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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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Last week the League of American Bicyclists released the third annual Bicycle Friendly State rankings. Alaska made some improvements, jumping up eight spots to No. 39 in the rankings of all 50 states. The top state for the third year in a row was Washington, followed by Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon.

The eight-spot jump tied with Idaho for the fourth-best improvement this year (Florida and Kansas both improved 20 spots and Tennessee went up 19, followed by Alaska and Idaho at eight spots). In 2009, Alaska ranked a dismal 47th, and in 2008 we ranked 43rd. The rankings are explained in detail by clicking this link, but basically the League of American Bicyclists completed a 95-question survey with the bicycle coordinator of each state, with verification provided by statewide bicycle advocates.

While Alaska did better in the rankings, there still are many improvements the state needs to make when promoting cycling as a viable form of transportation. When you click on the state map on the Bicycle Friendly States site, you see Alaska received three F’s (Legislation, Education and Encouragement, and Enforcement), a D (Policies and Programs) and two C’s (Infrastructure, and Evaluation and Planning) in the six categories used for the rankings. In the rankings for each category, Alaska’s best showing was a tie for 12th in Infrastructure. Alaska tied for 19th in Evaluation and Planning, tied for 25th in Policies and Programs, was 44th in Education, 47th in Legislation and was part of a tie for 50th in Enforcement.

Alaska now has two Bicycle Friendly Community award winners (Sitka and Anchorage), and two Bicycle Friendly Businesses (the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Green Star Inc.), a big change from two years ago when we had no communities or businesses on the list. We’re making strides, but we still have a lot of room for improvement.

Bicycle Friendly State rankings for 2010 (with 2009 and 2008 comparison)

Bicycle Friendly State rankings for 2010 with ranking in each category

Bicycle Friendly State Program “State Summit Guide” featuring best practices from the National Bicycle Summit

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May is National Bike Month, and several Alaska communities have planned a variety of events to help celebrate this national event designed to promote and encourage the use of bikes as a regular form of transportation. In addition, National Bike to Work Week is May 17-21, and National Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 21, so there will be community rides to celebrate those events, too.

The Municipality of Anchorage kicked off the month with a Bike to Work Fashion Show and Festival on May 1. This event was a fun way to get people ready for a month of bike commuting. It featured bike safety workshops, repair and maintenance, information on local bike clubs, bike rentals and tours, and registration for Bike to Work Day. These events are a partnership between the Municipality of Anchorage, State of Alaska, Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, Green Star Inc., the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and Southcentral Foundation.

The Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage will be helping several organizations with National Bike Month and Bike to Work Week/Day activities in Anchorage. BCA also will host its inaugural Bike First Friday on May 7. This is a family event that features a scavenger hunt around town with the finish at the Anchorage Museum. BCA also will host a Bike to Work Day clinic on Wednesday, May 12, to help remind cyclists about the rules of the roads and other safety tips.

Fairbanks will be celebrating its second annual Bike to Work Week (as May 16-22 instead of May 17-21). Participants in the Fairbanks area can log their bike trips each day during the week for a chance to win prizes.

In Juneau, the Juneau Freewheelers will host events for National Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day, but details haven’t been posted on the club’s website yet. Contact numbers are listed on the site, in case there isn’t an update soon. In past years Juneau has had group rides in to town with a stop for breakfast along the way.

In Sitka, there will be a variety of events during the month (see flier next to this paragraph), including a couple of lunch-and-learns at the SEARHC (SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium) S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital and Sitka Community Hospital, the Sitka Bike Rodeo for kids at the U.S. Coast Guard-Air Station Sitka hangar (co-sponsored by the Rotary Club of Sitka), radio interviews, a National Bike to Work Week contest capped off with a National Bike to Work Day pancake breakfast at the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus.

The University of Alaska’s employee wellness program includes National Bike Month information for its campuses in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau, with special events, including group photos and a chance to win massage cards, for National Bike to Work Day on May 21.

Also, if other communities are interested in hosting their own events, they should check out the League of American Bicyclists’ site for National Bike Month. This page also includes promotional materials, radio/TV PSAs and other helpful items for communities wanting to plan National Bike Month and/or Bike to Work Week/Day events.

Bob Laurie, the Statewide Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, compiled a list of talking points with bike safety information and reasons why more people should bike to work or school. That list is posted below as a PDF file. Gov. Sean Parnell also issued a proclamation honoring May as National Bike Month, May 17-21 as National Bike to Work Week and May 21 as National Bike to Work Day.

National Bike Month Talking Points 2010

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