KCAW-Raven Radio highlights Sitka’s renewal as a Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community

Click this link to hear an Oct. 31 story from KCAW-Raven Radio about how Sitka became a two-time Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community.

The story includes part of an interview KCAW news director Robert Woolsey did with Charles Bingham, who wrote the original Walk Friendly Community application in 2013 and the renewal application in 2017. In the interview, they discuss the 40-page application and what goes into a walkable community.

Advertisements

Sitka renews bronze-level designation in Walk Friendly Communities program

The City and Borough of Sitka earned a renewal of its bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation, joining seven other communities announced on Oct. 18 (Alaska Day) that they earned their first or renewed their previous designations. In 2013, Sitka became the first and so far only town in Alaska to earn a bronze-level or higher designation from the Walk Friendly Communities program, coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Juneau has honorable mention status).

“I am proud of the hard work city staff has done to improve the lives of Sitkans with the limited funding we have available,” Sitka Mayor Matt Hunter said. “Thank you to the dedicated group of citizens who spend their time advocating for safer streets and who seek to recognize the city’s efforts.”

Becoming a Walk Friendly Community was a community wellness project of the 2008 and 2012 Sitka Health Summits (the 2008 project was before there was a national Walk Friendly Communities program). In 2008, Sitka residents wanted the community to be friendlier to people walking or riding bikes (Sitka earned its first Bicycle Friendly Community designation that year), and in 2012 they wanted to add the WFC designation to the BFC award. Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both Walk Friendly Communities (bronze in 2013 and 2017) and Bicycle Friendly Community  (bronze in 2008 and 2012, silver in 2016) designations.

The WFC award came about when community members decided they wanted to improve and recognize Sitka as a walkable community. The Walk Sitka work group followed a national template developed by the Walk Friendly Communities program designed to help cities and towns become more walkable. The community assessment tool/application (click here for Sitka’s 2017 renewal application) helps communities identify their walking strengths and weaknesses by asking dozens of questions in the following categories — community profile, current status of walking, planning, education and encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation.

“We hoped we might upgrade to the silver level this time, but we’re still the only official Walk Friendly Communities award-winner in Alaska,” said Charles Bingham, who helped coordinate the Walk Sitka group and wrote the WFC applications in 2013 and 2017. “We’re happy to win the award, but we’re also happy for the feedback we received to help make Sitka a more walkable community.”

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments, according to the program’s website. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

“The majority of trips in the car are for less than three miles, and if we can encourage people to walk or bike instead we promote a culture of wellness,” Bingham said. “Not only are people getting heart-healthy physical health benefits from walking, there are benefits for mental and emotional health when you take a walk in the woods. In addition, by walking and biking we reduce the amount of car exhaust we have to breathe, and there are economic benefits when we have walkable communities. There also are increased social connections when people, because neighbors can chat with each other instead of being barricaded in a steel box on wheels.”

The eight new or renewing Walk Friendly Communities for Fall 2017 were Washington, D.C., at the gold level; Columbus, Ohio; Long Beach, Calif.; and Redwood City, Calif.; at the silver level; and Essex Junction, Vt.; Gainesville, Fla.; Northampton, Mass.; and Sitka; at the bronze level. They bring the nation’s total to 67 awardees in the program at four levels — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (Seattle and New York City are the lone platinum WFCs). In 2011, Juneau received an honorable mention in the program but has not earned a full WFC designation. The Walk Friendly Communities designation is good for five years, and Sitka doesn’t have to renew its award until the spring of 2022, although it can apply earlier if it thinks it’s ready to upgrade a level.

“Communities nationwide are implementing some very impressive plans and projects to create welcoming pedestrian environments,” said Dan Gelinne, WFC program manager. “All cities and towns face challenges related to pedestrian safety and walkability, but these Walk Friendly Communities are well-positioned to address these concerns and proactively improve their streets. We hope their innovative projects and programs can serve as models to other communities.”

The Walk Friendly Communities program has two application periods each year. Each application is reviewed by at least three reviewers to provide a fair assessment of the community and technical feedback on how to improve the community’s walkability.

Some of the major changes since Sitka’s 2013 application included the replacement of the Indian River Pedestrian Bridge in Sitka National Historical Park, the multi-purpose path from Whale Park to the end of Sawmill Creek Road, funding commitments for two extensions to the Sitka Sea Walk and to finish the Cross Trail, a new multi-purpose path on Edgecumbe Drive, proposed bike-walk improvements to Sawmill Creek Road from the roundabout to Jeff Davis Street, new walking encouragement programs, and more.

According to Sitka’s community report card and feedback (posted at the bottom of this article):

“Based on our review, we are re-designating Sitka as a Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community. Among the many programs and initiatives you shared with us, we were particularly impressed with:

  • The consistently high walking mode share and (low) pedestrian crash rate.
  • The level of planning effort and community support for Sitka’s trail system.
  • Slow speed limits through downtown and in school zones, paired with pedestrian countdown signals at Sitka’s two main intersections.
  • The variety and frequency of walking programs.”

The Walk Friendly Communities program was launched in October 2010. It is coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), which is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is funded by FedEx Corp.

The next WFC application deadline is Dec. 15, with the results announced in April 2018. Interested communities can go to http://www.walkfriendly.org/, where they can learn more about the program and review the community assessment tool.

• Sitka, Alaska, 2017 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

• National press release for October 2017 Walk Friendly Communities

• 2017 Walk Friendly Communities renewal application for Sitka, Alaska

• 2013 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

• Sitka, Alaska, 2013 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

Walking has its rewards for Paul Perensovich at Sitka National Historical Park

Ann Wilkinson of the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation and Sitka National Historical Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter draw the winning entrant's name in the quarterly drawing of the Park Prescriptions Program. In the program, local health providers prescribe regular hikes for their patients, and those who complete their punch cards are entered into a quarterly drawing for a $100 cash prize. Paul Perensovich was the Spring 2014 winner. (Photo Courtesy of Sitka National Historical Park)

Ann Wilkinson of the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation and Sitka National Historical Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter draw the winning entrant’s name in the quarterly drawing of the Park Prescriptions Program. In the program, local health providers prescribe regular hikes for their patients, and those who complete their punch cards are entered into a quarterly drawing for a $100 cash prize. Paul Perensovich was the Spring 2014 winner. (Photo Courtesy of Sitka National Historical Park)

On Saturday, April 19, Sitka Community Hospital Foundation President Ann Wilkinson, awarded this quarter’s winner of the Park Prescriptions Program with a $100 cash prize. Mike Perensovich, a long-time Sitka resident, Park Watch Volunteer, and Park Prescriptions participant, was the lucky recipient.

Sitka National Historical Park’s award-winning “Park Prescriptions Program” represents a partnership between the National Park Service and various healthcare providers in Sitka. The program provides incentives for the community to get outdoors and exercise to improve health and well-being.

At the drawing, Wilkinson underscored how the “Sitka Community Hospital Foundation is proud to be a sponsor of the Park Prescriptions Program.” She noted that “promoting healthy lifestyle habits is an important part of our mission, and that the Park Prescriptions Program is a great way to encourage walking and enjoying the great outdoors in our National Park.” The foundation announced it will sponsor the program again for another year, providing quarterly $100 prizes for participants who qualify.

Local health providers write park prescriptions to their patients, who fill the park prescriptions by taking walks through the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park. Every time people take a walk, they get a punchcard stamped at the park’s visitor center, and when the punchcard is full it is entered for quarterly prize drawings. The Park Prescriptions Program got its start through the Sitka Health Summit.

For more information on how you can start down the path to wellness by participating in the Park Prescriptions Program ask any uniformed Sitka National Historical Park staff or visit www.nps.gov/sitk.

Sitka National Historical Park wins Alaska Community Service Award for Health for Park Prescriptions program

Sitka National Historical Park Senior Ranger Carin Farley, right, celebrates with Eric and Sarah Jordan after they became the first people to complete a Park Prescriptions punch card in early 2013.

Sitka National Historical Park Senior Ranger Carin Farley, right, celebrates with Eric and Sarah Jordan after they became the first people to complete a Park Prescriptions punch card in early 2013.

Sitka National Historical Park is pleased to announce that its Park Prescriptions program has received the Alaska Community Service Award for Health from the Alaska Public Health Association (ALPHA).

According to ALPHA, Sitka National Historical Park was chosen for its “significant contribution to the health of Alaskans” by fostering “improved personal health through outdoor physical activity” in the park. John Quinley, the assistant regional director from the National Park Service’s Alaska Regional Office, will accept the award on behalf of Sitka National Historical Park at the Alaska Health Summit on Wednesday, Jan. 29, in Anchorage.

SitkaNationalHistoricalParkSignAccording to a press release from Sitka National Historical Park Chief of Interpretation and Education Becky Latanich, the park “extends its thanks to the Sitka Heath Summit for its support of the program and to all of the local healthcare providers that have participated in the initiative.  The park also thanks its partners at the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation for sponsoring the program’s participation incentives.”

The Park Prescriptions program strengthens the connection between the health care system and public lands by promoting walking the trails at Sitka National Historical Park to improve physical health, as well as emotional and mental well-being.

Local health providers write park prescriptions to their patients, who fill the park prescriptions by taking walks through the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park. Every time people take a walk, they get a punchcard stamped at the park’s visitor center, and when the punchcard is full it is entered for quarterly prize drawings.

For more information about the program, contact Ranger Carin Farley at 907-747-0127.

Sitka becomes first town in Alaska to earn bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation

wfc_ad3_sitkaAK

TotemTrailEntranceThe City and Borough of Sitka became the first town in Alaska to earn a bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation, when the program announced eight new WFC awards (four bronze and four silver) on Tuesday, Oct. 29, from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) offices in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“Once again, our community is miles ahead of other Alaska towns in its ability to take healthy steps,” Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell said. “The Walk Friendly Communities designation was a goal chosen at last year’s Sitka Health Summit, and it was a good one. This is a great achievement. And now, as a result of the award, we have the necessary steps outlined for us to continue to improve our policies, programs and standards. Congratulations to the team working to achieve these high standards.”

The WFC award is the result of a 2012 Sitka Health Summit community wellness project, where community members decided they wanted to improve and recognize Sitka as a walkable community. The Walk Sitka work group followed a national template developed by the Walk Friendly Communities program designed to help cities and towns become more walkable. The community assessment tool/application (click here for Sitka’s application) helps communities identify their walking strengths and weaknesses by asking dozens of questions in the following categories — community profile, current status of walking, planning, education and encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation.

NewDowntownBannersThe WFC program is similar to the Bicycle Friendly Community program. Sitka also is the first BFC town in Alaska, earning a bronze-level designation in 2008 and a renewal bronze award in 2012 (as Sitka Health Summit projects).

“When we started this project, we wanted to complete this application as much for the process and help finding our strengths and weaknesses as for the award,” said Charles Bingham, who helped coordinate the Walk Sitka group and wrote the WFC application. “We’re happy to win the award, but we’re also happy for the feedback we received to help make Sitka a more walkable community.”

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments, according to the program’s website. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

“The majority of trips in the car are for less than three miles, and if we can encourage people to walk or bike instead we promote a culture of wellness,” Bingham said. “Not only are people getting heart-healthy physical health benefits from walking, there are benefits for mental and emotional health when you take a walk in the woods. In addition, by walking and biking we reduce the amount of car exhaust we have to breathe, and there are economic benefits when we have walkable communities. There also are increased social connections when people, because neighbors can chat with each other instead of being barricaded in a steel box on wheels.”

Several Mount Edgecumbe High School students walk across the O'Connell Bridge on Friday, March 29.

The eight new Walk Friendly Communities for Fall 2013 were Asheville, N.C.; Burlington, Vt.; Montclair, N.J.; and Tallahassee, Fla.; at the silver level; and Atlanta; Bloomington, Ind.; La Cross, Wis.; and Sitka; at the bronze level. They bring the nation’s total to 44 awardees in the program at four levels — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (Seattle is the lone platinum WFC). In 2011, Juneau received an honorable mention in the program but has not earned a full WFC designation. The Walk Friendly Communities designation is good for five years, and Sitka doesn’t have to renew its award until the spring of 2018.

“Cities of all sizes continue to realize the importance of being walkable,” said Carl Sundstrom, WFC program manager. “The latest eight communities to earn the Walk Friendly designation are representative of nearly all cities in the U.S., ranging from a major metropolitan area to mid-sized college towns to one of the nation’s oldest communities. The rate at which the program continues to grow is exciting, and I look forward to sharing the successes of communities across the nation with each additional application round.”

SarahAndEricJordanCheckOutBoatsOnSitkaSeaWalkThe Walk Friendly Communities program has two application periods each year. Each application is reviewed by at least three reviewers to provide a fair assessment of the community and technical feedback on how to improve the community’s walkability.

According to Sitka’s community report card and feedback (posted at the bottom of this article):

“In reviewing your application, there were several areas we were particularly impressed with, including:

  • A consistently high walking mode share for a town of this size, indicating that people are able to walk safely and comfortably. It is equally important to see the low (vehicle-pedestrian) crash rate.
  • The level of planning effort and community support for Sitka’s trail system, which provides important recreation opportunities for residents and visitors.
  • Slow speed limits downtown and in school zones, paired with pedestrian countdown signals at Sitka’s two main intersections.

“Sitka has exhibited a desire to become a community that supports active transportation. The application to the Walk Friendly Communities program is an endorsement of that desire and it is our hope that the feedback and information we provide can help your community improve in this regard. We also hope that, by identifying Sitka as a Bronze Walk Friendly Community and highlighting some of these impressive programs on our website, other communities can follow your example and build their own successful programs.”

WinterWalkingStPetersThe Walk Friendly Communities program was launched in October 2010. It is funded by FedEx and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), which is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center under a cooperative agreement with the FHWA.

The next WFC application period opens on Friday, Nov. 1, and the application deadline is Dec. 15.  Interested communities can go to http://www.walkfriendly.org/, where they can learn more about the program and review the community assessment tool.

• Sitka, Alaska, 2013 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

• National press release for October 2013 Walk Friendly Communities

• Walk Friendly Communities talking points (October 2013)