City of Sitka to host public meetings to discuss improvements on Lincoln Street

The City and Borough of Sitka Public Works Department will host two public meetings — at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at Harrigan Centennial Hall — to discuss the Lincoln Street Improvements project.

The project includes the replacement of lining of deteriorated storm drainpipes, grinding and overlay of existing pavement, upgrading of ADA (American Disability Act) ramps, replacement of limited sidewalk and installation of red concrete crosswalks. The public is encouraged to attend to see the proposed improvements and provide public input.

For more information, contact Public Works at 747-1806.

• Lincoln Street Improvements meeting handout

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Be Safe, Be Seen as you ride your bike or walk during the dark hours of winter

Sitka is lucky because our mild climate allows most of us to bike and walk throughout the winter. But cyclists and walkers also need to take care to make sure they can be seen by drivers, especially since there is so little daylight this time of year. In recent weeks the Sitka Police have recorded several car-walker, car-cyclist, and cyclist-walker collisions, and said visibility was an issue in most of them.

Take a look at the photo above. Can you see the cyclist? This cyclist just rode through one of Sitka’s best-lighted intersections (Lincoln Street and Lake Street), but he’s wearing dark clothes and you can’t see him even though he does have a working taillight. By the way, the cyclist is in the right center of the photo, between the car’s taillights and the fire hydrant, near the Moose Lodge parking lot. There also is a walker ready to cross the street in front of Stereo North, who has some reflective bands on his sleeves but could use a bright jacket.

This time of the year provides special problems when it comes to visibility. In addition to fewer daylight hours, there also are problems with window condensation in cars and the lower sun angles sometimes can be in the eyes of drivers.  When it rains or snows, that also can obscure visibility. Even though pedestrians aren’t in the roads as much as cyclists, they still need to be visible to traffic especially at driveways and other crosswalks.

So how do you make yourself more visible, like the cyclist in the second photo (in the orange jacket with reflective tape)?

First, Alaska state laws require cyclists riding outside the daylight hours to have at least one working headlight that can emit a beam of light for at least 500 feet, a working taillight that can be seen from at least 500 feet, and reflectors (see Page 2). To make themselves more visible and to help light their way, many Sitka cyclists will have more than one headlight, taillight and reflector on their bike.

Next, wear white or bright clothes that can be seen at night. Many Sitka cyclists and walkers have started wearing traffic yellow or traffic orange rain jackets, which are designed to be visible at great distances. Some of these jackets have built-in reflective tape. Other people wear reflective vests, similar to what construction workers wear.

Finally, get some reflective tape and wrap it around your bike frame. You can purchase your own reflective items at most outdoors gear stores in Sitka. The Alaska Injury Prevention Center in Anchorage used to provide free reflective tape by clicking this link (they may not have it available now), but the AIPC website has tips about how to Walk Safe and Bike Safe. The link has a chart showing how reflective tape can increase a person’s visibility, even more so than wearing lighter clothes. If you have kids who walk or bike a lot, put the reflective tape all over their clothes, backpacks and lunch pails. You also can find elastic bands with reflective tape, or reflective tape built into jackets, hats and even shoes.

Remember, we are sharing the roads and so we should do what we can to make it easier for drivers to see us. Not only should we Be Safe, Be Seen, but we also need to follow the rules of the road by riding our bikes on the right side of traffic (ride with traffic, and walk on the left facing traffic) and in a predictable manner.

Sitka Trail Works completes repairs to Mosquito Cove Trail after October rain event

A deep sink hole developed along the Mosquito Cove Trail during a three-inch rainfall event in October. As you may know, Sitka Trail Works has been completing maintenance projects on the popular Mosquito Cove Trail since Alaska State Parks cut funding for a local position and office. The repair projects help keep the trails safe and in shape so they can be used for many years.

Phase II trail upgrades had just been completed by U.S. Forest Service Trail Crew in September, before the storm. The Phase II repairs were made with a $51,369 grant from the Alaska Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which allowed work to be done on the back side of the trail. The Phase II repairs featured 45 helicopter bags of rock and six loads of lumber being lifted to improve drainage and prevent washouts.

In the more recent project, Sitka Trail Works employees Jerad and Trent Bayne recently made repairs to the sink hole and also removed a fallen tree.

Alaska DOT&PF to host open house about Sawmill Creek Road biking/walking improvements project

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.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will host an open house and accept public comments for the Sawmill Creek Road resurfacing and pedestrian improvements project between the roundabout and Jeff Davis Street.

The open house takes place from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Public comments will close on Jan. 30, 2018, and construction is expected to start in 2019.

This meeting will only deal with Option 2 from the two options the Alaska DOT&PF presented Sitka with in May. Option 2 was passed unanimously by the Sitka Parks and Recreation Commission in June, and it passed 5-1 (with one absent) during a September meeting of the Sitka Assembly. Option 2 narrows traffic lanes, removes parking on the south side of the street (the water side), and creates new bike lanes on both sides of Sawmill Creek Road. Option 1 kept the status quo (other than to widen the traffic lanes in a coupe of spots), which did not improve the safety for bikers and walkers.

“At this meeting, only Option 2 will be presented for public comment,” said Aurah Landau, a public information officer with the Alaska DOT&PF. “It is the preferred option, and Option 1 is off the table.”

The two options were first announced at a poorly advertised open house on Monday, May 8, at Harrigan Centennial Hall (there was no mention of the meeting in the Friday, May 5, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel), when DOT staff from Juneau showed maps and diagrams detailing the two options. The DOT staff was supposed to give a report at the Tuesday, May 9, meeting of the Sitka Assembly, but the report was tabled to a later meeting when the Assembly shrank the meeting agenda to time-sensitive items only following the weekend shooting death of a city employee by another city employee.

“We’re just looking for public input, what people like and what people don’t like,” Colleen Ivaniszek, a designer and engineering assistant with DOT told the Daily Sitka Sentinel in an article in the Wednesday, May 10, edition.

“I just looked at the Assembly agenda for tomorrow (Tuesday, May 9) night and it looks like DOT is presenting two options for the design of Sawmill Creek from the Roundabout to Jeff Davis,” Sitka Trail Works Director Lynne Brandon wrote in a May email shared with the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition. “It looks like they want the Assembly to choose the option. I don’t think there has been any other input from the community. This isn’t enough public process. It’s a report, so I don’t think the Assembly can make a decision at the meeting, but I think they should know that more public process is necessary and the bike-friendly option is the only way to go, not the share-road.”

The last major public meeting for this project was in December 2015 at the Sealing Cove Business Park.

This section of Sawmill Creek Road has narrow sidewalks blocked by power poles (see photo above), which prevent people in wheelchairs or using rolling walk-assist carts from being able to get by. Cyclists consider it the most dangerous section of major road in Sitka because it is the only stretch of major road without a designated bike lane or multi-use path from the ferry terminal at the end of Halibut Point Road to the industrial park at the end of Sawmill Creek Road. There also is motor vehicle parking along both sides of Sawmill Creek Road, which means cyclists have to worry about getting doored until they get past Jeff Davis Street.

“I’m really hopeful for the proposed changes to SMC Road between Baranof and Jeff Davis,” William The Giant said in a May Facebook post. “I’ve been bike commuting in Sitka for about eight years now, and this small chunk of road is easily one of the most dangerous stretches for a biker in town. It might seem like a lazy little street to a driver, but for a biker it’s a choice between being firmly in traffic, or riding along in the ‘door zone’ of all the parked vehicles. It’s a no-win situation either way, since a bike accident along this road is almost guaranteed to jam up some poor driver’s axle.

“I have a baby I’m now hauling around in a bike trailer almost daily, and I absolutely dread this section of road. Honestly, I’m really surprised we’ve been providing parking to a handful of residents at the cost of safety along a major road for so long. When I read we’d only give up parking along one side of the road to create two bike lanes it sounded like a dream come true to me. Especially, since the area is being improved one way or the other, it would be strange to ‘upgrade’ it to be a new version of the same terrible layout. I will be eternally thankful to those who have to walk across the street each morning to get to their cars to make our roads safer.”

Of the two options, Option One is closest to the unacceptable status quo. In fact, it widens the driving lanes from 12 feet to 13.5 feet (and wider lanes lead to higher road speeds, which lead to more serious injuries and fatalities). It keeps the current eight-foot parking lanes on both sides of the street, but it does relocate some power poles and makes some upgrades to the sidewalk and curb ramps. This option is not an improvement for the most dangerous stretch of road and sidewalk in Sitka.

Option Two is the safer option, as it shrinks the driving lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet, eliminates the parking lane on one side of the road, and creates five-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road. This is by far the better option of the two. You can learn more about both options in the link posted at the bottom of the article.

“I agree that Option Two is the best,” Sitka cyclist Dave Nuetzel wrote in a May email. “This removes parking on one side and adds two bike lanes. I also commented that bump-outs for crosswalks and a flashing crosswalk at Baranof Street are needed. … Option One with ‘shared’ lanes would basically be the same as it already is.  This stretch of highway is the only area in Sitka without a bike lane or wide shoulder. … Not sure how they plan to move cyclists from the multi-purpose path to the bike lane on the other side of the road. Currently no crosswalk at Jeff Davis.”

Girl Scout Troop 4140, which recently worked with the state and city to get a solar-powered flashing crosswalk sign for the Halibut Point Road-Peterson Street intersection, wants to see a similar flashing crosswalk sign on Sawmill Creek Road.

“Girl Scout Troop 4140 would like to have solar-powered crosswalk signs at SMC/Baranof Street (at the Baranof Elementary crosswalk) included in the design, but we need your help,” troop leader Retha Winger wrote in a May Facebook post encouraging people to contact DOT about the crosswalk. “DOT is currently accepting comments about their design changes and they are requesting comments from Sitkans. You can review the design changes here, http://dot.alaska.gov/sereg/projects/sitka_sawmill_rd/index.shtml. Please send comments to Chris.Schelb@alaska.gov. PLEASE EMAIL CHRIS AND LET HIM KNOW THAT WE WANT A SOLAR-POWERED CROSSWALK AT THE BARANOF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CROSSWALK! All comments are important and appreciated. They need to hear our collective concern for the safety of our children. Thank you!”

Both options will make the intersection of DeGroff Street and Sawmill Creek Road a 90-degree turn, which will reduce car speeds as drivers leave Sawmill Creek Road for the residential DeGroff Street. Another change will move the bike path that crosses Jeff Davis Street a bit closer to the highway, so it’s easier for drivers to see the cyclists. Another plan is to improve the sidewalks by Monastery Street.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is taking public comment on the two options for the next 30 days. You can email comments to Chris.Schelb@alaska.gov, or send them by regular mail to Sawmill Creek Road Resurfacing and Pedestrian Improvements, c/o Alaska DOT&PF, P.O. Box 112506, Juneau, Alaska, 99511-2506.

• Sawmill Creek Road Resurfacing and Pedestrian Improvements Options

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.

Sitka Community Hospital launches Safe and Seen in Sitka campaign with high-visibility jacket raffles

Getting around Sitka on foot or bike is good for the environment and your health. It is important to make sure it’s done safely, especially while traveling at night.

Walkers — people who travel by foot, wheelchair or stroller — and bicyclists are among the most vulnerable users of our roads. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the next 24 hours, on average, 445 people in the U.S. will be treated in an emergency department for traffic-related pedestrian injuries.

Sitka can be dark, especially in the winter months, and many of the bicyclist and walker fatalities happen in low visibility. Drivers can only stop or swerve for the people they see. Lights, reflectors and high-visibility coats offer a level of protection.

Thanks to Grundens and Murray Pacific, Sitka Community Hospital will be raffling off high-visibility rain coats at various locations throughout Sitka. These raffles will take place at Sitka Public Library, Hames Center, Salvation Army Little Store, Tongass Threads, Sitka Tribe of Alaska Social Services, Yellow Jersey Cycle Shop, Swan Lake Senior Center, Sitka Public Health Center, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Blatchley Middle School and Sitka Community Hospital’s Oceanside Therapy Center.  The drawings will start as early as Oct. 30 and are open to all.

Having a coat that covers you and can be seen from all sides is a great way to stay safe and seen. For more information on the Safe and Seen in Sitka campaign, contact Sitka Community Hospital’s Director of Health Promotion Doug Osborne at 747-0373.

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