Please remember to keep the sidewalks clear of cars, garbage cans, vegetation, etc., for walkers

On my walk to a meeting at the Sitka Public Library this afternoon, I had an encounter with a young driver who had parked her SUV so it was blocking the sidewalk, forcing me to step into the road to get around the vehicle, only to find a car was coming my way so I had to hop back onto the sidewalk until the other car passed by.

I reminded the young lady that parking on the sidewalk is illegal in Alaska [13 AAC 02.340 (d)(1)(B)], and her reply was “it’s just for a couple of minutes.” In the meantime, I and other walkers had to step into traffic to get around her vehicle. If there had been someone in a wheelchair trying to get by at the same time, the person in the wheelchair wouldn’t have been able to get around the car because the curbs are high and the angle is too steep for a wheelchair.

After my meeting at the library, I picked up a copy of today’s Daily Sitka Sentinel and noticed an item (at 10:54 a.m.) in the Police Blotter where someone else had an issue with a car parked in the sidewalk and the Sitka Police Department had to call the vehicle owner to get him to move the car.

A maze of trash cans and potted plants makes walking difficult in front of the Pioneer Bar on Katlian Street.

I’ve been carless in Sitka for more than a decade, and finding a car, boat, delivery truck, or something else blocking the sidewalk is a frequent problem. I can understand the “I’ll just be a minute” mentality, but this is a dangerous practice, which is why there are laws against parking on the sidewalk. The sidewalk is supposed to be the safe place for walkers, and it’s no longer safe if people have to walk into traffic to get around a vehicle parked in the walkway.

This isn’t just a Sitka problem, as this article from an Anchorage TV station shows. “Parking on the pavements” (parking on the sidewalks) also is a major problem in the United Kingdom, as these recent articles from the BBC and the Daily Scotsman demonstrate.

Don’t do it. Find another place to park. In a lot of Sitka neighborhoods the sidewalk is only on one side of the street, and it’s barely wide enough for one or two adults. We need the safe space to walk.

But it’s not just vehicles that sometimes block a walker’s path.

There are power poles in the middle of the sidewalk and shrubs from the yards of area houses creeping into the sidewalk on Sawmill Creek Road across from Baranof Elementary School and the Elks Lodge. Note the pedestrian under the speed limit sign to get a scale of how tight things are when you try to get by the poles.

You can always tell when it’s garbage day in Sitka neighborhoods because there are a few cans that wind up blocking the sidewalk. In most cases, there is a spot on the property that’s off the sidewalk and not in the street where you can put your garbage can and the big claw from the garbage truck can still reach the can to dump the trash into the truck. If there isn’t a space, please pull your cans back as far as you can so someone can still get by, especially if they’re in a wheelchair.

The placement of street furniture, such as benches, tables, business signs, etc., also needs the consideration of keeping the sidewalk clear so walkers still have safe passage. It’s summer, which means it’s tourist season in Alaska, and there are a lot of those sandwich boards that end up blocking the sidewalk instead of being at the edge so walkers and wheelchair users still can get by them.

One of the problems with sidewalks is most cities and states will take care of plowing the roads and fixing potholes, but they dump the sidewalk maintenance (trimming vegetation, shoveling snow, putting down ice melt, etc.) onto the property owners next to the sidewalk. What happens now is you get a patchwork where in front of one house or business the sidewalk is nicely plowed or cleared of vegetation, but in front of the next house/business a walker is post-holing up to the knee because the snow didn’t get cleared. This might be laziness, or it could be because there’s an absentee landlord who doesn’t know it snowed or the brush has overgrown the sidewalk. Just like roads, sidewalks are public rights-of-way and should be taken care of by the city or state, just to give them consistent maintenance.

And then there are major design flaws, which the city and state are trying to correct. These include large power poles placed in the middle of the sidewalk, as well as support poles on buildings.

The power poles in the middle of the sidewalk on Sawmill Creek Road will hopefully disappear in the next year or two when the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities renovates the sidewalks from the roundabout to Jeff Davis Street. But the project probably won’t start correcting this problem until 2019 at the earliest.

Finally, we need enforcement to keep the sidewalks clear. There is supposed to be a $20 fine for parking in the sidewalk, but that fine wasn’t mentioned in the Police Blotter item.

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