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Archive for May, 2011

The Adventure Cycling Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) added six new routes, including four in Alaska, to the U.S. Bicycle Route System earlier this month. These are the first official new routes added to the system since 1982.

Alaska submitted its original application to AASHTO last fall, but route numbers for the state hadn’t been developed yet by the Task Force on U.S. Bicycle Routes. In the weeks leading up to the AASHTO spring meeting on May 2, the task force worked with the State of Alaska on the numbering system that was accepted and endorsed by the committee.

“We are excited to be able to promote bicycle tourism in the state of Alaska,” said Bob Laurie, a transportation planner and the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. “We have fabulous vistas and low-traffic highways that beg exploration. Connecting to Washington State via the ferry system and collaborating with Canada is next on our list.”

The Alaska Highway — from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, through Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, through Delta Junction and terminating in Fairbanks — has been designated USBR 8, which comes with two alternate routes. An alternate route from Tok to Anchorage along the Glenn Highway has been designated USBR 108. The Haines Highway from Whitehorse through Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, ending in Haines, Alaska, was designated as alternate USBR 208. The Alaska Highway unofficially is part of the Pan-American Highway, which extends south to Argentina.

USBR 95 is the Richardson Highway from Delta Junction to Valdez, where the route connects to Washington via the Alaska Marine Highway System.

USBR 97 follows the Parks and Seward Highways from Fairbanks through Anchorage to Seward. This route picks up the entrance to Denali National Park.

USBR 87 is from Whitehorse to Skagway, home of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. This route also connects to Washington via the Alaska Marine Highway System.

In addition to the four routes in Alaska, the other two new routes added to the system were USBR 1 in Maine and New Hampshire, and USBR 20 in Michigan. When complete, the U.S. Bicycle Route System will be the largest official bike route network on the planet, encompassing more than 50,000 miles of routes.

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Last week, the League of American Bicyclists released its annual Bicycle Friendly State rankings as part of National Bike Month celebrations. Here is a USA Today story about state improvements in bicycling, with a sidebar listing the Bicycle Friendly State rankings for 2011.

“The good news is Alaska rose from 39th last year to 29th this year,” Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Bob Laurie wrote in an e-mail. “The bad news is that the League gives Alaska a ‘D’ for its efforts, meaning there is still much work that needs to be done to make bicycling better.”

For the fourth year in a row, Washington leads the rankings. But Maine has moved into the No. 2 spot, followed by Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Jersey to round out the top five. The bottom five states are Montana at No. 46, followed by Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota and West Virginia at No. 50.

Alaska has made great strides to move up the rankings, where it ranked just 43rd in 2008 and a dismal 47th in 2009. Since 2008, Alaska has added three Bicycle Friendly CommunitiesSitka (2008, bronze), Anchorage (2009, bronze) and Juneau (2011, bronze). Alaska also has added six Bicycle Friendly BusinessesAnchorage Native Tribal Health Consortium (2009, gold), Southcentral Foundation (2010, silver), Green Star Inc. (2009, bronze), Providence Alaska Medical Center (2010, bronze), REI-Anchorage (2011, bronze) and Alaska Pacific University (2011, honorable mention).

These are great strides, but Alaska still has a long way to go before it really is a true Bicycle Friendly State. Like most of the states in the rankings, Alaska earned a D for its cumulative score in the 95-question survey the League of American Bicyclists gives to state coordinators each year to compile the ranking (which are verified by bicycle advocates). No state earned an A, and only the top six states earned B’s and the next 12 states earned C’s. The bottom 12 states earned F’s.

The survey ranks states in six different categories. Alaska received two F’s in individual categories (Policies and Programs, and Enforcement) and four D’s (Legislation, Infrastructure, Education and Encouragement, and Evaluation and Planning). Last year, Alaska received three F’s, two D’s and a C.

How can Alaska improve its ranking? Getting the Legislature to pass HB 57 (Alaska’s Bike Bill) will help. HB 57 passed the House Transportation Committee and will be in the House Finance Committee when the Legislature reconvenes in January. It needs to pass both the House and Senate next year, then be signed by Gov. Sean Parnell. Other ways  to improve our ranking include passing a three-foot safe passing law (found in 19 states so far), a vulnerable user bill (found in four states so far) and a Complete Streets law (just introduced on a national level).

• 2011 Bicycle Friendly State rankings and grades

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of National Bike To Work Week on May 16-20, we will be running a series of features of bike commuters who work at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage and the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Sitka. Thank you to Laura Kotelman of Southcentral Foundation for supplying the four Anchorage profiles and SEARHC for the Sitka profile (note, all profiles appeared previously in newsletters for the various organizations).

By Janice Swier

Timothy Thomas, CDC medical epidemiologist of the Arctic Investigations Program, doesn’t like the idea of Bike to Work Day being a one-day event.  Instead, Thomas chooses to celebrate ‘Bike to Work Day’ year round by biking to work several days a week.

Thomas says that he enjoys biking; it gets him outside where he gets to face whatever the elements choose to toss his way.  When Thomas left Alaska to work in Kenya he brought his biking spirit with him.  Kenya gets some very dramatic rainstorms with lots of lightning and thunder, “getting home through one of those was always fun,” Thomas stated emphatically.

The elements aren’t the only thing Thomas enjoys about biking, he likes the activity.  “Much of my work involves sitting at a desk and looking at a computer screen.  Then, after work, I’m running my kids from one thing to another, so having the chance to incorporate getting exercise with getting to work, kills two birds with one stone,” Thomas explains.

Thomas doesn’t like how we as a society have created a separate category for exercise.  He thinks that exercise should be incorporated into our daily routine in a more natural way, like by biking to work.

“It’s always nice to get out, get fresh air and clear my head,” Thomas says of his many weekly bike rides.

He explains that he would bike to work every day if it weren’t for meetings across town or having to drop the kids off at school.  He does, however, make up for lost biking time by occasionally biking or walking to get other places around town and by doing recreational biking with his family.

Thomas is disappointed that he will be out of town on May 20 and won’t be able to participate in Bike to Work Day.  He will, however, be celebrating ‘Bike to Work Day’ many other days throughout the year.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of National Bike To Work Week on May 16-20, we will be running a series of features of bike commuters who work at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage and the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Sitka. Thank you to Laura Kotelman of Southcentral Foundation for supplying the four Anchorage profiles and SEARHC for the Sitka profile (note, all profiles appeared previously in newsletters for the various organizations).

By Janice Swier

For Megan Lemasters-Soule, physician at the Anchorage Native Primary Care Center, there is more than one reason to park the car for the summer and ride a bike instead.  “In the summer I rarely drive anywhere, only if I am going somewhere. … I cannot get by [without] the trails,” Lemasters-Soule stated.

When asked why, Lemasters-Soule would tell you her main reason for biking is to lower her impact on the environment.  According to the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, commuting five miles per day on a bicycle rather than using a car will reduce an individual’s annual carbon emissions by one ton.  Lemasters-Soule also argues that biking isn’t a time-inferior alternative to driving, “It usually doesn’t take that much longer to get somewhere when you ride vs. drive.”

By pulling her two children behind her in a trailer, Lemasters-Soule is also able to teach her kids an important lesson about caring for the environment, “My 4 year old asks me, ‘Are we going to bike today to make Mother Nature happy?’”

Lemasters-Soule also wants to practice what she preaches and set a good example for her patients and community.  “I am often speaking to my patients about finding ways to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives,” Lemasters-Soule said.

While she admits that there are parts of the 3.5-mile journey from the Alaska Native Medical Center’s Campus to her home that she dreads, “Biking with children makes it a bit harder, mostly on the way home as it’s uphill,” Lemasters-Soule recognizes the great health benefits biking gives.

Lemasters-Soule has been participating in Anchorage’s Bike to Work Day event for the past five years.  She thinks that it is a great community outreach event and is happy to report that she has met new friends in previous years by speaking to other riders at the way points. Lemasters-Soule says that she will definitely be participating again this year and will be doing so with her two children in tow.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of National Bike To Work Week on May 16-20, we will be running a series of features of bike commuters who work at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage and the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Sitka. Thank you to Laura Kotelman of Southcentral Foundation for supplying the four Anchorage profiles and SEARHC for the Sitka profile (note, all profiles appeared previously in newsletters for the various organizations).

Courtesy of SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC)

Like most adults, Bob Gamble has been riding a bike since he was a young child. Four years ago, Bob decided to commute to work by bike.

“I enjoy it every time I ride,” said Bob, a computer systems administrator in Sitka for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). “It’s a day of exercise for me.”

Bob, 45, rides about three miles each way from his home to work. He said his ride takes about 20 minutes, but he’s going an average speed and he’s not in a big hurry. He wears street clothes when he rides, with full rain gear on wet days.

“I do like the fresh air I get, and I’m definitely ready to work when I get here. I’m wide awake,” Bob said. “My senses are keen, since I have to watch for cars and people when I ride. This is a good stress release and exercise. Sometimes I can go places on the bike that I can’t go in a vehicle, like when there was road construction and the flagmen waved me ahead of the cars.”

Bob rode quite a bit when he was younger, but he didn’t ride as much when he was an adult. He bought a new bike in 1995, and took it with him to Colorado when he went to college. But he didn’t really start riding it until he got back to Sitka. “It was easier to get in the vehicle and go places,” Bob said.

Bob and his wife used to have two vehicles. But after their daughters were born three and five years ago,  Bob’s wife became a stay-at-home mom and they got rid of one of the vehicles. They save about $600 a month total with no car payment, lower insurance costs and fewer fill-ups.

About the same time they got rid of the second car, was also about the same time a road construction project near his house ended and he no longer had to breathe a cloud of dust when he rode. Bob bought proper gear for riding to work, including heavy-duty rain gear, boots and saddlebags. During the winter, he has studded tires, a good head lamp, tail light and reflectors all over. He also always wears a comfortable helmet.

“I use riding my bike as a supplement to running and going to the gym,” Bob said. “Doing all these things keeps my routine interesting. Plus it’s a great way to get around.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of National Bike To Work Week on May 16-20, we will be running a series of features of bike commuters who work at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage and the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Sitka. Thank you to Laura Kotelman of Southcentral Foundation for supplying the four Anchorage profiles and SEARHC for the Sitka profile (note, all profiles appeared previously in newsletters for the various organizations).

By Janice Swier

Jackie Buckley, administrator in the Southcentral Foundation Medical Services Division, has experienced biking in different ways over the past couple of decades. With each decade she has adjusted her biking style and bike choice to fit her current needs and desires.

“In the ’70s I biked to work and rode very fast on a racing road bike. I used to ride 17 miles round trip,” Buckley fondly remembers from what she considers her days of youth.

During the ’80s Buckley thought it would be great to take the more scenic route, so she traded in her road bike for a mountain bike and enjoyed nature around the Anchorage bike trails.

Buckley enjoyed all of her biking days, but her sweetest biking memories are those of the ’90s.  “I rode my youngest two kids in the Burley trailer a lot when they were tykes. I always loved riding with the kids and singing or discussing things they could see … The older kids would ride ahead or behind or ride circles around us,” Buckley sighed with a smile. “Fun times and fond memories.”

It isn’t just because she likes the thrill, scenery or the opportunity to develop stronger relationships with those she bikes with, Buckley likes the way biking makes her body feel.

“I feel more awake and alive when I am active,” Buckley explained.

After the new millennium Buckley changed her bike choice once again.  Frustrated with having had two bikes stolen, and being forced to lug around a lock that was nearly as heavy as the bike itself, Buckley opted to just carry around the bike.  She bought a Dahon folding bike.

“The bike folds down to a 22-inch bundle that I can sling over my shoulder and stuff under my desk.  It’s fun and folds and unfolds in less time than it took to lock up or unlock a bike,” Buckley said.

Though Buckley defines herself as a ‘fair weather rider,'” she is hopeful that she’ll be able to ride her bike to work more often this summer than she did last.  She participated in the annual Bike to Work Day for the first time last year to encourage others who work on the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) to participate as well.

When asked if she would bike the 4.2 miles from her house to ANMC for Bike to Work Day again this year, Buckley enthusiastically replied, “Absolutely!  It’s a fun event and it lets us meet all of our biking buddies over at the gathering areas. Last year was fun; I can’t wait to do it again!”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of National Bike To Work Week on May 16-20, we will be running a series of features of bike commuters who work at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage and the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Sitka. Thank you to Laura Kotelman of Southcentral Foundation for supplying the four Anchorage profiles and SEARHC for the Sitka profile (note, all profiles appeared previously in newsletters for the various organizations).

By Janice Swier

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) Executive and Tribal Services Administrator Dave Singyke has participated in Bike to Work since 2007. Bicycle commuting is more than a one-day event for Singyke; in summer, he bikes the 24-mile round trip to work three or four times a week.

Biking over 90 miles a week is no small feat, but for Singyke it is a preferred form of exercise.

Singyke stated, “It’s more fun to accomplish more than one thing with a workout.”

Singyke likes being able to blend his daily exercise with commuting.

Singyke’s proudest bike ride was from his house to Crooked Lake — an 80-mile ride.

“I love riding my bike,” Singyke said happily.

Singyke is already excited about the upcoming Bike to Work Day, May 20, and thinks that everyone should try biking at least once.

“Biking is a lot easier than most people think…[and] it’s a blast,” said Singyke.

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