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Alaska was listed in 36th place when the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) released its 2017 Bicycle Friendly State rankings in mid-October.

The Bicycle Friendly State ranking provides a ranking for all 50 states based on four public data sources and a Bicycle Friendly State survey that is answered by each state’s Department of Transportation and/or a statewide bicycle advocacy organization. Each state is ranked in five categories — infrastructure and funding, education and encouragement, legislation and enforcement, policies and programs, and evaluation and planning.

The 2017 rank of 36th is within the normal range for Alaska, which typically ranks in the 30-40 range in this annual survey of bike advocates. In the last ranking in 2015 (there was no ranking in 2016), Alaska ranked 41st. Alaska’s top ranking was 29th in 2011 and its worst ranking was 47th in 2009. There have been several changes to the ranking system over the years, which caused some large rises and falls in the rankings.

The 2017 Bicycle Friendly State ranking includes a ranking of each state, but crucially also includes a report card summarizing the data analyzed for each state and giving comparisons and feedback meant to help states, citizens, and advocates better understand where each state can improve.

According to Alaska’s scorecard, “Alaska is a unique state, large and largely rural. Alaska typically has higher per capita transportation spending and their data on biking and walking reflects this as well, easily being the highest per capita spending figure in the United States, despite Alaska spending a smaller percentage of federal funds on biking and walking than average. Each category reflects that Alaska does not have much supportive policy infrastructure to ensure the safety and mobility of people who bike. This may reflect the uniqueness of Alaska, which may make it more difficult to adapt successful policies and practices from more urban or more compact states. However, the state would benefit from a plan for promoting the safety and mobility of people who bike in Alaska in a way that is geared towards the unique characteristics of Alaska and takes advantage of the tourism potential and already relatively high percentage of the population that bikes to work. The experiences of states like Vermont (#14) and Maine (#17) may be instructive.”

In the five categories, Alaska ranked 37th in infrastructure and funding and in evaluation and planning, 45th in policies and programs, 47th in education and encouragement, and 50th (last) in legislation and policies. Alaska was able to move up in the overall rankings because it ranked first in spending ($9.71 per capita in Federal Highway Authority spending on biking and walking), sixth in ridership (1.0 percent statewide commute to work by bike, 5.42 percent in Sitka), and 12th in safety (3.9 fatalities per 10,000 bike commuters).

The Bicycle Friendly State rankings are part of the Bicycle Friendly America program (click Alaska on map to see list of awards) from the League of American Bicyclists. Alaska has three official Bicycle Friendly Communities (Sitka at the Silver level, Anchorage at Silver, and Juneau at Bronze, plus Fairbanks is honorable mention). There are 10 Bicycle Friendly Businesses in Alaska ranking from Bronze to Gold level (nine are in Anchorage and the Bronze-level SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium-Sitka Campus is the only one outside Anchorage). The University of Alaska Fairbanks (Silver) is Alaska’s only Bicycle Friendly University.

• 2017 Bicycle Friendly State scorecard for Alaska

•Guide to the 2017 Bicycle Friendly State report card

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WalkToSchoolDay_HomepageMapNot too long ago, most of us walked or biked to school. But now, most kids arrive at school via their parents’ cars or school buses. Wednesday, Oct. 4, is International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, and Sitka parents and teachers are encouraged to help their schoolchildren walk to school on this day.

In 1970, more than half of all elementary school students ages 6-11 walked to school. By 2006, only 15 percent were walking to school. Alarmed by this trend, a group called the Partnership for a Walkable America started National Walk To School Day in 1997 as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. In 2000, the event became international when the UK and Canada (both of which had already been promoting walking to school) and the USA joined together for the first International Walk to School Day. In addition to expanding into several other countries, the dates also have expanded and October is International Walk To School Month.

“Walking or biking to school is an excellent way to add some physical activity into your day,” said Doug Osborne, Sitka Community Hospital Director of Health Promotion. “It can be a great way to start the day. Walking or biking can be a lot of fun. It’s also important to remember to be safe.”

WBTSD_12inch_ColorWalking or biking to school with their children is a good way for parents to catch up on what’s happening in their children’s lives. Other benefits to walking or biking to school include less traffic, cleaner air, and friendlier communities. Walking with their children is a good way for parents see if there are things along the route that can be done to improve safety, such as improving lighting, checking crosswalks and watching for aggressive pets along the route.

International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day is a great teaching tool for safety. Parents and teachers can teach the kids about road safety rules and the importance of being visible when they walk or bike alongside the roads. They also can check their kids’ clothes and backpacks to make sure they have reflective tape on them.

Reflectors Save Lives posterReflective tape is particularly important as we enter the dark months of the winter. Students need to Be Safe, Be Seen, and reflective tape can make a big difference in their visibility. Not only are kids sometimes hard to be seen because they’re blocked by cars, but many cars in Southeast Alaska experience condensation problems during the fall and winter that make it hard to see through windshields. Reflective tape and blinking lights can make it so kids are seen hundreds of feet before they would be if they wore plain dark clothes. The Alaska Injury Prevention Center’s pedestrian safety program will mail free reflective tape to people who call (907) 929-3939. The Alaska Injury Prevention Center also produced a YouTube video that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see.

To learn more about International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, contact your local school to see if any events are scheduled, or check with the Alaska Safe Routes To School program. The official International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day website also has a lot of information about how to set up an event for your school, including tool kits to help you arrange an event. Even if your kids don’t walk the entire way to school, you can drop them off a mile or so away and walk in with them. Many parents create walking school buses to bring several students who live in the same area to school together in one group.

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Cyclists of all ages are invited to join Sitka’s third “Kidical Mass” family bike ride, which is scheduled to start at the playground/tennis courts across from Sheldon Jackson Campus at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16.

The group will bike to Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, where there will be complimentary pedal-powered smoothies, door prizes and fun activities. There also will be free bike safety checks and helmet-fitting before the ride starts, so get to the playground/tennis courts early.

Each participant will need a bike, a helmet (Sitka has a youth helmet ordinance for everybody age 18 or younger), and an adult (or kid-at-heart) to ride with. Kidical Mass events encourage family participation and teaching young riders bike safety on the road. We will have a few new helmets available for those who need them.

Kidical Mass is a legal, safe and FUN bike ride for kids, kids at heart, and their families. The first ride was held in 2008 in Eugene, Ore., and has now spread to dozens of communities throughout North America and beyond. Kidical Mass rides encourage safe riding for kids and families, with education about how to safely ride on the roads.

Sept. 16 has been dubbed “Kidical Massive” by the Oregon organizers, who are calling for Kidical Mass rides in dozens of communities that they estimate will be the biggest global family bike ride ever. Sitka hosted its first Kidical Mass event as part of Kidical Massive in 2015, and you can see photos by clicking this link. Sitka’s second Kidical Mass ride was in 2016, and photos can be found here.

Local organizers include the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition4-HUAF Cooperative Extension Service Sitka District OfficeSitka Conservation SocietyBig Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, and Sitka Community Hospital.  For more information, call Doug Osborne at 747-0373.

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The Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition will meet from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1, at the North Sister Crepes and Juice Company (located on Seward Street next to Subway). Please note this is a change of date since first announced.

The monthly meeting is open to everyone interested in making Sitka an even better town for cyclists of all ages. Topics include planning for the Kidical Mass family friendly bike ride on Sept. 16 and an update on the two hospital fitness/walk and bike challenges in August.

For more information, call Doug Osborne at 747-0373.

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Commuting by bicycle or on foot is an economical and environmentally responsible way to simultaneously meet your needs for transportation, physical activity and fun all in one! In the month of August, Sitka Community Hospital will hold a summer fitness challenge encouraging Sitka residents to leave the car behind and instead enjoy a walk or bike ride as they do their regular errands and commutes.

Sitka residents can start logging trips at any point to be eligible for weekly drawing by completing one or more non-motorized transportation trips a week. On Tuesdays, starting on Aug. 8, one local resident will be selected to win a $100 gift certificate to a local business, the second-place winner will get a free class at the Hames Center. Cyclists or walkers who participate in all four weeks of the challenge will be entered into the grand prize drawing.

“Sitka really is a great place to experience on foot or bike and because we are compact, have courteous drivers, and a mild climate it’s possible to combine exercise with basic commuting. Every day lots of people in Sitka are doing just that,” Sitka Community Hospital Director of Health Promotion Doug Osborne said.

Participants can enter online at http://bit.ly/walkbikesitka  or drop off a hard copy at the Hames Center, Sitka Public Library, Sitka Public Health Center or Oceanside Therapy Center.

For more information, visit sitkahospital.org or call 747-0373.

• Sitka Community Hospital Active August Challenge Brochure 2017

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The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) is launching the Southeast Wellness in Action fitness program, which takes place from Aug. 1-27 in several communities throughout the region.

The goal of the program is for people to get at least 30 minutes of healthy, physical activity each day during August. Participants are encouraged to walk, bike, swim, hike, dance, mow the lawn, play children’s games, garden, gather subsistence food, chop wood, etc., just get moving. There are 1,440 minutes in a day, so make 30 of them active.

Participants can register by going to http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/wellness-in-action or contacting their local SEARHC Health Educator (in Sitka, contact Heleena vanVeen at 966-8914 or heleenav@searhc.org) between July 17-28. The program also is available in Juneau, Kake, Klukwan, Klawock/Craig, and Haines (click this link for local contacts and program information). Participants will submit a weekly activity log to their local contact by noon on Monday to be included in weekly drawings for prizes.

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The Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition will meet from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, July 21, at the North Sister Crepes and Juice Company (located on Seward Street next to Subway). Please note this is a change of location from where we usually meet.

The monthly meeting is open to everyone interested in making Sitka an even better town for cyclists of all ages. Topics include planning for the commuter bike portion of a summer fitness challenge that starts in August.

For more information, call Doug Osborne at 747-0373.

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