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Archive for the ‘walkability’ Category

The Municipality of Anchorage has a world-class trail system, and over the next few weeks Anchorage will host four public meetings/open houses to work on an update of the Anchorage Trails Plan.

The Anchorage Trails Plan is the third part of Anchorage’s larger Non-Motorized Transportation Plan, which also includes the Anchorage Pedestrian Plan (adopted in October 2007) and the Anchorage Bicycle Plan (adopted in March 2010). The last time the Anchorage Trails Plan was updated was 1997.

According to AMATS/Transportation Planner Erika McConnell, the Municipality of Anchorage has been contacting local trail user groups to provide them with information and have them complete a survey about the plan. A list of the groups already contacted (bicycle, hiking, running, equestrian, sled dogs, ski, skijoring, snowmachine, water/canoe/kayak, etc.) is available on the Transportation Planning/AMATS Anchorage Trails Plan website, and the site encourages other trail groups to contact the Municipality to be included in the process.

The four public meetings/open houses are scheduled for:

  • Anchorage Bowl (#1) — Thursday, April 26, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Wendler Middle School, 2905 Lake Otis Parkway (south of Northern Lights Blvd)
  • Anchorage Bowl (#2) — Tuesday, May 1, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Spring Hill Elementary School, 9911 Lake Otis Parkway (south of Abbott Rd)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River — Thursday, May 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m., C-ER Community Room, Eagle River Town Center, 12001 Business Blvd
  • Girdwood — Monday, May 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Girdwood Community Room, Girdwood Library

The Anchorage Trails Plan website has links to the 1997 version of the plan, so people can review it before making their suggestions about what needs to be updated. If you have comments about the 1997 version of the plan and what needs to be updated, or if you have any other trails-related comment, please send it to amatsinfo@muni.org.

In an e-mail to members of the Alaska Randonneurs bicycle group, Kevin Turinsky wrote: “As cyclists, runners, skiers, and walkers, we use these trails, and we pay for these trails. Therefore, I encourage you to take an active role in the planning of Anchorage’s network of trails. More than just providing recreational and transportation opportunities to Anchorage residents and visitors, our well planned and maintained trail system benefits the quality of life for all residents. It makes Anchorage a more attractive and vibrant place to live and work, which is an important consideration for new and innovative businesses and employers considering locating here, as well as attracting productive talent to our community.”

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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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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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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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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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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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