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, July 18, at the Sitka Public Library — to discuss the Lincoln Street Improvements project. Participants will be able to review the plans and hear about the fall and spring construction schedule.

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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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.

Help us do walking/biking traffic counts and walk audits around Sitka

Hello, my name is Charles Bingham and I run the Walk Sitka website. In April, I was named to the Walking College Fellowship program coordinated by the national walking advocacy nonprofit America Walks. As part of the Walking College program, I have to work on a walking action plan for the community, and I need your help.

Over the last few years, I’ve written Sitka’s two Walk Friendly Communities program applications, and we earned a Bronze designation in 2013 and repeated at the Bronze level in 2017. In the report card we were given after the application process, one of our weaknesses was in the Evaluation part of the Five E’s (Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement and Evaluation), the main five question categories in the application. To improve our score in the Evaluation part of the application, we need to gather more data. If we don’t have good data to know how walking and biking traffic moves through Sitka, then we can’t make sure we have adequate infrastructure to handle the needs.

Part of my walking action plan will be focused on gathering this data by conducting walking/biking traffic counts at different intersections at various times of the day, and doing some walk audits/walk assessments where people walk some of our streets and note problems such as broken sidewalks, power poles blocking sidewalks, poor lighting, accessibility issues for someone in a wheelchair, etc. This is where I need your help.

As I mentioned in my Morning Interview on Tuesday, May 29, on KCAW-Raven Radio, I need volunteers to help me do walking/biking traffic counts at various intersections and to do walk audits along some of our streets. These will only take an hour or two of your time, and you can pick the time, day, and intersection to count or street to audit. We need a good mix of times and conditions for the traffic counts (mornings, nights, cruise ship days, non-cruise ship days, etc.), and it’s good to get a variety of streets audited.

If you want to help, you can print out the forms posted below and go out and record your findings. Or you can give me a call at 907-623-7660 or email me at charleswbingham3@gmail.com. Your help is greatly appreciated. All data collected will be shared with the Sitka Planning Department to help plan future walking and biking upgrades in Sitka.

• Three-Page Walking/Biking Traffic Count Form

• Walkability and Walking Tour Assessment of Land Use (City of Sitka document for Katlian Street, but can be modified for other streets)

• AARP Walk Audit Tool Kit

• AARP Walk Audit Leader Guide

Sitka’s Charles Bingham selected to participate in Walking College Fellowship program

America Walks, a national advocacy organization working to empower communities to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk, announced today that Charles Bingham of Walk Sitka has been awarded a Walking College Fellowship as part of the 2018 program.

The Fellowship will enable Bingham and other advocates from around the country to participate in a five-month training program designed to strengthen local efforts to make communities more walkable and livable.

“We are delighted to welcome Charles Bingham as a member of the Walking College,” said Emilie Bahr, Walking College Manager with America Walks, “It was a very competitive application process and he will be a great addition to the 2018 class. We look forward to developing his skills and are excited to see his work grow.”

Bingham will complete a six-module distance-education training program this summer, followed by an independent study project in Sitka, and then attend Walk/Bike/Places in New Orleans in the fall. He is the first Alaskan selected to the Walking College Fellowship.

“One of the goals of the first Sitka Health Summit (2007) was to become a walk and bicycle friendly community,” said Bingham, a former newspaper journalist who now works as a freelance media/public relations and grant-writing specialist. “In 2008, Sitka became Alaska’s first official Bicycle Friendly Community (Bronze level), but at the time there wasn’t a similar national program for walking. We repeated our Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2012, and moved up to the Silver level in 2016. In 2013, we became Alaska’s first official Walk Friendly Community with a Bronze level designation, and we renewed our Bronze level designation in 2017. Hopefully the knowledge I gain from being a Walking College Fellow will help Sitka upgrade to the Silver or Gold level in the Walk Friendly Community program. I also think I’ll be able to apply the knowledge to my cycling advocacy work.”

Bingham wrote Sitka’s two renewal Bicycle Friendly Community applications (he helped on the first) and also wrote Sitka’s two Walk Friendly Communities applications. In addition to coordinating the Walk Sitka program that came out of the Sitka Health Summit, he also is part of the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition.  He builds the Walk Sitka and Sitka Cycling websites (https://walksitka.wordpress.com and http://sitkacycling.wordpress.com) and administrates the corresponding Facebook pages for each (https://www.facebook.com/WalkSitka/ and https://www.facebook.com/SitkaCycling/). Bingham moderates the Alaska Bicycling and Walking Advocacy Group on Facebook, too.

The Walking College curriculum has been designed to expand the capacity of local advocates to be effective community change agents. Topics include the science behind the benefits of walking, evaluation of built environments, as well as communication skills and building relationships with stakeholders and decision makers. Fellows work with other members of their class and a set of experienced mentors to develop the knowledge and skills needed to create community change. At the conclusion of the Walking College, Fellows will develop a Walking Action Plan for implementation using their new skills.

•••

About America Walks: America Walks, a nonprofit national organization, is leading the way in empowering communities to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable walking conditions for all. We provide a voice for walking and walkable communities with federal agencies, provide strategy support, training and technical assistance to statewide, regional, and local organizations, and serve as the convener of the national Every Body Walk! Collaborative. Together, America Walks and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative boast 700 allied organizations who across the nation are working to increase walking and support walkable communities for all members. More at http://www.americawalks.org.

About Walk Sitka: Walk Sitka originated from the Sitka Health Summit, when Sitka residents chose making Sitka a more walkable community as one of its first community wellness projects. In 2013, Sitka became the first Alaska city to earn a Bronze level or higher designation from the Walkable Friendly Communities program. In 2017, Sitka renewed its Bronze level designation. Walk Sitka works with a variety of community partners to promote walking events, education, safety upgrades, and more. More at https://walksitka.wordpress.com.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game to host ‘Bear Aware’ presentation at Sitka Public Library

Brown bears are beginning to stir on the outskirts of town, so the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is reminding residents to practice diligent bear awareness.

Residents should make household garbage unavailable to bears, prior to their arrival. Pro-actively removing attractants before bears emerge from hibernation will encourage them to seek natural food sources and help alleviate problems associated with food-conditioned bears later this summer. ADF&G regulations prohibit negligently leaving out food and garbage in a manner that attracts bears. Local ordinances prohibit putting trash out until the morning of pick up.

To help prevent bear issues this summer, ADF&G suggests the following:

  • Garbage: Store trash inside buildings or in bear-proof containers; keep it secured until the morning of scheduled pick up. To minimize garbage odors, bones and meat scraps should be frozen until the day of pick up or until the items can be properly disposed. Remind neighbors to do the same.
  • Electric fences: Properly constructed electric fences are a highly effective deterrent to keep bears out of gardens, fish smokers, and away from chicken coops and domestic animals.
  • Barbecues: Clean grills after each use.
  • Pets: Feed pets indoors or clean up excess and spilled food between meals. Store pet food indoors. Never sic your dog on a bear.
  • Bird Feeders: Take feeders down April through October.
  • Gardens: Plant gardens in the open, away from cover and game trails. Compost only raw vegetable matter and turn it over frequently.

Hikers, walkers, and joggers are reminded to be alert for bears, especially during early mornings and late evenings. Be safe and bear smart by traveling in groups and keeping dogs on a leash.

ADF&G will be giving a free bear safety and awareness presentation at 6 p.m. on Thurday, April 19, at the Sitka Public Library. The community is invited to attend.

For additional information and questions, contact the Sitka ADF&G office at 747-5449.

Sitka National Historical Park temporarily closes trail during maintenance building construction

Construction of a replacement on-site maintenance building has begun at Sitka National Historical Park, just northeast of the visitor center upper parking lot. During construction, the short walking trail from the northeast side of the upper parking lot connecting to the Riverview Trail will be closed to visitors. All other trails will be unaffected and remain open to visitors.

Visitors can expect to see construction equipment and contractors working from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays during the construction period, which should end about May 25. These closures will be in the upper parking lot and adjacent to the Riverview Trail. Please use caution when traveling near this area.

Any questions or concerns should be directed to Jessica Perkins, at 747-0153 or jessica_perkins@nps.gov.

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