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The inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference takes place June 4-8 in Sitka — Alaska’s only community to hold national Walk Friendly Communities and Bicycle Friendly Community designations.

The conference opens with two days of Smart Cycling training from the League of American Bicyclists, followed by two days of walking and biking presentations. The fifth day includes an optional bike ride, an optional hike with harbor cruise, and a Walk/Bike Alaska organizational meeting. The conference costs $40 for the full conference, or $25 for each two-day segment. People can register at http://akwalkbikeconference.eventsmart.com. The Aspen Suites Hotel, where much of the conference will take place, has a block of rooms reserved for the conference, but will release them to the general public on May 3, so book now.

“Having this conference in Sitka is a great opportunity and I’m particularly excited about the team of speakers we have lined up,” said Doug Osborne, Sitka Community Hospital director of health promotion and one of the conference organizers. “The conference is designed so that people can participate ways that fit their interests and schedule. Some will want to complete the Smart Cycling course on Tuesday and Wednesday, others will enjoy doing the whole four-day conference while many will go for an individual session, a lunch and learn, a late afternoon group ride/walk or one of the evening special events. It’s going to be a fun week with a lot of learning, good discussion, and physical activity along the way.”

“The State of Alaska Physical Activity and Nutrition Program is excited to support the 2019 Walk Bike Conference in Sitka occurring at the same time as the Sitka Summer Music Festival,” said Dawn Groth, who works for the Alaska Division of Public Health’s Chronic Disease and Health Promotion program and is another conference organizer. “Sitka’s recognition as both a walk and bicycle friendly city make Sitka the perfect community to host a walk-bike conference. Building active and walkable communities can help support local economies, reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, and encourage safe walking and biking for all ages. Sitka is an example of a community Sitka is an example of a community working to create activity friendly routes to everyday destinations to encourage active people and a healthy nation.”

Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., shown here with her two sons (now ages 8 and 10), will lead the Smart Cycling training.

Sitka was honored with a Bronze level Walk Friendly Community designation in 2013 and 2017, and earned a Silver level Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2016 (with Bronze level designations in 2008 and 2012). Both designations came out of Sitka Health Summit projects, which also led to the creation of Walk Sitka and the Sitka Cycling Club groups to promote walking and biking in Sitka.

The Smart Cycling training part of the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference is designed to help cyclists feel more comfortable and safer riding in traffic. It also is good for educators (especially physical education teachers), youth leaders, and others who might be leading group bike rides with younger students.

The second two-day segment focuses on the Five E’s (Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation) that are the main components in the Walk Friendly Communities and Bicycle Friendly Community applications. In addition, there will be presentations on the health benefits of active transportation, accommodations needed for the elderly and disabled, how to start a bike school, and how to conduct a walk audit.

Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., who is a League Certified Instructor from the League of American Bicyclists and will lead the Smart Cycling training, will be one of the keynote speakers. She is board president of Trips For Kids Sacramento, a nonprofit that provides bike adventures for underserved youth, and also owns Whimsical Cycle, which promotes riding bikes for everyday transportation.

Lee Hart of Valdez and the Anchorage-based Confluence coalition promoting the outdoor recreation economic sector in Alaska will be a keynote speaker.

Another keynote speaker is Lee Hart of Valdez, who founded an Anchorage-based coalition called Confluence to promote the outdoor recreation economic sector in Alaska. She also founded the Valdez Adventure Alliance which introduced fat-biking and big mountain downhill fat-biking to new riders. Hart spoke about the benefits of outdoor recreation in Sitka in February 2019.

Other speakers include Doug Osborne, Charles Bingham, Holly Marban, Lynne Brandon and Rick Petersen of Sitka; Dawn Groth, Pierce Schwalb, Charlie Lowell and Sarana Schell of Anchorage; and others.

A tentative agenda is posted below. For more information, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 747-0373 or akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com.

• Tentative agenda for 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka (last updated May 30, 2019)

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Are you looking for ways to make Alaska more walking and bicycling friendly? Sitka will host the inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 4-8.

While the agenda is still being finalized (a tentative agenda is posted below), there will be a two-day Smart Cycling class (from the League of American Bicyclists training program), and two days of work sessions about how to be a better bicycling and walking advocate. The last day includes a Saturday hike and bike ride, and maybe a harbor cruise.

Why is this conference in Sitka? Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both a Bicycle Friendly Community designation (Silver) and a Walk Friendly Communities designation (Bronze). This is a chance to see what works in Sitka, and some of the challenges it still faces in its efforts to become more walkable and bikeable.

Prices are low for this event — $25 for the Smart Cycling training on June 4-5, $25 for the Walk/Bike work sessions on June 6-7, or $40 for the whole conference. If we are able to secure the harbor cruise, there probably will be an extra fee for it. There also are special conference rates at the Aspen Hotel, which is downtown and within easy walking distance of most community facilities.

For more details, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 747-0373 or akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com.

• Tentative agenda for 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka

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DougOsborneLeadsCyclistsIntoSitkaNationalHistoricalPark

Cyclists are allowed to ride in the road leading to the entrance of Sitka National Historical Park, but once inside the park they need to walk their bikes on the narrow trails.

SitkaNationalHistoricalParkSignSitka National Historical Park has recently experienced an increase of individuals riding bicycles on park trails, which is a violation of park regulations. This situation causes a safety hazard for other park users hiking on the same trail system, especially due to the large number of walkers on the narrow trails.

The National Park Service reminds the public that it is prohibited to ride bicycles anywhere in the park, and that if a visitor on a bicycle wishes to enter the park, they must get off and walk the bicycle..

The majority of these violations appear to be occurring in the morning and evening hours as individuals commute to and from work or school. Rangers will be increasing their patrols for violators and will be taking the appropriate law enforcement action, which may include the issuance of a United States Violation Notice in the amount of $75.00.

The National Park Service recognizes and supports the upcoming “Bike Your Park Day” on Sept. 24, promoted by the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition locally and the Adventure Cycling Association nationally, but again would like to remind the community that any bicycles in Sitka National Historical Park must be walked.

About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 413 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more about the Sitka National Historical Park at http://www.nps.gov/sitk or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SitkaNationalHistoricalPark.

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YoungCyclistAndDirectionalArrow

Alaska state law requires cyclists to ride on the right side of the street, with traffic. But to watch some Sitka cyclists, they don’t seem to care even though they can be stopped and ticketed by the police for wrong-way riding.

Recently, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities painted a few directional arrows in the bike lanes of Halibut Point Road to help remind cyclists to ride on the right.

The reason cyclists are required to ride with traffic in the far right lane (unless pulling into a turn lane) is because riding with traffic is safer than riding against it. Even though you might think you’re safer riding against traffic because you can see opposing traffic, you really are increasing your risk. When you hit a car head-on, your impact is more likely to cause injuries or death than when a car hits you from behind (and you can absorb some of the blow because you’re traveling in the same direction).

This study of car-bike collisions from Northern California is a bit old (1990s, see Table 4), but it shows cyclists riding against traffic had a higher risk factor of 3.6 times those riding with traffic.

According to the study, “Table 4 shows that all categories of bicy­clists traveling against the direction of traffic flow are at greatly increased risk for accidents — on average 3.6 times the risk of those traveling with traffic, and as high as 6.6 times for those 17 and under. This result is readily explained: because motorists normally scan for traffic trav­eling in the lawful direction, wrong-way traffic is easily overlooked. To give only a single example, a motorist turning right at an intersec­tion scans to the left for approaching traffic on the new road, and cannot see or anticipate a fast-moving wrong-way bicyclist approaching from the right. (This is one of the most common types of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions in Palo Alto.)

“This finding provides compelling justifica­tion for current traffic law, which requires bicy­clists on the roadway everywhere in the United States to travel in the same direction as other traffic. It also implies that vigorous enforcement of this law, for both adults and children, can substantially reduce the number of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions, and should receive high priority in any bicycle program.”

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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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Sec-Foxx-at-Walk-Bike-announcement-FL

After seeing recent increases in the numbers of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced a national pedestrian and bicycle safety initiative during the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Conference held Sept. 8-11 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

“The data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration make it clear: even as automobile travel has never been safer, pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths are on the rise,” Foxx said. “I went to Pittsburgh this week to let folks know that I think this is a problem, and that this Department is putting together the most innovative, forward-leaning, biking-walking safety initiative ever.”

Protected-bike-laneThe Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative will try to improve biking and walking safety by providing better infrastructure. It also will provide research and tools for local governments, transportation planners, and active living advocates, so they can make their communities safer.

The plan includes assessments in every state to determine what needs to be done to make conditions safer for walkers and bicyclists. Once the assessments are done, the next step includes projects such as building protected bike lanes, building better trail networks, and even building basic sidewalks and pedestrian traffic crossings in areas where they aren’t available.

“Americans are walking and biking more and more, not just for kicks, but for sensible transportation,” Foxx said.When President Lyndon Johnson established DOT, he said ‘keeping the traveling public safe from harm’ should be our top priority. So when we talk about ‘the traveling public,’ we must include pedestrians and bicyclists.

If you are walking or bicycling, you should know that your safety is every bit as important —and just as much of a concern to the U.S. Department of Transportation — as the safety of an airplane passenger, a transit rider, or someone in a motor vehicle.

For years, the message pedestrians and bicyclists have been given is, ‘You walk or bike at your own risk; be responsible for your own safety.’

But that’s not good enough. We can’t just tell pedestrians and bicyclists, ‘Be safe,’ without recognizing that in many places there is no safe space for them to be.

After all, we don’t only tell drivers, ‘Just drive under the speed limit.’ We don’t just tell ship captains, ‘Don’t run aground.’ We make sure our highways are well-paved and well-marked, and that our sea lanes are navigable.

We have long recognized that government has a role to play by creating safe infrastructure for travel; it’s time to make sure that includes everyone.”

For the most part, walking and biking advocates welcomed the initiative. But they also feel it needs a solid financial commitment from Congress to work. The following quote is from a press release from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC).

“Secretary Foxx’s announcement and the U.S. DOT’s new commitment to safety are important first steps, but without a financial commitment from Congress, state and local governments will not have the resources necessary to provide safe facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists. RTC will continue to work with members of Congress to see that state and local governments receive the funding they need to connect networks, provide specific solutions to improve safety and monitor safety performance. The U.S. DOT’s initiative provides us with a newly engaged federal partner. Working together with our local advocates and the U.S. DOT, we can work toward a world where pedestrian and bicyclist injuries are a thing of the past.”

“The 12-page document is short on details but long on potential, with the bonus of a hand outstretched to partners to help flesh it out and implement it,” Martha Roskowski, Vice President for Local Innovation for PeopleForBikes.org, wrote in an analysis of the initiative. “The breadth and scope of new efforts to increase walking and biking and reduce walking and biking fatalities is encouraging.”

Smart Growth America praised the new plan. “This approach is right in line with the work of Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, which helps communities create streets that are safe, comfortable, and convenient for everyone. In May, the Coalition highlighted America’s need for safer streets with the release of Dangerous by Design 2014, a report that spotlights the issue of pedestrian safety as well as the factors that make walking dangerous. The report also identifies tools, policies and practices that can help put an end to the decades-long neglect of pedestrian safety. USDOT’s new campaign builds on a Complete Streets approach and will hopefully make streets safer for everyone who uses them. We applaud Secretary Foxx for making this crucial issue a national priority.”

• Safer People, Safer Streets Iniatiative

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BicycleAndPedestrianSafetyActImage

The headlines are tragic. Two 15-year-old girls walking to the store on an Anchorage bike path are killed by an out-of-control pick-up truck. A Fairbanks man is convicted for killing a teenaged bicyclist and injuring her friend after he ran a red light. And just last month, a male pedestrian crossing a street in Juneau was hit by a truck and had to be medevacked with life-threatening injuries.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon)

Two U.S. Congressmen — Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (both D-Oregon) — are hoping to make it safer for bikers and walkers with identical bipartisan bills they introduced on Friday, Nov. 15, in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives called the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act.

The bills, HR 3494 and S 1708, if passed, will create performance measures for bicycle and pedestrian safety. Specifically, they direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to create metrics for states to assess and address “serious injuries and fatalities per vehicle mile traveled” and “the number of serious injuries and fatalities” for “non-motorized transportation” — a.k.a. walking and biking. Current law has no such emphasis on active transportation.

According to BikePortland.org, “The bill looks to balance federal traffic safety spending — which currently tilts drastically toward motor vehicle operators at the expense of people who use our roads on bikes or on foot. The bill’s authors claim that while almost 16 percent of traffic deaths in 2012 were people who were walking and bicycling, less than 1 percent of safety funding goes toward infrastructure to protect them. They also say that federal traffic safety improvements that have led to a declining rate of fatalities among motor vehicle operators and occupants, ‘have not helped all road users.’ ‘Even as driver and passenger deaths have decreased, the percentage of bicyclist and pedestrian roadway deaths has increased in recent years.’ The fix, they say, is to decouple federal safety funding guidelines and give states more flexibility in how the money is spent.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

The House bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Howard Coble (R-North Carolina), Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), who all are members of the House Bicycle Caucus founded by Blumenauer. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and Sen. Brian Schwartz (D-Hawai’i). Both bills have the official title of “To amend title 23, United States Code, with respect to the establishment of performance measures for the highway safety improvement program, and for other purposes.”

In his statement on the House bill, Blumenauer noted that the number of bike commuters has increased by more than 60 percent over the last decade. “As transportation systems adjust to handle different types of road users, the federal government must encourage appropriate standards to ensure road user safety,” he said.

In a statement about the bills, Andy Clarke, President of the Bicycle League of America, said they are long overdue:

Dramatically reducing the number of people biking and walking who are killed and seriously injured on our roadways is critical for two very compelling reasons.

First, this is about much more than just statistics — every one of these fatal crashes robs a family, a community and our nation of a precious human life. The costs to society are huge, and these are usually very preventable crashes.

Second, bicycling and walking are healthy and enjoyable ways to get around that we should be doing everything possible to promote: we know that lack of safety is a major deterrent to people walking and riding more frequently, and we know exactly what we can do to improve traffic safety — not just for people riding bikes and walking but for everyone on our roads.

Establishing simple safety performance measures — holding ourselves accountable to eliminate these needless crashes — will prioritize roadway designs that are safe for all users, and encourage education and enforcement programs that rid our communities of the scourge of distracted driving, speeding, and drunk/drugged/drowsy driving. That’s good for everybody.

Bicyclists and pedestrians make up an increasingly large percentage of all roadway fatalities and serious injuries — and in a handful of states the issue is particularly acute. States such as Florida, California, New York and Texas need the backing of the Federal government to tackle this problem head-on, and every State in the nation can play a role in making biking safer and encouraging more people to ride.

The bills will have a major impact in Alaska, which has the highest combined percentage of walking and biking commuters in the country, according to the Bicycling and Walking In the United States, 2012 Benchmarking Report compiled by the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Unfortunately, Alaska also has the third-highest rate of bicycling and pedestrian fatalities.

According to Alaska Injury Prevention Center Executive Director Marcia Howell, “A bill is being introduced to require DOT to create separate non-motorized performance measures. Once performance measures are included in DOT plans, funding will follow, to help improve the measures, like decrease bike and pedestrian injuries. This is extremely important. In a recent study AIPC conducted, we found that 78 percent of cyclists who suffered serious injuries on Anchorage streets do not show up in the police crash report data base.  It is traditionally the police crash data base that determines Alaska DOT funding priorities. As of September, Alaska added hospital data to its strategic plan, and we are working on non motorized performance measures.  But federal legislation would make this much much easier.”

We encourage you to contact your U.S. Senators and Representative and let them know you support these bills. In fact, ask them to sign on as bill co-sponsors (FYI, while Alaska Sen. Mark Begich currently is not signed on as a co-sponsor to S 1708, in the past he has been a co-sponsor to at least two similar bicycle and pedestrian safety bills).

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