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Archive for November, 2010

A winter bicyclist rides down 10th Avenue in Anchorage near the Delaney Park Strip during November 2009

A winter bicyclist rides down 10th Avenue in Anchorage near the Delaney Park Strip during November 2009

Kristi Wood and Brian Litmans from Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage recently sent out this update about the Title 9 rewrite issue Anchorage cyclists were having with the Anchorage Police Department. Our two previous stories about the Title 9 issue are linked here and here. It looks like most of the safety issues have been resolved in favor of the cyclists and pedestrians who use the bike trails, sidewalks and other separated paths. For more information, here is the letter Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage (BCA) sent to members and posted on its website:

Since the summer of 2009, BCA has been working to ensure that the Title 9 rewrite is sensible and provides adequate protections for bicyclists. Title 9 is the Municipality of Anchorage Traffic Code, providing the rules and regulations of the road and it is going through a major update that, in the near future, will be reviewed and eventually approved by the Assembly.

When the initial proposed changes were released, BCA became concerned about one rule in particular because it placed bicyclists in a dangerous predicament.  The proposed change sought to require bicyclists utilizing sidewalks to yield to motor-vehicle traffic when crossing driveways, intersections or crosswalks. The underlying reason for the change was that one of our most common crash scenarios is when bicyclists traveling on sidewalks are hit by motorists.  When a bicyclist on a sidewalk approaches an intersection traveling quickly, it gives the motorist little time to react. But that is only part of the problem. The other aspect of these crash scenarios is that motorists just aren’t looking for bicycle (or pedestrian) traffic when coming out of driveways, parking lots or intersections.

Anchorage Police Department’s (APD) original proposed language to change Title 9 would have taken an auto-centric approach placing all duties and responsibilities upon the bicyclist and turned the classic “yield to the more vulnerable user” system on its head, requiring bicyclists to yield to motorists. It could have led to situations where the bicyclist would be liable for damage due to a motorist while they lie on the sidewalk injured, or even worse in a hospital, simply because they were traveling on the sidewalk and crossing an intersection or driveway without yielding.

BCA worked tirelessly behind the scenes to search for sensible and safe alternatives.  We have spoken with bicycle attorneys from across the country. We have researched language in all 50 states to see how others address bicycle use on sidewalks (hint – not one state requires bicyclists to yield to cars). In August, BCA put the APD in touch with an expert in the field, Preston Tyree.  Preston Tyree is the Director of Education for the League of American Bicyclists and was brought up to Alaska by BCA to provide a 20-hour course where graduates would then become League-certified bicycling instructors.  Preston provided examples from other states that have worked to find a solution to the problems posed when bicyclists are on sidewalks.

Over the Fall, BCA worked closely with APD to reach consensus. The result is that bicyclists do not have to yield to motorists when traveling on sidewalks but they do have to approach driveways, parking lot entrances and exits, curb cuts and street intersections at a reasonable and prudent speed and they have to slow down to a reasonable and prudent speed when passing pedestrians.  So what does that all really mean? It means you should be able to stop if you see that the motorist has no intention of stopping and yielding to you, or if you see that the motorist clearly isn’t looking in your direction, and you should be able to avoid hitting a pedestrian if they make a quick turn or stop.
BCA’s first priority is making Anchorage safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and we feel the revised language meets those needs.  It is a good law because it protects bicyclists without being overly burdensome.

BCA is also very excited with the other improvements to Title 9 that we pushed for, including the revision of the code to provide a three foot passing zone for bicyclists. Throughout the Nation, states and cities have been passing the “3 foot rule.” This safe passing distance helps motorists know what a safe passing space is.

BCA would like to thank APD for their sincere efforts to work closely with the bicycling community to find a solution we can support. We also want to thank all the BCA supporters who contacted the Anchorage Assembly and the Public Safety Committee last summer to tell them what you thought of the proposed language.  That effort led to placing the Title 9 rewrite on hold while the Anchorage Police Department reviewed the language and looked for alternatives with BCA, and is in large part the reason we can now strongly support the changes to Title 9.

We have worked hard to get changes that protect bicyclists. But it is really up to you. Following the rules of the road is the key to staying safe. And it helps motorists respect the cycling community in general.

You can view the new language on our website. The Anchorage Assembly wants to complete the Title 9 rewrite, and plans on a December vote. We look forward to a successful conclusion of our collective effort to making Anchorage more bicycle-friendly.

Thanks again for all your support. All those emails and letters you wrote, and those phone calls you made, are what made this possible.

Kristi Wood and Brian Litmans
You can find the proposed changes here: Title 9 Bicycle Update – proposed changes (opens as PDF file).

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Mt. Edgecumbe High School sophomore Nelson Kanuk, who is from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta village of Kipnuk, checks out a bike from the boarding school's bike program so he can run errands in Sitka. (Photo courtesy of Mt. Edgecumbe High School bike program)

Mt. Edgecumbe High School sophomore Nelson Kanuk, who is from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta village of Kipnuk, checks out a bike from the boarding school's bike program so he can run errands in Sitka. (Photo courtesy of Mt. Edgecumbe High School bike program)

Students at Mt. Edgecumbe High School sometimes can feel trapped at the school. A new bike check-out program is giving those students a chance to have a little bit of freedom as they head to downtown Sitka.

For those who haven’t been to Sitka before, a little explaining is in order. Mt. Edgecumbe High School is a state-run boarding school and most of the 400-430 students are from small villages around the state. They come to Sitka to have access to classes they might not be able to get at home.

The Mt. Edgecumbe High School campus is located on Japonski Island, across the O’Connell Bridge from Sitka on Baranof Island. It’s not really that far, about a mile or two, but sometimes that can be a little too far to walk, especially if you have to be back in the dorms by a certain time.

Anyway, the school had several older bikes that had been collected over the years. But they were in poor repair and many of them weren’t safe to ride. Mt. Edgecumbe High School partnered with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Health Promotion and Injury Prevention programs and with Island Fever Diving and Adventures/Sitka Bike and Hike to get the bikes fixed up and safe for students to check out.

“We currently have 15 bikes that can be checked out during the students’ town leave times (4:10-5:30 p.m. on weekdays and 1-5 p.m. on Saturday/Sundays),” said Emily Buck, a dorm recreation assistant for the school. “All of the bikes are now equipped with the proper safety equipment, thanks to a partnering between Mt. Edgecumbe, SEARHC and Island Fever Diving and Adventure. The bikes are equipped with rear-view mirrors, front lights, back lights and reflectors. Island Fever also donated many more helmets to add to our collection.”

Island Fever Diving and Adventures, which also operates the Sitka Bike and Hike company that provides bike tours, repairs and sales, performed maintenance and safety checks on all the bikes. SEARHC Health Educator Doug Osborne, a League Certified Instructor by the League of American Bicyclists and a key member of the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition that helped Sitka become Alaska’s first official Bicycle Friendly Community,  gives bike safety instruction to the students. SEARHC is the tribal health organization for the region and it operates the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Student Health Center as one of its clinics. Osborne said he was happy to partner on this project because it gave SEARHC a chance to promote healthy physical activity and injury prevention to the students.

“Before the students are able to check out the bikes, they have to attend a bike safety class,” Buck said. “Doug Osborne led the first class, going over the rules of the road that every biker should follow and giving tips to maximize one’s safety while biking. After the students obtain this knowledge, they are free to check out the bikes. Many students have taken advantage of this opportunity and are enjoying getting around Sitka at a much faster pace than walking. And it’s a much cheaper option than taking a cab.”

Even though the weather is getting somewhat nasty as winter approaches, the students still were checking out the bikes in November. Because Mt. Edgecumbe High School is a boarding school, classes run later in the day than they do at Sitka High School across town, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School sometimes has Saturday classes. Many of the stores in Sitka close by 5-5:30 p.m. on weekdays, earlier on the weekend.

“I have a really tight schedule every week, but having a bike to check out gives me the opportunity to go to town and back very quickly,” said sophomore Nelson Kanuk, who came to Sitka from the tiny Yup’ik Eskimo village of Kipnuk in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Southwest Alaska.

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