Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer (Juneau Empire photo)
Bicycle riders might want to keep an eye on HB 57 (Bicycle Program), a bill filed in the Alaska House of Representatives by Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) and co-sponsored by Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage).
The bill, which Rep. Seaton is calling “Alaska’s Bike Bill,” is “an Act authorizing municipalities and non-profit organizations to sponsor a program to encourage the safe use of bicycles as a mode of transportation, and amending the duties of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to include administration of state funds appropriated for that purpose.”
According to Rep. Seaton’s sponsor statement, the bill creates the Safe Bicycle Ridership grant program for municipalities and non-profits, which will provide increased access to bikes so Alaskans have a choice of transportation modes during an unstable economy with high fuel costs. The House Transportation Committee held a hearing about the bill on Thursday, Feb. 10. The bill also has been assigned to the Finance Committee.
If the bill passes, the Department of Transportation will develop regulations establishing criteria for community grant awards so municipalities and non-profits can propose programs to increase bicycle ridership in their communities. Some of the suggested programs include bike-share programs, safety education, voucher systems or other program variations that meet the unique needs of the community. Rep. Seaton filed a similar bill during the last session (HB 132), but this version (HB 57) doesn’t have the path construction and maintenance sections listed in HB 132 because those items are taken care of by other DOT and Parks and Rec programs.
“The Safe Bicycle Ridership program would give government agencies and non-profits the opportunity to apply for grant monies to promote sage bicycle use with the intent of using it as a mode of transportation,” said Mary Jane Shows, a Legislative Aide for Rep. Seaton. “This could be a non-profit wanting to distribute bicycle helmets to kids who ride their bikes to school, or to educate the public about the proper way to ride on the bike routes. Money also could be used for bike racks or covers for bike racks, etc.”
In his sponsor statement, Rep. Seaton highlighted a program in Juneau called “Bikes, Bikes, Bikes Community Program,” which is a bike-loaner partnership between the City and Borough of Juneau and several local non-profit groups. The program offers a healthy learning environment for youth and, in turn, provides free bikes for community members to use around town. The Zach Gordon Youth Center provides a maintenance room where young adults can learn to fix up and take care of the program’s bikes (they all are painted the same color). Members of the community are encouraged to stop by and borrow a bike as a healthy alternative to moving around Juneau.
To learn more about the bill, or to find out how to testify when it next appears in committee, contact Rep. Seaton’s office at 1-800-665-2689.
In addition to Rep. Seaton’s bill, there are several other bills before the Alaska Legislature of interest to cyclists and pedestrians.
SB 37 (Transportation Infrastructure Fund) has been introduced by Sen. Joe Thomas (R-Fairbanks) to endow a $1 billion transportation infrastructure fund that would be supplemented by state fuel taxes, motor vehicle registration fees and other appropriations to the fund. This bill doesn’t specifically mention bicycles, pedestrians or other alternate forms of transportation, but in one section it does promote public transportation.
Finally, there are four different bills in the State House to ban the use of cell phones while driving — HB 22 (Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau), HB 35 (Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage), HB 68 (Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage) and HB 128 (Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage). The first three bills are somewhat similar as they ban the use of cell phones while driving, except in an emergency or when used in a hands-free mode. Rep. Gardner’s bill prohibits the use of cell phones while driving for minors (the other three apply to drivers of all ages).
Of the four bills, Rep. Muñoz’s bill is given the best chance of advancing, and Rep. Doogan and Rep. Gruenberg acknowledge Rep. Muñoz’s bill has an advantage since she’s in the majority party. Rep. Gruenberg said he plans to make a couple of technical changes to Rep. Muñoz’s bill and co-sponsor it. Cell phone bills have been popular in several state legislatures in recent years, especially as more research shows distracted drivers are as dangerous on the road as drunk drivers.
Read Full Post »