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Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is one of 12 U.S. Senators who have signed on to co-sponsor the Complete Streets Act of 2011, which was sponsored May 24 by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The bill was read twice on May 24 and referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Complete Streets Act of 2011, aka S.1056, is “a bill to ensure that all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, children, older individuals, and individuals with disabilities, are able to travel safely and conveniently on and across federally funded streets and highways.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Sen. Harkin introduced similar legislation in 2007 and 2009. This time the introduction comes in the wake of the release of a new safety report, Dangerous by Design 2011, which finds that 67 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the last 10 years took place on federal-aid roads. Children, older adults, and minorities are especially at risk. The report notes that from 2000 through 2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians and thousands of bicyclists were killed in road accidents.

“In many places across the country, there is a complete lack of sidewalks and bike lanes. This not only makes our roadways more dangerous for pedestrians, it discourages people from being more active by walking or riding a bike,” Sen. Harkin said. “The legislation I am introducing today aims to address this issue by making streets safer for everyone and promoting healthier living. It is truly a double win for our communities.”

The Complete Streets Act of 2011 creates a national standard as 25 states and more than 200 communities in the U.S. have adopted Complete Streets policies. The National Complete Streets Coalition and many other public interest organizations support the legislation.

In addition to Sen. Begich, the Complete Streets Act of 2011 is co-sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.).

This bill comes three weeks after Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.)  introduced the similar Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011 (H.R. 1780) into the U.S. House of Representatives, co-sponsored by Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio). That bill has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

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Haines cyclist Heather Lende approaches the British Columbia-Alaska border just north of Haines during the 2002 Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay, a 148-mile relay race from Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, to Haines, Alaska.

Haines cyclist Heather Lende approaches the British Columbia-Alaska border just north of Haines during the 2002 Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay, a 148-mile relay race from Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, to Haines, Alaska.

According to the Chilkat Valley News weekly newspaper, the community of Haines, Alaska, is starting a bicycle club, and the leaders of the group hope to eventually pursue a Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists (the club plans to use Sitka as a model, since it is a smaller community in Southeast Alaska that was Alaska’s first Bicycle Friendly Community).

Haines, a community of about 1,900 people located on the northern end of Lynn Canal in Southeast Alaska, already is home to the finish line of the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay, an annual event that draws between 1,000 to 1,200 cyclists from Alaska and Canada. The 148-mile Summer Solstice Weekend relay race from Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, to Haines, Alaska, nearly doubles the population of Haines with all the cyclists, race officials and support crews.

Scott Damman of Boulder, Colo., wins the sprint for the finish line in the Fort William A. Seward part of Haines to become the first solo rider to win the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay (in 2003). In the background, Juneau riders Scott Fischer, left, and Dave Bartlett sprinted for second place.

Scott Damman of Boulder, Colo., wins the sprint for the finish line in the Fort William A. Seward part of Haines to become the first solo rider to win the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay (in 2003). In the background, Juneau riders Scott Fischer, left, and Dave Bartlett sprinted for second place.

During community meetings, Haines bike club members discussed improvements such as sweeping out the road shoulders of popular cycling routes, holding educational events, lowering the speed limits on some roads, and building a bike port with bike parking near the downtown port area. The club still is deciding on a name (the current leader is “Haines Bikes,” which can be used as both a noun and verb), but it does have a Google group and e-mail listserve where people can stay on top of developments.

One purpose of the club is to advocate for better conditions for bicyclists in Haines, and another is to promote the healthy physical activity benefits from cycling. On the advocacy front, the club already has the backing of mayor Jan Hill, assembly member Daymond Hoffman, borough manager Mark Earnest, medical staff at the SEARHC Haines Health Center and others. On the physical activity front, the club is working with the Haines Well and Fit Committee which hosts other physical activity programs in Haines.

“It’s time for Haines to step up and make the town more bike friendly,” Haines cyclist Norman Hughes told the Chilkat Valley News.

Heather Lende, a longtime road rider, said she was encouraged that the town’s leadership grasps the importance of roads to users besides motorists. “Haines is a world-class destination for road riding. We’ve known that for years. That’s why people come here for the (Kluane to Chilkat International Bike Relay).”

The club is making plans for National Bike Month in May and National Bike to Work Week on May 16-20 (National Bike to Work Day is May 20). The mayor plans to issue a proclamation in support of the bike club, and members are working with the local radio station to record bike safety PSAs. It also plans to look at the Haines Comprehensive Plan to see how it can introduce more bike-friendly language into the document.

On another small-town Alaska note, cycling is growing in another of Alaska’s coastal towns. The Seward City News recently posted an article, “Gas Sucks, Rode A Bike,” that discussed the growing number of cyclists in the Kenai Peninsula community. Many of the new cyclists are buying bikes in response to the high price of gas, but some are riding for health reasons.

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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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If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember walking or biking to school every day. As recently as 1969, more than half of all U.S. students walked or biked to get to school each morning. Now that percentage is less than 15 percent, and in some areas of the country it is against local laws or school district policies (students have to take the bus or be driven to school by their parents).

That’s why today, Wednesday, Oct. 6, is so important. Today is International Walk (or Bike) to School Day, and schools all over Alaska, the United States and in the rest of the world are promoting students walking or biking to school.

Local schools will hold a variety of promotions, including walking school buses (where students walk to school together with parents as a group), bike trains and the like. In addition to presentations on biking and walking safety, schools will distribute reflectives and other safety equipment. They also might offer door prizes to students who walk or bike to school, or there might be a special breakfast or lunch. Parents can get involved by participating in walkability studies around their local schools to see what barriers and safety issues need to be addressed to get more students walking or biking.

Why is it so important to get kids walking and biking to school again? For one, there has been a sharp rise in childhood obesity and that has resulted in more cases of Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) appearing in teenagers and even young children. Besides helping improve our children’s health, getting them walking and biking helps them reconnect to our communities and the land. There also is improved air quality, since fewer students rely on the bus or cars to get to school, and routes to school tend to be safer when more students walk or bike to school. One of the biggest issues is changing the culture to promote walking and biking to school, and according to this article in Grist, that starts with the parents.

The International Walk (or Bike) To School Day site for the U.S. lists schools in Anchorage, Wasilla, Cordova, Seward and Tok as places in Alaska with events scheduled today, and there are many more events that aren’t posted on the site. Some events are tied in with education projects, such as one as Anchorage’s Kasuun Elementary School called “Exercise your right to read,” where students are trying to walk/bike 26 miles over a period of time and read 26 minutes a day. There also is a statewide School Health and Wellness Institute meeting in Anchorage today, and many of the state’s injury prevention and health promotion workers at the event will go to Scenic Park Elementary School to assist with its program today.

Since today is International Walk (or Bike) to School Day, people may wonder if it’s too late to stage an event. In many communities, they are making this a year-long event and not linking it to just one day. The CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program has the Kids Walk To School campaign, which includes many of the concepts of International Walk (or Bike) to School Day.

The Safe Routes To School program, which has statewide and national initiatives, promotes International Walk (or Bike) to School Day in Alaska, and it also promotes community design to make walking and biking a year-long event. The program offers tools for parents who want to make their children’s routes to school safer, and it also offers grants to help them promote safe walking and biking to school.

Another good resource is the Safe Kids USA program’s “Safe Kids Walk This Way” initiative, which focuses on injury prevention. The WalkScore.com site is a good resource for checking out the walkability of your neighborhood.

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Congratulations to the Southcentral Foundation and the Providence Alaska Medical Center, which became Alaska’s third and fourth businesses to win a Bicycle Friendly Business Award from the League of American Bicyclists. Southcentral Foundation, a regional tribal health organization based in Anchorage, won a silver level Bicycle Friendly Business Award when the Fall 2010 winners were announced on Thursday, Sept. 23, at the Interbike Trade Show in Las Vegas, Nev. Providence Alaska Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, was awarded a bronze level award.

“Bicycle Friendly Businesses are innovative businesses that demonstrate their commitment to encouraging healthy lifestyles, creating more affordable transportation, and leading the way in sustainable business practices and environmental stewardship,” said Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists. Since the BFB program started in 2008, there have been 196 businesses in 31 states to win the award.

The Bicycle Friendly Business awards program is part of the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly America program, which also includes the Bicycle Friendly Community, Bicycle Friendly State and starting this fall a new Bicycle Friendly University program. The Bicycle Friendly America programs are designed to help promote cycling in the United States through education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement and evaluation (aka, the Five E’s).

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) has adopted several innovations to get its employees biking to work. SCF recently built a locking cage at a campus parking garage so employees can store their bikes while they work. SCF also built biking to work into its annual employee wellness plan, and employees who participate in National Bike to Work Day are treated to breakfast, a bike blessing, complimentary massages, a live band, pizza party and games for the family after work. The number of employees participating in National Bike to Work Day has increased 75 percent since 2008, and more than 15 percent of employees now ride their bikes to work during the summer months.

“Southcentral Foundation is making simple changes to their transportation policies to encourage biking to work,” Clarke said. “They are setting a community-wide example.”

Specific details were not available for Providence Alaska Medical Center’s award, but the health organization has been active in many bicycle activities such as Anchorage’s community celebration of National Bike to Work Day. Providence also serves as the lead agency for the Safe Kids Alaska childhood injury prevention program that supplies bike helmets to the Municipality of Anchorage to distribute to children whose families can’t afford one (Anchorage has a bike helmet ordinance for kids).

In Fall 2009, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC, which shares a campus with SCF) won a gold level award and Green Star Inc. won a bronze level award to become Alaska’s first Bicycle Friendly Businesses. Alaska also has two Bicycle Friendly Community award-winners — Sitka in Spring 2008 and Anchorage in Fall 2009. In the 2010 state ranking list for the Bicycle Friendly States program, Alaska was 39th out of the 50 states.

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Lucas Wilcox poses with some of the gold-and-blue bikes available for student, faculty and staff use at the parking lot entrance of Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky/Homer News)

Lucas Wilcox poses with some of the gold-and-blue bikes available for student, faculty and staff use at the parking lot entrance of Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky/Homer News)

There’s a nice story in the Homer News this week about a new bike-lending program at the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage.

The program is sponsored by the Kachemak Bay Campus Student Association and coordinated by Lucas Wilcox, who spent the past couple of years watching for repairable bikes at the Salvation Army that he could fix up for the program. The goal is to get campus visitors out of their cars and using a transportation mode that doesn’t use oil. Most car trips in America are less than two miles, so making bikes available is a good, healthy way to cut down on the campus’ carbon footprint.

Each of the bikes has been painted blue and gold (the team colors for Homer High School), and then conveniently parked at various locations around campus for students, faculty and other campus employees to use when they need to get around campus. Right now the program has a dozen bikes and so far three have been placed in a bike rack near the main entrance to the campus, and several other bikes are kept in reserve to use as back-ups should one of the others break down or disappear.

“I proposed it to the student government and everybody said, ‘Good idea. You should do that.’ So, I said all right I would,” Wilcox said. “Slowly but surely, I bought bicycles from the Salvation Army and fixed them up and painted them.”

Each bike also is outfitted with equipment obtained through Derek Reynolds of Cycle Logical (a Homer bike store) that records mileage and allows Wilcox to estimate the amount of petroleum products the bikes are saving. Before the first week of the semester had ended, the bikes had been ridden 10 miles.

Carol Swartz, campus director, said the bike-lending program is a match for the campus and student association’s goals.

“The student association is thrilled that the project is completed,” Swartz said about seeing the program in use. “It’s part of the campus’ long-term sustainability plan. The student association identified it as a priority to offer KBC students to help reduce the amount of time they need to drive their cars around town or between the east and west campuses.”

Wilcox said he hopes to expand the program to Homer High School and the KPC Kenai River Campus. He also is thinking about adding studded tires to the bikes for winter-time use.

For more information about KBC’s bike-lending program, or to make donations of bicycles or bicycle parts, call Wilcox at 299-6644 or e-mail him at wilcoxschool@live.com.

(Editor’s note: On Sept. 21, USA Today ran an article about bike-sharing programs on college campuses, and the University of Alaska Anchorage is mentioned in the article.)

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Since 2003, cities and towns across the United States have been able to apply for Bicycle Friendly Community awards offered through the League of American Bicyclists.

Starting in November, American cities and towns will be able to apply for Walk Friendly Community awards through a new program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. The new program will be maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, with the support of 17 national partner organizations.

According to the Walk Friendly Communities website:

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments. The WFC program will recognize communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

The new program currently is in its second round of pilot testing with five unnamed communities selected in July. The first round of testing featured three communities of varying demographics — a small town (Cedarburg, Wis.), a small town with a college and commuter population (Davidson, N.C.), and a large city (Orlando, Fla.).

The Walk Friendly Community program will borrow heavily from the Bicycle

Roof supports and a narrow sidewalk make for tight passage by Brenner's Store in downtown Sitka, especially on cruise days during the summer.

Roof supports and a narrow sidewalk make for tight passage by Brenner's Store in downtown Sitka, especially on cruise days during the summer.

Friendly Community award program, which already has been adapted to create a Bicycle Friendly Business, Bicycle Friendly State and, announced just this week, a new Bicycle Friendly University award program (by the way, 18 new and eight renewing Bicycle Friendly Community awards were announced on Wednesday).

The Walk Friendly Community program will use the same 5 E’s model used by the Bicycle Friendly Community program (Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation), in addition to other elements that affect a community’s walkability such as city planning and Complete Streets designs. Each of the 5 E’s heads a section where communities answer a series of questions about that topic within the application. By answering the questions using the 5 E’s model, communities are able to discover any barriers to walking that exist in their town and what they also learn what they do well when it comes to making it easier for residents to walk around town.

The 59-page Walk Friendly Communities Assessment Tool (see attached PDF file below) was released on Sept. 1 and will serve as the rough draft for the new program’s application, which will be filled out and turned in online. Even though the new program hasn’t been launched yet, there already are a multitude of excellent resources posted on the program’s website to help communities evaluate their community walkability rating.

Several communities won’t earn the Walk Friendly Community award on their first application, but the application is designed to help communities develop and document their pedestrian safety and encouragement plans. Only about a third of the more than 400 communities that have applied for Bicycle Friendly Community status earned awards at one of the five levels of that program. But completing the application served as a community learning process and that helped even non-winning communities improve their support and infrastructure for biking and walking.

Sitka and Anchorage already have earned Bicycle Friendly Community bronze awards, so they may be ahead of the game among Alaska communities when the Walk Friendly Community applications finally are released. But Alaska communities have some of the highest rates of walking in the country when it comes to walking to work and school, despite our snowy and icy winters, so this new program may be a perfect fit for many Alaska towns.

• Walk Friendly Communities Assessment Tool (released Sept. 1, 2010)

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