Living in Sitka, I’ve sort of been out of the loop on what’s happening with the Title 9 rewrite of the Anchorage traffic code (see previous post). There have been a few minor updates, but a meeting hosted on Aug. 5 by the Municipal Traffic Department was postponed when major stakeholders had conflicts. I have not heard if the meeting has been rescheduled and there has been no new meeting time listed on the Municipality of Anchorage’s Title 9 Rewrite page.
The “Flashlight” column by Scott Christianson of the Anchorage Press did have this information in its Aug. 5 issue. The Cyclelicio.us blog from California also had a write-up on the controversy. A cyclist using the handle “Pokey” did post on the Alaska Spokes forum (scroll down) a response he received from Anchorage Assembly member Paul Honeman (a retired Anchorage Police Lieutenant who serves on the Public Safety Committee) about a week ago, and in his response Honeman said it is unlikely that a highly restrictive measure against bicyclists will move forward.
The two main pieces of the Title 9 rewrite that bicyclists and pedestrians should look at are Sections 9.20 and 9.38. The Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage said it objects to the language in two key clauses, which were outlined on the BCA website:
A reminder of the wording BCA is objecting to in Title 9.38.060
“Persons operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk, recreational trail or bike trail must yield the right-of-way to traffic before crossing a roadway, street, or driveway.”
and section 9.38.020
“A person propelling a vehicle by human power upon and along a sidewalk, trail or pathway, (or across) except when crossing a roadway or driveway intersecting a sidewalk, trail or pathway, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.”
This is placing the burden of responsibility on the must vulnerable users, children riding their bicycles on the sidewalk.
Personally, I think the Municipality of Anchorage is going the wrong way on this issue. Instead of shifting the responsibility for safety to cyclists and pedestrians, the Municipality needs to pass a Vulnerable User Law, something similar to what the State of Oregon passed in 2007 (HB 3314, scroll down) and currently is under discussion in several other states, including Washington, California and Virginia. These laws already exist in bicycle friendly countries such as Denmark and The Netherlands.
Basically, a Vulnerable User Law strengthens the traffic code to protect bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users, roadway construction crews and other people who might be legally in a public roadway from careless drivers. The laws create enhanced penalties for careless drivers who cause serious injury or death when they hit somebody who falls within the vulnerable user classification. Since the driver has the most protection, he/she has the greatest responsibility for safety. Portland lawyer Ray Thomas wrote this explanation of Oregon’s Vulnerable User Law and provides some backstory about why they felt the law was needed. He also explains the law in this YouTube video.