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For the fifth straight year, Washington ranks No. 1 in the Bicycle Friendly State rankings compiled by the League of American Bicyclists. Alaska dropped from No. 29 to No. 33 in this year’s rankings, which were released on May 22 as part of National Bike Month.

Trailing Washington in the rankings were Minnesota, Massachusetts, Colorado, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Maryland, Maine and Delaware, all states above the Mason-Dixon Line. The bottom five states were Montana at No. 46, Alabama, West Virginia, North Dakota and Arkansas at No. 50. Even though Washington ranked No. 1 for the fifth straight year, the Seattle Bike Blog wrote there are several improvements the state can make to be even friendlier to cyclists. CNN posted this article about the Bicycle Friendly State rankings.

States were ranked using a 1-5 scale (1 is bad, 5 is good) in five categories — legislation and enforcement, policies and programs, infrastructure and funding, education and encouragement, and evaluation and planning. Alaska received a 4 in policies and programs, a 3 in education and encouragement, and a 2 in each of the other three categories.

One of Alaska’s strengths was its bicycle commuter mode share is nearly double the national average (and it’s nearly 10 times the average in Sitka). The top tip for improvement was to adopt a vulnerable user law that includes a minimum safe passing distance and stricter consequences for violations by motor vehicle drivers.

Alaska has made great strides to move up the rankings, where it ranked just 43rd in 2008 and a dismal 47th in 2009. Alaska moved up to 39th in 2010 and 29th in 2011. Since 2008, Alaska has added three Bicycle Friendly Communities — Sitka (2008, bronze, renewed in 2012, bronze), Anchorage (2009, bronze) and Juneau (2011, bronze). Alaska also has added nine 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), SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium-Sitka Campus (2011, bronze), CRW Engineering Group LLC (2012, silver) and Restoration Science and Engineering (2012, honorable mention). Alaska has no universities recognized by the Bicycle Friendly University program.

• 2012 Bicycle Friendly State scorecard for Alaska

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(The following article originally appeared on the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition website, Celebrate Sitka Cycling, on May 14, 2012.)

In 2008, Sitka became the first Alaska community to earn a Bicycle Friendly Community award. On Monday, May 14, Sitka became the first Alaska community to earn a renewal of its Bicycle Friendly Community designation.

With Monday’s national announcement to kick off National Bike to Work Week, Sitka maintained its bronze level designation in the Bicycle Friendly Community program run by the League of American Bicyclists. Sitka now is one of three recognized communities in Alaska (Anchorage earned a BFC designation in 2009 and Juneau in 2011, also at the bronze level). There currently are 214 communities in 47 states with Bicycle Friendly Community designations (at the platinum, gold, silver and bronze levels). Sitka’s award is good for four years, expiring in February 2016.

“Sitka is pleased to once again receive recognition as a Bicycle Friendly Community and the first city in Alaska to be a repeat recipient,” Sitka Mayor Cheryl Westover said. “Thanks to the many Sitkans who actively support bicycling.”

“This is great news and a great time to thank everyone involved in helping us reach this Sitka Health Summit goal,” said Doug Osborne, who coordinates the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition. “Just the other day, I heard a visitor say how neat it was to see all the people in Sitka who are getting around on bikes. I have to agree, because there so many benefits that come from biking and being a bicycle-friendly town. I’m grateful to everyone who helped us get this designation and the positive national attention that comes with it.”

Sitka first applied for the Bicycle Friendly Community program as one of the community health priority projects chosen during the 2007 Sitka Health Summit, and it was the first project completed. The 2011 Sitka Health Summit supported renewing Sitka’s status as a Bicycle Friendly Community. The 2012 Sitka Health Summit takes place on Oct. 3-6 at a variety of locations around Sitka. Over the past five years, the Sitka Health Summit resulted in high-profile projects such as starting the Sitka Farmers Market, expanding community gardens in Sitka, supporting the Hames Athletic and Wellness Center, bringing local businesses and insurance companies together to promote employee wellness programs, the Choose Respect mural about domestic violence prevention, planting fruit trees in Sitka and the award-winning Fish to Schools project.

“First and foremost, thanks to the bicycle commuters who are now riding to work at almost 10 times the national average,” Osborne said. “Secondly, thanks to the courteous motorists who are sharing the road. And lastly, thanks to all the groups, workplaces, schools, shops and individuals who have made various contributions over the years.”

In the application feedback form provided by the League of American Bicyclists, Sitka received high marks for its number of regular bike commuters (4.9 percent, nearly 10 times the national average and five times the state average), Sitka’s promotion of National Bike Month events in May, the Share-the-Road and Be Safe Be Seen education campaigns, cycling workshops, the low number of motor vehicle/bicyclist crashes (only eight in five years reported to Sitka Police), and for several unique cycling events. The Sitka campus of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Sitka’s largest employer, earned a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Business designation in September 2011.

“One of the things that impressed our reviewers about Sitka is the one-of-a-kind local biking events, like the Winter Cycling Celebration,” said Bill Nesper, Vice President of Programs for the League of American Bicyclists. “Events like this really help people see that biking is a great way to get around for transportation and recreation all year round.”

In order to earn a Bicycle Friendly Community designation, communities have to complete an application that covers five main focus areas called The Five E’s — Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation/Planning. There are more than 100 questions in the application, asking everything from how many miles of bike lanes to how many schools participate in the Safe Routes To School program. Communities also are asked about their biking or non-motorized transportation plans and how they are meeting their goals.

Monday’s announcement saw 49 communities earn new, improve or maintain current Bicycle Friendly Community designations. The Bicycle Friendly Community program is part of the larger Bicycle Friendly America program that includes Bicycle Friendly State, Bicycle Friendly Business and Bicycle Friendly University designations. In addition to the League of American Bicyclists, the Bicycle Friendly America program is supported by Bikes Belong and Trek Bicycle’s One World Two Wheels Campaign.

“We aren’t surprised that this was the largest number of new and renewing applicants that we’ve ever had,” League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke said. “The popularity of this program is clear evidence that simple steps to make bicycling safe and comfortable pay huge dividends in civic, community and economic development.”

• Feedback for Sitka’s 2012 Bicycle Friendly Community application

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Alaska has two more Bicycle Friendly Businesses, according to the League of American Bicyclists, which sponsors the awards program. When the awards were announced on April 18, CRW Engineering Group LLC of Anchorage received a silver level award and Restoration Science and Engineering of Anchorage earned an honorable mention.

There were 67 new businesses honored during the Spring 2012 Bicycle Friendly Business awards, ranging from large Fortune 500 companies to small professional offices. Since the program started three years ago, there have been 412 businesses honored with the Bicycle Friendly Business designation. The honor is awarded twice a year (spring and fall) and lasts for four years.

The two new Alaska businesses join six other businesses from Anchorage and one from Sitka to have a Bicycle Friendly Business designation (available at Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze levels, plus Honorable Mention). The other Bicycle Friendly Businesses in Alaska are the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (gold), Southcentral Foundation (silver), Providence Alaska Medical Center (bronze), Green Star Inc. (bronze), REI Anchorage (bronze), SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium/SEARHC-Sitka Campus (bronze) and Alaska Pacific University (honorable mention).

According to a press release from the League of American Bicyclists, bicycle-friendly businesses improve the workplace and contribute to the community and improve their overall earnings. CRW Engineering Group encourages bicycling as an easy option for transportation and organizes group rides for a variety of biking levels and distances, including race, mountain, street and trail.

“CRW Engineering Group is at the forefront of a movement to make American businesses more competitive, sustainable and attractive to the best and brightest employees,” said Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists. “An investment in bicycling enhances employee health, increases sustainability and improves the bottom line.”

Moving forward, CRW Engineering Group will have access to a variety of free tools and technical assistance from the League to become even more bicycle-friendly. When our employees bike, everyone gets involved and that supports a fun and healthy work culture.

CRW Engineering Group works on a lot of road and park projects in Anchorage, and it uses its design expertise to make them safer for walkers and bikers. In addition, CRW Engineering also is involved in the Anchorage Park Foundation’s 50 Bike for 50 Kids project and CRW staff participate in Anchorage’s National Bike to Work Day events as the CRW CReWsers.

Restoration Science and Engineering is a smaller firm that also works on some road and trail projects (most of its projects are civil or environmental engineering). Staff have participated in Anchorage’s National Bike to Work Day events. Limited details of the firm’s bike-friendly activities were available. An Honorable Mention award doesn’t carry the same weight as a Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze level in the Bicycle Friendly Business program.

To learn more about the Bicycle Friendly Business program, go to http://www.bikeleague.org/businesses/. The BFB program is part of the League of American Bicyclist’s larger Bicycle Friendly America program that also includes the Bicycle Friendly Community, Bicycle Friendly State and Bicycle Friendly University programs. Alaska has three Bicycle Friendly Communities — Sitka, Anchorage and Juneau.

• Spring 2012 award list of Bicycle Friendly Business winners

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The League of American Bicyclists on Thursday announced that the Sitka campus of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) has been awarded a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Business award.

SEARHC is the only Alaska organization among the 111 businesses nationwide to earn an award during the Fall 2011 cycle. SEARHC joins six other businesses from Anchorage that earned Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) awards over the past two years — the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (gold), Southcentral Foundation (silver), Providence Alaska Medical Center (bronze), Green Star Inc. (bronze), REI Anchorage (bronze) and Alaska Pacific University (honorable mention). Since the BFB program started two years ago, 344 organizations in 40 states have been honored for making their businesses more bike friendly for employees and customers. These organizations come from a wide range of industries, such as health care, manufacturing and government.

“We are happy to recognize SEARHC’s Sitka campus for its investment in bicycling as a vehicle for improved employee health, social responsibility and economic growth,” League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke said. “Some of the most successful companies in the world are showing that investing in bicycling is not only good for health and sustainability but also for the bottom line.”

The Bicycle Friendly Business program provides a free roadmap for businesses wanting to make their organizations more friendly to bikes. Businesses have to complete a lengthy application that includes information about the number of bike commuters, facilities available for them (such as racks, showers and lockers), education programs and ways the business connects with the local bicycle community. The SEARHC Sitka campus took an active role in Sitka’s 2008 application to become the first Bicycle Friendly Community in Alaska. SEARHC also promotes healthy and safe cycling to its employees and the community through its health promotion, injury prevention and employee wellness programs. The Bike Users Group (BUG) at SEARHC on Tuesday, Sept. 13, launched a new Bicycle Ambassadors program that will help mentor novice bike riders and provide role models for other cyclists.

“As a health organization, it is important that we walk, or in this case bike, the talk,” SEARHC President/CEO Roald Helgesen said. “This award is a good way to demonstrate how small lifestyle changes can lead to better health, and it recognizes the work our employees who are role-modeling these healthy lifestyle changes.”

“Bicycling to and from work is a great way to build some heart-healthy physical activity into the schedule,” said SEARHC Health Educator Doug Osborne, who serves as bike coordinator for the employee wellness team. “Many people like commuter cycling because it’s a knee-friendly/low-impact workout, plus it’s fun. In Sitka we are lucky because things are close together, the vast majority of our motorists are courteous to cyclists, and, with the right gear, it’s possible to safely ride year round.”

Winners of the Bicycle Friendly Business award are allowed to use the designation for the next two years. To learn more about the BFB program, go to http://www.bikeleague.org/businesses/. The BFB program is part of the League of American Bicyclist’s larger Bicycle Friendly America program that also includes the Bicycle Friendly Community, Bicycle Friendly State and Bicycle Friendly University programs. Alaska has three Bicycle Friendly Communities — Sitka, Anchorage and Juneau.

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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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Last week was a good week for the City and Borough of Juneau, which found out it not only became Alaska’s third city to earn a Bicycle Friendly Community (bronze level) designation from the League of American Bicyclists, but it  also became the only Alaska city recognized when the first Walk Friendly Communities (honorable mention) were announced.

When the first batch of Walk Friendly Communities were announced on Tuesday, April 26, by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the list only listed 11 communities — one at the platinum level (Seattle); four gold (Ann Arbor, Mich.; Arlington, Va.; Hoboken, N.J.; Santa Barbara, Calif.); two silver (Charlottesville, Va.; Decatur, Ga.); and four bronze (Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Wilsonville, Ore.). No honorable mention communities were listed in the press release, but eight communities, including Juneau, were listed as honorable mention on the Walk Friendly Communities’ Community Profile page.

According to Juneau’s Community Profile page, Juneau “is designated as an Honorable Mention community due to impressive accessibility of facilities and excellent management of pedestrian facilities in a geographically constrained environment.” Some of the highlights of Juneau’s application included its ADA transition plan, its non-motorized transportation plan, its comprehensive wayfinding program downtown, and the several historic and themed walking maps available to residents and tourists.

The Walk Friendly Communities program is new and modeled after the Bicycle Friendly Community program from the League of American Bicyclists. The application period for the second round of Walk Friendly Communities opened on May 1 and closes on June 15.

On Saturday, April 30, Juneau found out it earned a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists, joining 20 other communities to receive awards. Juneau — incorrectly listed as the City and County of Juneau, Alaska, on the awards press release instead of City and Borough of Juneau (Alaska does not use the county form of government) — joins Sitka (May 2008) and Anchorage (October 2009) as official Bicycle Friendly Communities in Alaska, all at the bronze level. So far there have been 179 total communities (out of 452 applications) in 44 states to receive Bicycle Friendly Community awards at the platinum, gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention levels.

According to the page about Juneau’s Bicycle Friendly Community application, Juneau was honored for building three bicycle/pedestrian-only bridges last year, including two that create new links in Juneau’s non-motorized transportation system that includes 88 miles of bike lanes and 19 miles of shared-use paths; the adoption of the 2009 Non-Motorized Transportation Plan as part of its Comprehensive Plan to put new pressure on the Alaska Department of Transportation to improve bicycle facilities; the plan to implement a Safe Routes To School program at all Juneau elementary and middle schools; and having city health and wellness staff working with major employers and other groups to hold Traffic Skills 101 classes, bike rodeos and other education programs.

The Bicycle Friendly Community program is part of the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly America campaign that also includes Bicycle Friendly Businesses (Alaska has one gold, one silver, three bronze and one honorable mention winners), Bicycle Friendly Universities and Bicycle Friendly State rankings (Alaska ranked 39th out of 50 in 2010, the most recent state rankings). The deadline for the next round of Bicycle Friendly Community awards is July 22.

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Alaska has two more Bicycle Friendly Businesses, according to the League of American Bicyclists, which sponsors the awards program.

During the National Bike Summit held earlier this month in Washington, D.C., REI Anchorage received a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Business award while Alaska Pacific University received an honorable mention.

The two Alaska businesses were among 55 new Bicycle Friendly Business honorees for Spring 2011. The League of American Bicyclists honors businesses twice a year, in March and September.

These two Anchorage businesses join four previous Bicycle Friendly Business award-winners from Alaska — the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (gold level, Fall 2009), Green Star Inc. (bronze level, Fall 2009), Southcentral Foundation (silver level, Fall 2010) and Providence Alaska Medical Center (bronze level, Fall 2010). There are four main levels for the Bicycle Friendly Business awards — Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze — plus Honorable Mention (which doesn’t carry the full weight of the other four levels).

According to REI Anchorage Outreach Specialist Mike Morganson, “Some things we listed in our application included indoor and outdoor employee bicycle parking, a bike commuter bathroom/changing room, an employee shower, commuter lockers, a monthly ‘Carbon Commute’ spreadsheet with awards for frequent commuters, weekly or bi-weekly Knucklehead rides open to employees and family/friends, generous employee discount on REI’s Novara bikes, clothing and accessories, and an encouraging environment. There may have been more, but that’s what I recall.”

No details were available from Alaska Pacific University, but the school offers the Jim Mahaffey Trail System on campus (about 20 kilometers of continuous trail), an outdoor recreation program with equipment rentals, a gym with showers and other programs for students and faculty.

The Bicycle Friendly Business program is part of the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly America series of awards. The Bicycle Friendly America series of awards also includes the Bicycle Friendly Community awards, Bicycle Friendly State rankings and, new this year, the Bicycle Friendly University program (20 universities were honored at the National Bike Summit, none from Alaska). Alaska has two Bicycle Friendly Community award-winners — Sitka (bronze level, Spring 2008) and Anchorage (bronze level, Fall 2009). In the 2010 Bicycle Friendly State rankings, Alaska was 39th out of 50.

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