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 Communities — Sitka (2008, bronze), Anchorage (2009, bronze) and Juneau (2011, bronze). Alaska also has added six Bicycle Friendly Businesses — Anchorage 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).