Sitka Comprehensive Plan open house on June 6 includes training for upcoming bike/pedestrian count

There will be a “Planning Our Future Together” open house from 5-8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6, for the Sitka 2030 Comprehensive Plan project, and part of that open house includes training for a bicyclist and pedestrian count on Tuesday, June 13. The open house will be set up so you can stay for 15 minutes or the full three hours, depending upon your interest in the topics.

Over the past year or so, the Sitka Planning Commission, city planners and contractor Barbara Sheinberg have been working on an update of the Sitka Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 2007. They have been working on the plan by topics, with the first Planning Commission meeting each month usually devoted to one topic from the plan.

The open house will feature updates on three sections of the comprehensive plan — Transportation; History, Culture and Arts; and Parks, Trails and Recreation — and residents will be able to vote on the actions they favor. There also will be an introduction to the S-MAP, an idea wall where people can draw “Ideas For A Better Sitka,” and a haiku contest where you can win a $100 gift card. Oh, yeah, there also will be pizza.

In addition, there will be short 10-minute training sessions for the Sitka bicyclist and pedestrian count scheduled for Tuesday, June 13. This bike/ped count will give city planners information about how many people are biking or walking to get around downtown Sitka.

From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 13, Sitka residents will take one-hour shifts to count walkers and bikers at two major intersections in Sitka. This information will help Sitka obtain funding for safety improvements. It also will provide data so Sitka can track changes over time in the number of people who are biking and walking in Sitka. According to the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, Sitka has 5.2 percent of its residents who commute to work by bike and 15.1 percent who commute to work by walking. But Tuesday, June 13, is a cruise ship day, when there will be more bikers and walkers out than usual and this will help us be able to tell if our infrastructure can handle the extra people.

For more information, contact the Sitka Planning Department at 747-1814.

Alaska DOT&PF lists two options for Sawmill Creek Road bike/ped 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 has proposed two options for the Sawmill Creek Road resurfacing and pedestrian improvements project between the roundabout and Jeff Davis Street.

The proposal was 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 an 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 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 an 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 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

Indian River pedestrian bridge to close on May 8 through mid-August for construction project

Construction to replace the Indian River pedestrian bridge in Sitka National Historical Park will begin Monday, May 8. Cross-park foot traffic will be closed through mid-August. Signs and maps will direct pedestrians around the park during construction. The detour will be through the Sitka Fine Arts Campus to Sawmill Creek Road. Detour maps are available at the park’s visitor’s center or the Russian Bishop’s House information desks.

The existing foot bridge is now 50 years old and is beginning to show signs of deterioration. It is National Park Service policy to repair or replace infrastructure prior to the occurrence of any safety issues. The new bridge will assure that park visitors can safely cross Indian River for decades to come.

Site preparation begins on Monday, May 8. The actual removal and reconstruction of bridge components will start May 15 and continue until Aug. 15.

“The in-river work will be completed by July 15th to protect the mid-summer salmon run,” said Brinnen Carter, chief of resources. “Hopefully, all the work will be completed by then, but it is likely that the contractor will have above-water work to complete between July 15th and August 15th. We know that the bridge is a critical component of the community’s walking trails and we want it back in operation as soon as possible.”

The trail linking the park’s east and west sections across the river is heavily-used. Pedestrian traffic will be re-directed with signs and maps through the Sitka Fine Arts Campus and down Sawmill Creek Road until the new, wider bridge is in place.

The new bridge, designed with considerable public input, will retain the character of the existing bridge but be wider to provide easier passage and better wildlife viewing.

For more information about this work, please contact Angie Richman at 747-0132 or Mike Trainor at 747-0150.

Sitka National Historical Park starts Indian River Pedestrian Bridge and other projects for the season

Foot traffic on the trail linking the Sitka National Historical Park’s east and west sections across the Indian River pedestrian bridge will be restricted over the summer months as crews begin work to replace the almost 50-year-old foot bridge.

Access will be limited for periods of time from Wednesday, April 12, through Friday, April 14, as crews begin the project by clearing trees and brush in the construction zone near the bridge. This tree removal is being done by Saturday, April 15, before migratory birds may nest in the trees. A visual inspection of the trees to be removed has revealed no nests. Pedestrians should use caution during this as this work will be completed using heavy equipment

On May 8, the removal of the old bridge will begin, closing the cross-park trail completely at least until Aug. 15. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued a permit to allow in-water work to take place during this time. The bridge replacement project was delayed last summer when it was discovered the bridge would need new footings.

“We hope the work will result in minimum inconvenience for our many park visitors,” said Mike Trainor, Sitka National Historical Park Chief of Maintenance. “But all structures have a lifetime. For the long-term convenience and safety of cross-park traffic, the installation of a new bridge is necessary. And of course we are also mindful of the importance of Indian River as a salmon-bearing stream, so we will do everything possible for this work to pose a minimum disruption to that natural cycle of life.”

The new bridge will be similar in design and slightly wider to accommodate a larger number of visitors viewing the salmon runs while still allowing pedestrians and people walking their bikes to safely pass.

Park crews also will be engaged over the next several months in clearing selected understory and small trees over a half-acre between the park’s fort site and the shoreline. The goal is to help restore views from the fort site to the ocean to approximate the topography that existed during the Battle of 1804, the event that gave rise to the naming of park land as a national monument in 1910.

For more information about this work, please contact Angie Richman at 747-0132 or Mike Trainor at 747-0150.

Sitka National Historical Park issues public reminder of pet regulations on trails

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Rangers and visitors at Sitka National Historical Park have recently observed a number of dogs off leash within the park. This is a violation of park regulations.

SitkaNationalHistoricalParkSignDogs off leash can cause safety hazards for other park users walking, running, or bringing their leashed pets on the same trail system and can potentially cause harm to our natural and cultural resources. The National Park Service would like to remind the public that it is prohibited to have dogs off leash anywhere in the park including the tidal lands which are under park jurisdiction.

Rangers will be increasing their patrols for violators and will be taking the appropriate law enforcement action, which may include the issuance of a United States Violation Notice in the amount of $50, plus a $35 processing fee.

The park trails are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The route between Metlakatla Street and Sawmill Creek Road is open at all times. Visitors are still welcome to walk dogs on park trails, but must keep their pets on a leash at all times and dispose of pet waste properly. We appreciate your cooperation with this park policy.

About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 413 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more about Sitka National Historical Park at http://www.nps.gov/sitkhttp://www.nps.gov/sitk or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SitkaNationalHistoricalPark.

Walk Sitka to meet on Jan. 17 to begin work on Walk Friendly Communities renewal application

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WFC_LogoWant to help make Sitka a better place for walkers? Walk Sitka will meet from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Sitka Public Library (Gus Adams meeting room) to begin work on our Walk Friendly Communities program renewal application.

In October 2013, Sitka became the first (and currently only) city in Alaska to earn a Bronze level or higher Walk Friendly Communities designation. We earned a Bronze level in 2013, so let’s see if we can improve to the Silver or Gold level in 2017.

Over the past few years, Sitka has seen the completion of the Sitka Sea Walk, an expansion to the Cross Trail, a new multi-use pathway at the end of Sawmill Creek Road, and several other infrastructure improvements. Over the last few months, Sitka has received funding awards to build the second phase of the Sitka Sea Walk and the sixth phase of the Cross Trail, and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is getting ready to redo a section of Sawmill Creek Road from the roundabout to Jeff Davis Street to make it friendlier for walkers and bikers (good bye power poles in the middle of the sidewalk). We also have had more education about being visible while walking and a cellphone ban while driving to promote safety, and launched the Park Prescriptions program at Sitka National Historical Park and other hiking/walking clubs to encourage people to walk.

During this meeting, we will start to list our improvements since our last application, and we will look for areas where we can improve our community to make it easier for people to walk.

To learn more about the application process, contact Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com.

Time for Sitka to restructure how it clears snow and ice from the sidewalks

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Ice blankets the sidewalk of Baranof Street on Dec. 24, 2016 (Photo posted to the Sitka Chatters group on Facebook by Louise C. Brady)

If there’s anything we learned about Sitka’s snow and ice in December, it’s that we need to reevaluate how we clear our sidewalks in the winter. Our current system isn’t working.

chapter-14-04Like most cities around the country, our roads are plowed by the City and Borough of Sitka (or the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, depending on who maintains the road). But the clearing of snow and ice on sidewalks, which also are public rights of way, is left to the owners of the adjacent properties. The Sitka regulations can be found in Chapter 14.04 (Ice and Snow Removal, under Chapter 14: Streets and Sidewalks) of the Sitka General Code.

Basically, the code says the property owners have a reasonable time after a snowfall to clear the sidewalks, making them “free of snow and ice and clear of all other obstructions or menaces dangerous to life or limb.” If the snow and ice isn’t cleared within a reasonable time, the chief of police or municipal engineer can have the sidewalk cleared and pass the expense on to the property owners, which are listed as a lien on the property until the costs are paid. This is fairly common code in communities around the country.

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A sidewalk cleared in front of one business, but not another during the 2013 winter.

But there are problems with it. First, there’s the issue of why are public rights of way for cars maintained by the city or state when the sidewalks aren’t. Then there’s the issue of enforcement. Very few communities adequately enforce these regulations. Another issue is what happens when you have absentee property owners or government property owners (such as by the Russian graveyard on Marine Street) who don’t maintain the sidewalk? Finally, this system lends itself to a patchwork system of sidewalk clearing, where the sidewalk in front of one business or house is cleared down to the cement but right next door the owner only did a halfway job and left lumpy piles of snow and ice on the sidewalk.

It’s time for a more consistent snow and ice clearance policy in Sitka, especially in the downtown business district. As communities start paying more attention to making themselves walking and biking friendly, they need to remember that they need to be friendly over all seasons. You can have a walk friendly community in the summer, but you lose it in the winter if you let the snow and ice take over the sidewalks so people are afraid of falling and breaking a hip. In recent weeks in Sitka, it’s been so icy that even wearing ice cleats hasn’t been much of a help. Our community is aging, and falls can be deadly to our elders. In some winters we have several feet of snow, and sometimes plows dump the snow in the sidewalk or leave berms that make it harder for drivers to see walkers. Several communities around the world have been sued for not keeping sidewalks walkable in the winter, so spending a little bit of money now on maintenance could prevent a larger damage award later.

SEARHC has a couple of small truck/tractors with blades on the front and sand-spreaders on the back to clear sidewalks on its Sitka campus.

SEARHC has a couple of small truck/tractors with blades on the front and sand-spreaders on the back to clear sidewalks on its Sitka campus.

About 5-6 years ago, when Sitka received more snow, the city put out a bid for someone to clear the downtown sidewalks under a contract. But it didn’t happen, and we didn’t get much snow for several winters so it wasn’t an issue.

For a good example of how a consistent downtown snow and ice policy could work, look to the Sitka campus at the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), which owns a couple of small truck/tractors with blades on the front and sand-spreaders on the back to keep the sidewalks walkable from Mount Edgecumbe Hospital down to the Community Health Building and other program facilities on the lower campus. The city already owns a small truck/tractor with a blade on the front and sand-spreader on the back, so it would be nice to see it make a couple of runs at Lincoln Street, Marine Street and other high-traffic walking streets during the winter.

Joey Yang, a civil engineering professor at UAA, developed and implemented a cost-effective heated sidewalk in two campus locations (and counting). (Photo by Joey Yang, University of Alaska Anchorage)

Joey Yang, a civil engineering professor at UAA, developed and implemented a cost-effective heated sidewalk in two campus locations (and counting). (Photo by Joey Yang, University of Alaska Anchorage)

Another option is to use some technology developed in 2010 at the University of Alaska Anchorage that automatically melts the snow and ice off the sidewalk. UAA professor Joey Yang developed the technology after his father slipped and broke his thumb during a visit to Anchorage from his home in China. The system uses carbon fiber pieces embedded in the four-inch sidewalk concrete that can be turned on before a storm and turned off after it’s over to save energy. The system was tested in a couple of campus locations before being installed in front of the UAA School of Engineering Building and UAA Bookstore. The system only costs about two cents per square foot per day to operate, and it’s only on when a storm is coming.