124 have earned the BFC honor, which lasts for three years.

The League of American Bicyclists also awards the Bicycle Friendly Business award. Alaska’s only two Bicycle Friendly Business award-winners are the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium at the gold level and Green Star Inc. at the bronze level. The League of American Bicyclists also has a Bicycle Friendly State ranking (click the Alaska map for details), and Alaska ranks 47th out of 50.

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A screenshot of the Walk Score page

A screenshot of the Walk Score page

Last week Reuters posted a couple of stories about how healthy, walkable neighborhoods can prevent Type 2 diabetes. A healthy neighborhood with walkable sidewalks can reduce the risk for diabetes by as much as 38 percent. Not only are walkable neighborhoods healthier, they are safer for the kids and they have higher property values.

So how do you find out how walkable your neighborhood is? One way is to go to Walk Score, a site developed by Seattle’s Front Seat software company. Type your address (including city and zip code) into the search bar, and the site will give you a score based on how close you live to schools, grocery stores, libraries, movie theaters, restaurants and other key points. For example, an address in downtown Sitka has a walkability score of 89 (very walkable), an address in downtown Douglas has a score of 62 (somewhat walkable), an address in the Spenard area of Anchorage has a score of 45 (car-dependent), and an address off the Delany Park Strip in Anchorage has a score of 86 (very walkable).

There are some flaws in the software, for example it needs to better distinguish between a true grocery store and a corner convenience store. But the Walk Score blog recently announced that thanks to a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation the site will be going open source, which will allow people to fine-tune the walkability scores. The new open source feature also will allow people to enter public transportation stops and other features. The Sightline Daily blog also announced the new open source feature for Walk Score, and it introduced a new site out of Philadelphia called Walkshed that will produce similar walkability scores (this is a new site and so far only Philadelphia addresses can be rated).

If your neighborhood has a high score, congratulations. If it doesn’t, how do you make the score better? First you might want to do a walkability survey, where you walk the neighborhood streets and rate various items such as the sidewalks and any barriers to walking. The Health By Design organization from Indiana has a walkability survey tool on its site (opens as a PDF file). Several other programs from Safe Routes To School to America Walks, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the Alliance for Biking & Walking, Complete Streets and the National Center for Biking and Walking have tools to help you make your community more walkable.

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Native Americans have the highest rates of pedestrian injury and death of any group in the United States. In fact, adult pedestrian death rates for Native Americans are almost 3.5 times that of the general population. For Native American children, the pedestrian death rate is almost four times that of the overall population of the United States.

Alaska has 229 federally recognized tribes, about 40 percent of the 562 nationwide, so there are a lot of tribal zones in the state. Because many of Alaska’s tribal zones are in rural areas, we don’t have some of the traffic problems as tribal zones in the Lower 48. The highest pedestrian annual death rates per 100,000 tribal citizens are in the Plains states, with 6.5 deaths per 100,000 compared to 1.4 nationally. Alaska has a death rate of 3.5 per 100,000, which is lower than the top rate but still more than twice the national average.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a video, “Tribal School Zone Safety,” designed to teach school kids how to safely walk to school. The DVD, which is free if you order it from the link, also includes a second video that teaches parents, school officials and tribal administrators how to make sure their children’s routes to school are safe for them to walk. The first video features students from several tribal schools around the country as they learn how to check traffic, how to wear reflectives and bright colors for visibility, and why they need to turn off their iPods and cell phones so they can hear what’s going on around them. There also is a tool kit for teachers who want to use the first video in their lesson plans. You can preview the videos and see the tool kit if you go to the link.

Since International Walk (or Bike) to School Day is this Wednesday, Oct. 7, the video is worth watching for both parents and educators. Click here to learn more about the Alaska Safe Routes To School program, and click here to go to the National Center for Safe Routes To School page.

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There are several national bicycling and walking advocacy organizations that have regular e-mail newsletters. Here are two of the better ones.

Click here to read the CenterLines newsletter from the National Center for Bicycling and Walking. It features a round-up of what different biking and walking groups are doing around the country.

Click here to read the Streetside newsletter from the Alliance for Biking and Walking. This newsletter tends to have more policy-related items, but there usually are a few things that are pertinent to Alaska, including grants, a photo contest and club notes from around the country. The Alliance for Biking and Walking also has a blog.

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The Alaska Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance is a new group designed to help promote biking and walking in Alaska. We have several small community bike and walking groups, but nothing organized as a statewide advocacy program. It’s hoped this group will help foster some statewide bike and walk advocacy programs.

Why should we promote bicycling and walking? Obviously, any kind of physical activity is good for you and the health benefits are many. But this is about more than just exercise. For many Alaskans, bicycling or walking is their only form of transportation, especially for our children and our elders. If we don’t provide safe places to walk or bike, then these people can’t get around without feeling like their lives are in peril. Many of our roads are not designed with adequate bike lanes or sidewalks, and so we advocate for the Complete Streets format, http://www.completestreets.org. Another good site is the National Center for Bicycling and Walking, http://www.bikewalk.org/.

Here are a couple of other national sites to check out:

Alliance for Biking and Walking (formerly Thunderhead Alliance), http://www.peoplepoweredmovement.org/

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/

League of American Bicyclists, http://www.bikeleague.org/

Please keep an eye on this site, because we will be adding lots of content and there will be links to dozens of local bicycle, pedestrian and trail organizations from around the state. We also will link to national and international groups that promote bicycling and walking as modes of transportation.

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Congratulations to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and Green Star Inc. for becoming the first Alaska businesses to earn the Bicycle Friendly Business award from the League of American Bicyclists. ANTHC won at the gold level and Green Star at bronze.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, the Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) program recognizes employers’ efforts to encourage a more bicycle friendly atmosphere for employees and customers. The program, which started in 2008, honors innovative bike-friendly efforts and provides technical assistance and information to help companies and organizations become even better for bicyclists.

So what helped get these businesses designated?

ANTHC supports bicycle commuting among employees with shower facilities, secure bike parking, on-site safety clinics and tune-ups. On Anchorage Bike to Work Day the campus hosted coffee and treats for cyclists in the morning with live radio coverage. In the evening a pizza party with bluegrass band was hosted for Anchorage bicycle commuters. More than 300 ANTHC employees participated in Anchorage Bike to Work Day 2009, the largest team in as many years. Employees designed, built and delivered their ‘bike barn’ for bike valet services to the Park Strip for July 4th activities.

As part of their Air Quality Business Education grant from the Municipal Health Department, Green Star, Inc., promoted Bike to Work Day to the Anchorage Business community. Green Star co-sponsored bike maintenance and skills classes with REI to encourage bicycle commuting. They collected and distributed businesses donations for drawings, and registered 2,334 participants. Green Star also distributed Bike to Work tee-shirts, sponsored by the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, among 198 registered teams via team drawings. To facilitate cycling by Green Star employees, the non-profit maintains an ‘office bike’ for short trips during the work day as well as bike tools for use by their bicycle commuters at the office. Green Star’s application as a Bike Friendly Business was done in part to better understand the process in order to help Green Star awardees make their businesses more bike friendly for customers and employees.

This new initiative complements the League’s Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) program, which has been recognizing cities and towns for their bicycle friendliness since 2003. The only Alaska community to earn a Bicycle Friendly Community designation is Sitka, which was honored in May 2008 with a bronze level award. Click here for more information on Sitka’s project to become a Bicycle Friendly Community.

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