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Archive for September, 2010

Congratulations to the Southcentral Foundation and the Providence Alaska Medical Center, which became Alaska’s third and fourth businesses to win a Bicycle Friendly Business Award from the League of American Bicyclists. Southcentral Foundation, a regional tribal health organization based in Anchorage, won a silver level Bicycle Friendly Business Award when the Fall 2010 winners were announced on Thursday, Sept. 23, at the Interbike Trade Show in Las Vegas, Nev. Providence Alaska Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, was awarded a bronze level award.

“Bicycle Friendly Businesses are innovative businesses that demonstrate their commitment to encouraging healthy lifestyles, creating more affordable transportation, and leading the way in sustainable business practices and environmental stewardship,” said Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists. Since the BFB program started in 2008, there have been 196 businesses in 31 states to win the award.

The Bicycle Friendly Business awards program is part of the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly America program, which also includes the Bicycle Friendly Community, Bicycle Friendly State and starting this fall a new Bicycle Friendly University program. The Bicycle Friendly America programs are designed to help promote cycling in the United States through education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement and evaluation (aka, the Five E’s).

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) has adopted several innovations to get its employees biking to work. SCF recently built a locking cage at a campus parking garage so employees can store their bikes while they work. SCF also built biking to work into its annual employee wellness plan, and employees who participate in National Bike to Work Day are treated to breakfast, a bike blessing, complimentary massages, a live band, pizza party and games for the family after work. The number of employees participating in National Bike to Work Day has increased 75 percent since 2008, and more than 15 percent of employees now ride their bikes to work during the summer months.

“Southcentral Foundation is making simple changes to their transportation policies to encourage biking to work,” Clarke said. “They are setting a community-wide example.”

Specific details were not available for Providence Alaska Medical Center’s award, but the health organization has been active in many bicycle activities such as Anchorage’s community celebration of National Bike to Work Day. Providence also serves as the lead agency for the Safe Kids Alaska childhood injury prevention program that supplies bike helmets to the Municipality of Anchorage to distribute to children whose families can’t afford one (Anchorage has a bike helmet ordinance for kids).

In Fall 2009, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC, which shares a campus with SCF) won a gold level award and Green Star Inc. won a bronze level award to become Alaska’s first Bicycle Friendly Businesses. Alaska also has two Bicycle Friendly Community award-winners — Sitka in Spring 2008 and Anchorage in Fall 2009. In the 2010 state ranking list for the Bicycle Friendly States program, Alaska was 39th out of the 50 states.

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If you’re a regular bike commuter, it’s probably happened to you. You’re riding on your way to work when you notice the car behind you is drifting into your bike lane because the driver is chatting on a cellphone, eating, lighting a cigarette, putting on makeup or reading.

Distracted driving is a huge safety concern on our roads, and Tuesday the U.S. Department of Transportation hosted its second National Distracted Driving Summit to try and find solutions to the problem. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said on his FastLane blog that the three biggest takeaways from the summit were 1) enforcement works, 2) we must reach America’s young people and 3) Americans don’t need more dashboard distractions.

“I must stress this one idea: Distraction-related crashes are 100-percent preventable; all we need is for drivers to step up and take personal responsibility for the 2,000-pound vehicles they command,” LaHood wrote on his blog. “Distracted driving does not just happen; it is a choice that flies in the face of that responsibility.”

Last year, at least 5,500 people in the U.S. were killed and more than 450,000 people were injured in distracted driving crashes, LaHood said, adding that the real numbers could be higher because not all police agencies note in their accident reports when a wreck is caused by distracted driving. A U.S. government report released Thursday (Sept. 23) reported that auto deaths due to cellphone use and driving jumped from 4,572 in 2005 to 5,870 in 2008, an increase of 28 percent. The report also said texting and driving caused more than 16,000 fatal car wrecks from 2001 to 2007.

While there are many forms of distracted driving, cellphone use has drawn the most attention in recent years because of the rapid growth and acceptance of the new technology. These distracted driving deaths and injuries are 100-percent preventable. The New York Times posted an interactive feature last year that demonstrates how trying to text while driving can affect your reaction time.

And lest you think it’s only the car drivers causing the problem, cyclists and pedestrians can cause wrecks when they’re using cellphones, listening to music with headphones/earbuds, etc. If we’re the pilot of our mode of transportation, then we can’t multi-task. We need to focus on what we’re doing, if for no other reason than it allows us to respond when someone else isn’t paying attention.

A 2006 study by the University of Utah showed drivers talking on cellphones are as dangerous as drivers who are legally drunk. But young drivers still don’t see the danger as a State Farm Insurance study released on Tuesday showed 36 percent of teen drivers don’t consider themselves to be at risk for a fatal car wreck when they are texting and driving, while 55 percent of them thought they were at risk for a fatal wreck if they drove drunk, and texting is considered a bigger driving distraction than talking on a cellphone.

In September 2008, Alaska became the 14th state to have a law take effect that banned texting while driving. But through May 2010, only 34 people had been charged under the new law. The law also bans having a television, video screen, computer or similar visual device in view of the driver while the vehicle is in motion.

Since the 2008 text messaging/video ban for drivers took effect, two other cellphone-related driving bills have been introduced in the Alaska House of Representatives, though neither has passed. In 2009, Reps. Berta Gardner, Chris Tuck and Cathy Muñoz sponsored a bill banning teen drivers younger than 18 years old from using cellphones. In 2010, Reps. Mike Doogan, Bob Buch, Peggy Wilson and Cathy Muñoz sponsored a bill banning the use of cellphones for all drivers. This year’s bill, written by Doogan, drew the most attention, with an article in the Juneau Empire, an editorial in the Mat-Su Frontiersman acknowledging the danger but saying the bill is too restrictive and should be scaled back, an editorial by John Aronno in the Alaska Commons blog asking for more discussion and less politics about the dangers of cellphone use and driving, while also taking to task an editorial by contributor Alex Gimarc in the Alaska Standard blog that called for civil disobedience if the law passed.

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Lucas Wilcox poses with some of the gold-and-blue bikes available for student, faculty and staff use at the parking lot entrance of Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky/Homer News)

Lucas Wilcox poses with some of the gold-and-blue bikes available for student, faculty and staff use at the parking lot entrance of Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky/Homer News)

There’s a nice story in the Homer News this week about a new bike-lending program at the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage.

The program is sponsored by the Kachemak Bay Campus Student Association and coordinated by Lucas Wilcox, who spent the past couple of years watching for repairable bikes at the Salvation Army that he could fix up for the program. The goal is to get campus visitors out of their cars and using a transportation mode that doesn’t use oil. Most car trips in America are less than two miles, so making bikes available is a good, healthy way to cut down on the campus’ carbon footprint.

Each of the bikes has been painted blue and gold (the team colors for Homer High School), and then conveniently parked at various locations around campus for students, faculty and other campus employees to use when they need to get around campus. Right now the program has a dozen bikes and so far three have been placed in a bike rack near the main entrance to the campus, and several other bikes are kept in reserve to use as back-ups should one of the others break down or disappear.

“I proposed it to the student government and everybody said, ‘Good idea. You should do that.’ So, I said all right I would,” Wilcox said. “Slowly but surely, I bought bicycles from the Salvation Army and fixed them up and painted them.”

Each bike also is outfitted with equipment obtained through Derek Reynolds of Cycle Logical (a Homer bike store) that records mileage and allows Wilcox to estimate the amount of petroleum products the bikes are saving. Before the first week of the semester had ended, the bikes had been ridden 10 miles.

Carol Swartz, campus director, said the bike-lending program is a match for the campus and student association’s goals.

“The student association is thrilled that the project is completed,” Swartz said about seeing the program in use. “It’s part of the campus’ long-term sustainability plan. The student association identified it as a priority to offer KBC students to help reduce the amount of time they need to drive their cars around town or between the east and west campuses.”

Wilcox said he hopes to expand the program to Homer High School and the KPC Kenai River Campus. He also is thinking about adding studded tires to the bikes for winter-time use.

For more information about KBC’s bike-lending program, or to make donations of bicycles or bicycle parts, call Wilcox at 299-6644 or e-mail him at wilcoxschool@live.com.

(Editor’s note: On Sept. 21, USA Today ran an article about bike-sharing programs on college campuses, and the University of Alaska Anchorage is mentioned in the article.)

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Since 2003, cities and towns across the United States have been able to apply for Bicycle Friendly Community awards offered through the League of American Bicyclists.

Starting in November, American cities and towns will be able to apply for Walk Friendly Community awards through a new program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. The new program will be maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, with the support of 17 national partner organizations.

According to the Walk Friendly Communities website:

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments. The WFC program will recognize communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

The new program currently is in its second round of pilot testing with five unnamed communities selected in July. The first round of testing featured three communities of varying demographics — a small town (Cedarburg, Wis.), a small town with a college and commuter population (Davidson, N.C.), and a large city (Orlando, Fla.).

The Walk Friendly Community program will borrow heavily from the Bicycle

Roof supports and a narrow sidewalk make for tight passage by Brenner's Store in downtown Sitka, especially on cruise days during the summer.

Roof supports and a narrow sidewalk make for tight passage by Brenner's Store in downtown Sitka, especially on cruise days during the summer.

Friendly Community award program, which already has been adapted to create a Bicycle Friendly Business, Bicycle Friendly State and, announced just this week, a new Bicycle Friendly University award program (by the way, 18 new and eight renewing Bicycle Friendly Community awards were announced on Wednesday).

The Walk Friendly Community program will use the same 5 E’s model used by the Bicycle Friendly Community program (Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation), in addition to other elements that affect a community’s walkability such as city planning and Complete Streets designs. Each of the 5 E’s heads a section where communities answer a series of questions about that topic within the application. By answering the questions using the 5 E’s model, communities are able to discover any barriers to walking that exist in their town and what they also learn what they do well when it comes to making it easier for residents to walk around town.

The 59-page Walk Friendly Communities Assessment Tool (see attached PDF file below) was released on Sept. 1 and will serve as the rough draft for the new program’s application, which will be filled out and turned in online. Even though the new program hasn’t been launched yet, there already are a multitude of excellent resources posted on the program’s website to help communities evaluate their community walkability rating.

Several communities won’t earn the Walk Friendly Community award on their first application, but the application is designed to help communities develop and document their pedestrian safety and encouragement plans. Only about a third of the more than 400 communities that have applied for Bicycle Friendly Community status earned awards at one of the five levels of that program. But completing the application served as a community learning process and that helped even non-winning communities improve their support and infrastructure for biking and walking.

Sitka and Anchorage already have earned Bicycle Friendly Community bronze awards, so they may be ahead of the game among Alaska communities when the Walk Friendly Community applications finally are released. But Alaska communities have some of the highest rates of walking in the country when it comes to walking to work and school, despite our snowy and icy winters, so this new program may be a perfect fit for many Alaska towns.

• Walk Friendly Communities Assessment Tool (released Sept. 1, 2010)

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