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Archive for the ‘safety’ Category

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 Municipality of Anchorage will close a mile-long section of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail starting Monday, Aug. 1, so it can begin making the first significant repairs to the trail since it was built back in the 1980s. The closure is expected to last about a week.

The trail will be closed from Milepost 4.1 to 5.1, a section of trail that starts at Point Woronzof near the end of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport runways, wraps around the Anchorage Waste Water Utility sewage treatment plant, then continues along the bluffs toward Kincaid Park. Due to the remote location of the repairs and proximity to the airport, there will be no detours and cyclists, hikers and other trail users are encouraged to find other routes during the closure.

The trail is being closed so it can be leveled and resurfaced, since several large “alligator cracks” have developed which can be dangerous to users. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the repairs will cost about $80,000 and will be funded by the Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department’s regular budget. This launches a multi-year project to rehabilitate the entire Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

• Municipality of Anchorage press release about the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail repairs

• Municipality of Anchorage flier/map about the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail repairs

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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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While there hasn’t been a vulnerable roadway user bill introduced in Alaska yet, the concept is gaining momentum nationwide.

Three states already have vulnerable user laws on the books (Oregon’s took effect in 2008, and Delaware’s and New York’s took effect this year), and more states are introducing the bills. Vulnerable roadway user bills mandate stiff fines, loss of license and/or other penalties when the driver of a motorized vehicle severely injures or kills a pedestrian, bicyclist, wheelchair user, motorcyclist or construction worker.

On Monday, April 18, Washington’s State Senate voted 44-2 to accept House amendments to SB 5326, its version of a vulnerable user bill that now goes to Gov. Christine Gregoire for her signature. Cycling and walking advocates in Washington have been trying to pass a vulnerable user bill for three years, but the bill usually ended up dying in committee. This year the Senate and House both passed their own versions of the bill by large margins, then the Senate bill crossed over to receive House approval (with amendments) and now can go to the governor.

“The real crux of this bill is that outcomes matter,” David Hiller of the Cascade Bicycle Club told the Sammamish Patch website. “A DUI with a death is not a DUI with a tragic outcome; it’s vehicular manslaughter. If you have an unsecured load in your vehicle, it’s simply an infraction; but if you kill someone, it’s a felony.”

Image from sharethedamnroad.com/

Image from sharethedamnroad.com/

Possible fines would range from $1,000 to $5,000, and drivers charged under the bill would lose their licenses for 90 days. A driver could reduce the fine to $250 by showing up in court, completing a traffic safety course, and doing 100 hours of community service.

“It will hopefully encourage people to behave more responsibly around populations that are defined as vulnerable,” Hiller told Sammamish Patch, although “we’ll have to watch it closely to see if it has its desired effect.”

New Mexico also had a vulnerable user bill moving through its state legislature, and HB 68 even passed unanimously in the House (68-0). Unfortunately the bill died in a Senate committee and won’t make it to the governor’s desk this year. Even if a bill passes, New Mexico bike/pedestrian advocates worry about a possible veto from Gov. Susana Martinez, who already vetoed SB 124, a bill that would have given New Mexico the nation’s first statewide five-foot passing law (Albuquerque and Los Alamos have local five-foot passing laws) that passed the House and Senate with relative ease.

According to the League of American Bicyclists blog, on April 11 the Maryland State Senate passed HB 363, which creates a new misdemeanor level offense: vehicular negligent homicide. This closes a loophole that had let negligent drivers off with mere traffic fines for killing other road users, while still allowing for felony level charges to be brought in instances of gross negligence such as  drunk driving. Guilty drivers will face up to 3 years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. According to the Baltimore Sun, the House accepted the one Senate amendment to the bill and it has been sent to the governor to be signed.

Vulnerable user bills with varying language also were introduced in the Rhode Island, Connecticut, Nevada, Michigan, Massachusetts and other states. In other states, such as Florida, recent fatal “accidents” involving cars/trucks and cyclists/pedestrians have led to a demand for vulnerable user bills. In February, Dan DeWitt of the St. Petersburg Times wrote this column promoting a vulnerable user law for Florida in response to a recent series of fatal wrecks in the Tampa area (at least 15 cyclists killed since mid-2010). A similar series of deaths in Wisconsin during 2010 prompted Tom Held of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to write this appeal for a Wisconsin vulnerable user bill on Sunday.

In 2009, the Texas Legislature overwhelmingly passed a vulnerable user bill (25-5 in the Senate, 140-5 in the House), but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it after the legislative session ended and the legislature wasn’t able to get back together to override the veto. Now, several Texas communities are bypassing Perry’s veto by passing localized vulnerable user laws. Earlier this month, Denton became the eighth Texas community to pass a local vulnerable user law.

For those wanting to learn more about vulnerable user laws, Ray Thomas of the Portland law firm, Swanson, Thomas and Coon, played a large role in crafting Oregon’s bill, which has become the model for many states. Thomas’ law firm’s website has a page devoted to vulnerable user laws and also posted a YouTube video. There have been similar laws on the books in many European countries.

One reason for vulnerable user laws is recent research shows the vast majority of car-bicycle wrecks occur at the fault of the driver, not the cyclist (at fault fewer than 10 percent of the time in one study by Charles Komanoff and the Right of Way organization of New York). Cyclists, pedestrians and others are the most vulnerable because there is no protective metal shell around them like there is in a car.

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(Reprinted from the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage site)

The Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage (BCA) has been coordinating with Lori Schanche and Jon Spring, the drafters of the Anchorage Bike Plan, to identify top projects for implementation of the bike plan. We are seeking your input on what those projects are. To help identify these projects, we have set out the following criteria that we ask you keep in mind while filling the very short survey out:
(1) improving connectivity for major bike routes

(2) providing a safe and comfortable route for those new to bike commuting (routes that utilize streets with less motor vehicle traffic and slower speed limits).

(3) projects that are not costly (i.e projects that mainly require new painting, striping, marking and signage).

(4) projects that can be implemented relatively quickly to improve bicycle route connectivity, convenience, comfort and safety.

Please take the survey by Monday, Dec. 13. You may want to also take a look at the proposed routes from the recently approved Anchorage Bike Plan (file downloads as PDF) to see where these projects are.  If you have questions about a particular route, you can find more information about each project in Table 6 of the Bike Plan on Page 60 (file downloads as PDF).  If you see a proposed route that is not identified in our survey please let us know what that route is in the second survey question.

This information will be passed along to the Alaska Department of Transportation in an upcoming meeting. You can find the survey here:   BCA Bike Survey

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A winter bicyclist rides down 10th Avenue in Anchorage near the Delaney Park Strip during November 2009

A winter bicyclist rides down 10th Avenue in Anchorage near the Delaney Park Strip during November 2009

Kristi Wood and Brian Litmans from Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage recently sent out this update about the Title 9 rewrite issue Anchorage cyclists were having with the Anchorage Police Department. Our two previous stories about the Title 9 issue are linked here and here. It looks like most of the safety issues have been resolved in favor of the cyclists and pedestrians who use the bike trails, sidewalks and other separated paths. For more information, here is the letter Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage (BCA) sent to members and posted on its website:

Since the summer of 2009, BCA has been working to ensure that the Title 9 rewrite is sensible and provides adequate protections for bicyclists. Title 9 is the Municipality of Anchorage Traffic Code, providing the rules and regulations of the road and it is going through a major update that, in the near future, will be reviewed and eventually approved by the Assembly.

When the initial proposed changes were released, BCA became concerned about one rule in particular because it placed bicyclists in a dangerous predicament.  The proposed change sought to require bicyclists utilizing sidewalks to yield to motor-vehicle traffic when crossing driveways, intersections or crosswalks. The underlying reason for the change was that one of our most common crash scenarios is when bicyclists traveling on sidewalks are hit by motorists.  When a bicyclist on a sidewalk approaches an intersection traveling quickly, it gives the motorist little time to react. But that is only part of the problem. The other aspect of these crash scenarios is that motorists just aren’t looking for bicycle (or pedestrian) traffic when coming out of driveways, parking lots or intersections.

Anchorage Police Department’s (APD) original proposed language to change Title 9 would have taken an auto-centric approach placing all duties and responsibilities upon the bicyclist and turned the classic “yield to the more vulnerable user” system on its head, requiring bicyclists to yield to motorists. It could have led to situations where the bicyclist would be liable for damage due to a motorist while they lie on the sidewalk injured, or even worse in a hospital, simply because they were traveling on the sidewalk and crossing an intersection or driveway without yielding.

BCA worked tirelessly behind the scenes to search for sensible and safe alternatives.  We have spoken with bicycle attorneys from across the country. We have researched language in all 50 states to see how others address bicycle use on sidewalks (hint – not one state requires bicyclists to yield to cars). In August, BCA put the APD in touch with an expert in the field, Preston Tyree.  Preston Tyree is the Director of Education for the League of American Bicyclists and was brought up to Alaska by BCA to provide a 20-hour course where graduates would then become League-certified bicycling instructors.  Preston provided examples from other states that have worked to find a solution to the problems posed when bicyclists are on sidewalks.

Over the Fall, BCA worked closely with APD to reach consensus. The result is that bicyclists do not have to yield to motorists when traveling on sidewalks but they do have to approach driveways, parking lot entrances and exits, curb cuts and street intersections at a reasonable and prudent speed and they have to slow down to a reasonable and prudent speed when passing pedestrians.  So what does that all really mean? It means you should be able to stop if you see that the motorist has no intention of stopping and yielding to you, or if you see that the motorist clearly isn’t looking in your direction, and you should be able to avoid hitting a pedestrian if they make a quick turn or stop.
BCA’s first priority is making Anchorage safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and we feel the revised language meets those needs.  It is a good law because it protects bicyclists without being overly burdensome.

BCA is also very excited with the other improvements to Title 9 that we pushed for, including the revision of the code to provide a three foot passing zone for bicyclists. Throughout the Nation, states and cities have been passing the “3 foot rule.” This safe passing distance helps motorists know what a safe passing space is.

BCA would like to thank APD for their sincere efforts to work closely with the bicycling community to find a solution we can support. We also want to thank all the BCA supporters who contacted the Anchorage Assembly and the Public Safety Committee last summer to tell them what you thought of the proposed language.  That effort led to placing the Title 9 rewrite on hold while the Anchorage Police Department reviewed the language and looked for alternatives with BCA, and is in large part the reason we can now strongly support the changes to Title 9.

We have worked hard to get changes that protect bicyclists. But it is really up to you. Following the rules of the road is the key to staying safe. And it helps motorists respect the cycling community in general.

You can view the new language on our website. The Anchorage Assembly wants to complete the Title 9 rewrite, and plans on a December vote. We look forward to a successful conclusion of our collective effort to making Anchorage more bicycle-friendly.

Thanks again for all your support. All those emails and letters you wrote, and those phone calls you made, are what made this possible.

Kristi Wood and Brian Litmans
You can find the proposed changes here: Title 9 Bicycle Update – proposed changes (opens as PDF file).

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