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Posts Tagged ‘safety’

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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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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Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer (Juneau Empire photo)

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer (Juneau Empire photo)

Bicycle riders might want to keep an eye on HB 57 (Bicycle Program), a bill filed in the Alaska House of Representatives by Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) and co-sponsored by Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage).

The bill, which Rep. Seaton is calling “Alaska’s Bike Bill,” is “an Act authorizing municipalities and non-profit organizations to sponsor a program to encourage the safe use of bicycles as a mode of transportation, and amending the duties of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to include administration of state funds appropriated for that purpose.”

According to Rep. Seaton’s sponsor statement, the bill creates the Safe Bicycle Ridership grant program for municipalities and non-profits, which will provide increased access to bikes so Alaskans have a choice of transportation modes during an unstable economy with high fuel costs. The House Transportation Committee held a hearing about the bill on Thursday, Feb. 10. The bill also has been assigned to the Finance Committee.

If the bill passes, the Department of Transportation will develop regulations establishing criteria for community grant awards so municipalities and non-profits can propose programs to increase bicycle ridership in their communities. Some of the suggested programs include bike-share programs, safety education, voucher systems or other program variations that meet the unique needs of the community. Rep. Seaton filed a similar bill during the last session (HB 132), but this version (HB 57) doesn’t have the path construction and maintenance sections listed in HB 132 because those items are taken care of by other DOT and Parks and Rec programs.

“The Safe Bicycle Ridership program would give government agencies and non-profits the opportunity to apply for grant monies to promote sage bicycle use with the intent of using it as a mode of transportation,” said Mary Jane Shows, a Legislative Aide for Rep. Seaton. “This could be a non-profit wanting to distribute bicycle helmets to kids who ride their bikes to school, or to educate the public about the proper way to ride on the bike routes. Money also could be used for bike racks or covers for bike racks, etc.”

In his sponsor statement, Rep. Seaton highlighted a program in Juneau called “Bikes, Bikes, Bikes Community Program,” which is a bike-loaner partnership between the City and Borough of Juneau and several local non-profit groups. The program offers a healthy learning environment for youth and, in turn, provides free bikes for community members to use around town. The Zach Gordon Youth Center provides a maintenance room where young adults can learn to fix up and take care of the program’s bikes (they all are painted the same color). Members of the community are encouraged to stop by and borrow a bike as a healthy alternative to moving around Juneau.

To learn more about the bill, or to find out how to testify when it next appears in committee, contact Rep. Seaton’s office at 1-800-665-2689.

In addition to Rep. Seaton’s bill, there are several other bills before the Alaska Legislature of interest to cyclists and pedestrians.

SB 37 (Transportation Infrastructure Fund) has been introduced by Sen. Joe Thomas (R-Fairbanks) to endow a $1 billion transportation infrastructure fund that would be supplemented by state fuel taxes, motor vehicle registration fees and other appropriations to the fund. This bill doesn’t specifically mention bicycles, pedestrians or other alternate forms of transportation, but in one section it does promote public transportation.

Finally, there are four different bills in the State House to ban the use of cell phones while driving — HB 22 (Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau), HB 35 (Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage), HB 68 (Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage) and HB 128 (Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage). The first three bills are somewhat similar as they ban the use of cell phones while driving, except in an emergency or when used in a hands-free mode. Rep. Gardner’s bill prohibits the use of cell phones while driving for minors (the other three apply to drivers of all ages).

Of the four bills, Rep. Muñoz’s bill is given the best chance of advancing, and Rep. Doogan and Rep. Gruenberg acknowledge Rep. Muñoz’s bill has an advantage since she’s in the majority party. Rep. Gruenberg said he plans to make a couple of technical changes to Rep. Muñoz’s bill and co-sponsor it. Cell phone bills have been popular in several state legislatures in recent years, especially as more research shows distracted drivers are as dangerous on the road as drunk drivers.

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