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SAFETY ASSESSMENT: Top photo: Sitka Parks and Recreation Manager Lynne Brandon, left, and Paul Wistrand of the Federal Highway Authority’s Juneau office, second from left, get set to lead a group of cyclists down Halibut Point Road on Thursday, May 7. The tour was part of a safety assessment conducted through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Safer People, Safer Streets” initiative. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx mandated federal, state and local communities do walking and cycling safety assessments, and Wistrand said they chose Sitka for Alaska’s first safety assessments. In addition to the cycling safety assessment, walking tours were held from downtown to the Alaska Raptor Center on Thursday and along Katlian Street on Wednesday, May 6. Bottom photo: Paul Wistrand leads a group of cyclists on a safety assessment that included Halibut Point Road. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photos by James Poulson)

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Pedestrian Bicycle Assessment Invitation for State and Local Partners

Paul Wistrand of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will lead two tours, one walking and one biking, to assess the safety of roads/pathways on Thursday, May 7, in Sitka. (NOTE: The schedule has been revised from what originally was published.)

“I’m looking forward to the bike/pedestrian safety assessment,” Wistrand wrote in an email. “It would be great to get a couple of bicyclists and/or walkers to join us in the assessment, and get their feedback and input into what bicycle and pedestrian features have had the greatest impact in the community.”

Walkers check out the Sitka Sea Walk during its October 2013 grand opening

Walkers check out the Sitka Sea Walk during its October 2013 grand opening

The walking safety assessment meets at Harrigan Centennial at 9 a.m., and after some introductory comments will include a the first segment of the hike along the Sitka Sea Walk to Sitka National Historical Park. The second segment of the hike will be to the Alaska Raptor Center, before participants return to Harrigan Centennial Hall and a lunch break. After lunch, participants will meet back at Harrigan Centennial Hall to mount bicycles for a bike tour along Halibut Point Road to Pioneer Park (near Sea Mart) and back. After each tour segment, participants will complete a short evaluation form. Maps are part of the first attachment linked below.

“The assessment will be a great way to get end users and officials from local, state and federal levels who are involved with bicycle and pedestrian facilities together,” Wistrand wrote. “It’s also a chance to highlight the many improvements to these facilities in Sitka that have contributed to Sitka’s twice being recognized as a bronze-level bike/walk friendly community.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announces the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative during the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place convention in September 2014.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announces the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative during the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place convention in September 2014.

These safety assessments are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Safer People, Safer Streets” initiative, where Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx mandated USDOT field offices to partner with state and local communities to do corridor-level safety assessments. One of the reasons for these tours is to help transportation planners, state and local officials, and others learn more about some of the challenges faced by non-motorized transportation users. The safety assessment tours are free and open to the public.

In addition to the publicly announced safety assessments, federal, state and local representatives will be walking and biking other parts of Sitka to rate those areas. One of the additional walking assessments will be of Katlian Street and interested participants can meet with Paul at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6, at the Totem Square Inn hotel lobby.

For more information and to RSVP for the free tours, contact Paul Wistrand at 1-907-586-7148 or paul.wistrand@dot.gov.

• Sitka Bike and Pedestrian Assessment Invitation

• Revised Sitka walking and biking safety assessment schedule

• Sample Sitka walking and biking assessment scoresheet

• Safer People, Safer Streets Iniatiative

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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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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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ssdk12logoSitka School District classes start on Wednesday, and the Sitka Police Department reminds drivers to watch for students walking and biking to school.

In particular, the Sitka Police Department reminds drivers to pay special attention in school zones and near school bus stops during the morning before classes and afternoon when classes end.

“Be extra attentive around the elementary schools where smaller children are going to be present, and around the bus stops,” Sitka Police Lt. Barry Allen said. “Smaller children may not be visible as they walk between cars and around other visual obstructions. The smaller children tend to be most active in the mornings and the most eager to get home in the afternoons. They may not be paying close attention to vehicles on the roadways.”

The Sitka School District has about 1,300 students at five schools around town. In addition, there are about 400-425 students at the state-run Mount Edgecumbe High School boarding school, which also started classes this week.

Parents should teach their children the importance of looking both ways before crossing streets and other safety tips for walking. In addition, they can request free reflective tape to put on their child’s clothes (front, back and sides) and backpacks by contacting the Alaska Injury Prevention Center in Anchorage. Parents also can work with the Alaska Safe Routes To School program to help make sure popular walking and biking routes to Sitka schools are safe for students. A few years ago, a coalition of local residents developed a Safe Routes To School master plan for Sitka. Sitka does have a mandatory bicycle helmet ordinance for youth age 18 and younger, and the ordinance includes kids using scooters, skateboards and other similar devices.

Finally, a reminder that the International Walk (and Bike) to School Day this year is on Wednesday, Oct. 9. It’s not too early to start planning local events to promote safe walking and the health benefits of students walking to school.

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(NOTE: This article originally was posted in December 2009 on the Alaska Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance website.)

One of the problems with being a cyclist or pedestrian in Alaska is we have long, dark winter months. Not only is it dark, which makes cyclists and pedestrians harder to see than they are during the summer, but many Alaska drivers don’t scrape the frost off their windshields the way they should and that also makes it harder to see cyclists and pedestrians.

As part of its pursuit of a Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists, the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition started tracking how many cyclists used headlights and taillights during times of low visibility. During October and November 2008 and again the same months in 2009, several Sitkans completed forms describing what safeguards Sitka cyclists used to “Be Safe, Be Seen,” a local variation of a statewide campaign.

Sitka’s “Be Safe, Be Seen” program also includes an education component with radio PSAs (scroll down for PSAs) to remind cyclists and pedestrians to be visible during the winter. There also were health educators and injury prevention specialists who gave presentations at local schools. In addition, there was an encouragement component where local organizations donated more than $2,000 to by reflective tape and lights to give to local schoolchildren. And the Sitka Police Department increased enforcement of cyclists who used unsafe cycling practices that violate Sitka General Code (see Title 11.64 for pedestrians, 11.68 for bicycles, and 11.70 for Sitka’s youth helmet ordinance) or Alaska Administrative Code (see Title 13, Chapter 2, Sections 150-195 for pedestrians and Sections 385-420 for bicycles)

In 2008, just 32 percent of Sitka cyclists used a white headlight when they rode. This year, 60 percent were using headlights. Last year, 36 percent of Sitka cyclists had a red taillight and this year it was up to 57 percent. The percentage of wrong-way cyclists (those riding on the left, facing traffic) dropped from 11 percent to 6 percent. More details about the surveys can be found in this thank-you letter sent to local media outlets.

“The positive numbers we have seen is a result of using the recommended public health strategy that includes: education, encouragement and enforcement,” said Doug Osborne, a health educator with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) and member of the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition. “We are very grateful to all the groups and individuals who have helped with one of these three elements.”

While the surveys focused on cyclists, many of the “Be Safe, Be Seen” elements also apply to pedestrians. In good weather, the average driver needs 260 feet in order to come to a complete stop from 60 mph. A person wearing black or blue clothing isn’t seen until 55 feet away, while red is seen from 80 feet away, yellow is seen from 120 feet, white is seen from 200 feet, and someone wearing reflectors is seen from 500 feet away. The person wearing reflectors is the only person who gives a driver time enough to stop. Cyclists and pedestrians are encouraged to use reflective vests, reflective arm or leg bands, put reflective tape on their jackets, wear reflective hats, etc., to make sure they are visible to drivers.

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