One of the problems with being a cyclist or pedestrian in Alaska is we have long, dark winter months. Not only is it dark, which makes cyclists and pedestrians harder to see than they are during the summer, but many Alaska drivers don’t scrape the frost off their windshields the way they should and that also makes it harder to see cyclists and pedestrians.
As part of its pursuit of a Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists, the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition started tracking how many cyclists used headlights and taillights during times of low visibility. During October and November 2008 and again the same months in 2009, several Sitkans completed forms describing what safeguards Sitka cyclists used to “Be Safe, Be Seen,” a local variation of a statewide campaign.
Sitka’s “Be Safe, Be Seen” program also includes an education component with radio PSAs (scroll down for PSAs) to remind cyclists and pedestrians to be visible during the winter. There also were health educators and injury prevention specialists who gave presentations at local schools. In addition, there was an encouragement component where local organizations donated more than $2,000 to by reflective tape and lights to give to local schoolchildren. And the Sitka Police Department increased enforcement of cyclists who used unsafe cycling practices that violate Sitka General Code (see Title 11.64 for pedestrians, 11.68 for bicycles, and 11.70 for Sitka’s youth helmet ordinance) or Alaska Administrative Code (see Title 13, Chapter 2, Sections 150-195 for pedestrians and Sections 385-420 for bicycles)
In 2008, just 32 percent of Sitka cyclists used a white headlight when they rode. This year, 60 percent were using headlights. Last year, 36 percent of Sitka cyclists had a red taillight and this year it was up to 57 percent. The percentage of wrong-way cyclists (those riding on the left, facing traffic) dropped from 11 percent to 6 percent. More details about the surveys can be found in this thank-you letter sent to local media outlets.
“The positive numbers we have seen is a result of using the recommended public health strategy that includes: education, encouragement and enforcement,” said Doug Osborne, a health educator with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) and member of the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition. “We are very grateful to all the groups and individuals who have helped with one of these three elements.”
While the surveys focused on cyclists, many of the “Be Safe, Be Seen” elements also apply to pedestrians. In good weather, the average driver needs 260 feet in order to come to a complete stop from 60 mph. A person wearing black or blue clothing isn’t seen until 55 feet away, while red is seen from 80 feet away, yellow is seen from 120 feet, white is seen from 200 feet, and someone wearing reflectors is seen from 500 feet away. The person wearing reflectors is the only person who gives a driver time enough to stop. Cyclists and pedestrians are encouraged to use reflective vests, reflective arm or leg bands, put reflective tape on their jackets, wear reflective hats, etc., to make sure they are visible to drivers.