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Archive for January, 2015

WinterBikeToWorkDay2015Flier

WinterBiketoWorkDay2015Sitka cyclists are hardy souls, and many of us ride our bikes all year round, not just in the summer. Now Sitka cyclists can ride and win prizes by participating in International Winter Bike To Work Day on Friday, Feb. 13.

This is the third year of International Winter Bike To Work Day, which started when several communities in Canada challenged each other to see which one could have the highest number of bike commuters. Last year the event expanded, and Sitka and Anchorage hosted events along with several other communities around the world’s polar regions. Sitka ended up having the second-highest number of participants per capita, trailing only Oulu, Finland. We also were the smallest community to have at least 20 participants.

Our celebration of winter cycling in Sitka will be simple. First, go to the International Winter Bike To Work Day website, http://winterbiketoworkday.org/, and commit to riding to work or school on Friday, Feb. 13 (people who work at home can use a bike ride for errands or sport as their bike commute). Then, on Friday, Feb. 13, during your bike commute, stop by the Yellow Jersey Cycle Shop (329 Harbor Dr.) between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to enter your name and phone number in a contest to win prizes.

We encourage all cyclists to be safe in their rides. They should wear helmets, wear bright reflective clothes, and have working solid white headlights in front and blinking red taillights in back. They also should follow all rules of the road, such as riding on the right side of the road (not on the sidewalk) and stopping at all stop lights/stop signs.

We are still gathering door prizes, and businesses or people wanting to donate door prizes to the event can contact Charles Bingham at 738-8875 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com for more information. We are looking for items such as gloves, reflective safety vests, water bottles, helmets, etc., although some businesses donated gift cards or non-biking and non-winter items last year.

Cyclists in the 2012 Sitka Winter Cycling Celebration ride on Harbor Drive underneath the O'Connell Bridge.

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RepAndyJosephson

Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage)

As the new state legislative session opens, there is a bill Alaska’s bikers and walkers should follow. Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, has introduced a bill that enhances penalties for reckless driving as a way to increase driver awareness of pedestrians and bicyclists. The bill, HB7, establishes a new charge of reckless driving in the first degree and provides punishment as a class C felony.

While not named as such, this is one of Alaska’s first attempts to pass what’s known as a vulnerable roadway user law, which offers protection through increased driver penalties to pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users, construction workers, and others who may be in a roadway for legitimate reasons. In recent years Oregon, Delaware, New York and Washington have passed vulnerable user laws, which are common throughout northern Europe.

“Reckless driving is commonly a fairly insignificant misdemeanor,” Rep. Josephson said in a press release. “Once this legislation is approved and implemented, there would be a more aggravated reckless driving penalty that would give prosecutors options when charging someone who has injured or killed a biker or walker.”

Last year was a tough year to be a pedestrian in Alaska, as there were 13 deaths statewide due to vehicle-pedestrian collisions — 14 if you count a man in Kake who was involved in a hit-and-run incident in November but didn’t die until Christmas Eve (this incident wasn’t in the statewide stats because it’s still under investigation). There also were three deaths in vehicle-bicycle collisions in 2014. Alaska has the highest percentage of people who walk to work in the nation (8.0 percent compared to 2.8 percent), but we also rank third in pedestrian fatalities, according to this report.

Rep. Josephson noted the recent deaths in the sponsor statement for HB7:

House Bill 7: Pedestrian Safety Bill

House Bill 7 aims to increase driver awareness of pedestrians and bicyclists through enhanced penalties for reckless driving. HB7 would establish a new reckless driving in the first degree and provide for punishment as a class C felony. While vehicle-on-person offenses can presently be charged as felony assaults, this new crime would allow for alternative elements reflecting the criminal act. This would give discretion to prosecutors as to how and what to charge for the offense at issue.

There were 65 fatal traffic crashes in Alaska in 2014 that resulted in 70 fatalities (some crashes resulted in multiple deaths). There were 13 pedestrian fatalities and three bicyclist fatalities, which makes up 22.9% of all traffic fatalities last year. Since 2010, there have been 50 pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities making up 16.2% of all fatal traffic crashes.

Current statutes on reckless driving will serve as the foundation for reckless driving in the second degree, while reckless driving in the first degree will be a new crime. A person will commit the crime of reckless driving in the first degree if they are guilty of reckless driving and, as a result, a pedestrian or bicyclist suffers physical injuries.

As the state continues to grow, pedestrian and bicyclist presence will only increase, which could lead to an increase in fatalities amongst these groups. Added to this is an increase in walkability and bikeability, spawned by both a desire for physical fitness and a reduction of our carbon footprint. By increasing the penalties for dangerous practices behind the wheel, drivers will have to become more aware of their surroundings, leading to an overall increase in safe driving.

I invite you to discuss this issue with me further and urge you to support this legislation.

A recent story from Anchorage shows why HB7 is needed. Even though a driver tested positive for marijuana, cocaine and heroin, prosecutors chose not to charge her with vehicular homicide because the man she killed had a blood-alcohol level more than five times the legal limit. Instead, she is only being charged with operating under the influence, having a suspended license, and no insurance.

In another case in 2014, a driver who hit and killed a bicyclist wasn’t charged at all, even though his blood test showed he’d smoked pot that day and he was speeding. Walking and biking in Alaska can be dangerous, and, as one columnist writing about this incident wrote, “You need to treat motor vehicles like they’re trying to kill you, because if you don’t, they just might.”

In this age of distracted driving (put away your cellphones) HB7 might be what it takes to make drivers slow down and pay attention to the road.

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