Scenes from the 18th annual Parade of the Species through downtown Sitka

There were squid kids, a raven clan, and jellyfish galore during the 18th annual Parade of the Species, held Friday, April 20, through downtown Sitka as part of Earth Day and Earth Week activities hosted by the Sitka Conservation Society.

This year’s parade started from Totem Square and finished at the Sitka Sound Science Center, where there were a variety of activities for the kids such as making masks or drinking fresh smoothies.

A slideshow of photos from the parade is posted below.

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Earth Month activities include the Parade of the Species, a youth eco-detectives event, gardening classes, free bus rides, and more

Earth Day is on Sunday, April 22, and Earth Week this year is Monday through Sunday, April 16-22. Sitka will host a variety of activities for Earth Week, including a couple of spring clean-up events, a couple of gardening classes, free bus rides, a herring potluck, and the 17th annual Earth Day Parade of the Species.

 

There is a community-wide spring clean-up event from April 14-22, when people can bring in a variety of large items and hazardous materials to the transfer station and the Sawmill Cove Scrap Yard (hazardous materials are only April 21-22). This event is hosted by the City and Borough of Sitka Public Works Department.

The “Starting a Cottage Foods Business” class on the poster, hosted by the Sitka Kitch and Juneau office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, scheduled for April 14 has been canceled due to low registration in Juneau (the class was to be videoconferenced to Sitka).

The RIDE public transit in Sitka will offer free bus rides again this year during Earth Week (April 16-20). This has been a yearly offering from the RIDE, which is operated by a partnership between Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the nonprofit Center for Community.

There is an Arctic Mission talk at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. There also is an Earth Day Preschool Story Time at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 19, at the Sitka Public Library.

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a free gardening class during Earth Week. Jennifer Carter and Michelle Putz will teach “Sitka Gardening 101,” which takes place from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking off Spruce Street). There also is a “Greenhouse Gardening” class taught by Andrea Fraga from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, April 26, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall. Contact Charles Bingham at 623-7760 or check the Sitka Local Foods Network website for more details of upcoming garden classes.

There is a Herring Potluck at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, at Harrigan Centennial Hall, hosted by Sitka Tribe of Alaska.

There is a Tlingít potato workshop from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Friday, April 20, hosted by the U.S. Forest Service Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska. This event takes place at the Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

The 17th annual Parade of Species, hosted by the Sitka Conservation Society, is on Friday, April 20. Parade participants are invited to dress as their favorite animal or plant and gallop, slither, swim, or fly with us. We will meet in Totem Square at 2:45 p.m. and parade down Lincoln Street to the Sitka Sound Science Center at 3:15 p.m. There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family from 3:30-5:30 p.m. after the parade. Prizes will be awarded for Best Use of Recycled Material, Most Realistic, Best Local Plant/Animal, and Best Group Costume. For more information, contact Claire Sanchez at claire@sitkawild.org or call 747-7509. Click this link for a slideshow of scenes from the 2017 Parade of the Species.

Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Sound Science Center and Bags For Change will host the movie, “Plastic Ocean,” at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 20, in Room 106 at UAS Sitka Campus.

Sitka National Historical Park and Sitka Sound Science Center are hosting an Eco-Detectives event from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 21, at Sitka National Historical Park for kids ages 5 and older.

The Sitka Cirque‘s Earth Day Showcase, “The Jungle Book,” takes place from 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22, at the Sitka Performing Arts Center.

Sitka Conservation Society and the U.S. Forest Service are hosting an Indian River Trash Pick-Up from 10-11:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 22.

Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School and Sitka Conservation Society will host a “We Love Our Fishermen” lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25, at the school.

Sitka Conservation Society hosts a Tongass Trivia contest for adults age 21 and older from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, April 27, at Baranof Island Brewing Co.

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

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

Earth Week activities include the Parade of the Species, a youth eco-challenge, gardening class, free bus rides, and more

Earth Day is on Friday, April 22, and Earth Week this year is April 16-22. Sitka will host a variety of activities for Earth Week, including a couple of spring clean-up events, a gardening class, free bus rides, a bear aware canvassing campaign, a nature journaling community hike, a youth eco-challenge, and the 16th annual Earth Day Parade of the Species.

The Sitka Spruce Tips/Alaska Way of Life 4H Club will go Bear Aware canvassing from 3:30-5 p.m. on Monday, April 17, in neighborhoods along Indian River. The 4Hers will distribute bear aware literature to homes in that area to raise awareness about bear safety and garbage control. Contact Julia Tawney of the Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509 or julia@sitkawild.org for more details.

The Sitka Spruce Tips 4H Club also will host a nature journaling community hike starting at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, at the Indian River Trailhead. This event will involve nature journaling and experiencing nature using all five senses. An RSVP is required to participate in this event, so please contact Julia at 747-7509 or julia@sitkawild.org to register.

There is a community-wide spring clean-up event from April 15-23, when people can bring in a variety of large items and hazardous materials to the transfer station and the Sawmill Cove Scrap Yard (hazardous materials are only April 22-23). This event is hosted by the City and Borough of Sitka Public Works Department.

The RIDE public transit in Sitka will offer free bus rides again this year during Earth Week (April 17-21). This has been a yearly offering from the RIDE, which is operated by a partnership between Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the nonprofit Center for Community.

 

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a free gardening class during Earth Week. Kerry MacLane will teach “Extending Your Garden Season,” which takes place from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking off Spruce Street). Contact Jennifer Carter at 747-0520 or check the Sitka Local Foods Network website for more details.

The 16th annual Parade of Species, hosted by the Sitka Conservation Society, is on Friday, April 21. Parade participants are invited to dress as their favorite animal or plant and gallop, slither, swim, or fly with us. We will meet in Totem Square at 2:45 p.m. and parade down Lincoln Street to the Sitka Sound Science Center at 3:15 p.m. There will be a number of community organizations with hands-on Earth Day inspired activities for the whole family from 3:30-5:30 p.m. after the parade. Prizes will be awarded for Best Use of Recycled Material, Most Realistic, Best Local Plant/Animal, and Best Group Costume. For more information, contact Julia Tawney at julia@sitkawild.org or call 747-7509. Click this link for a slideshow of scenes from the 2016 Parade of the Species.

The Rotary Club of Sitka will host a community spring clean-up from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 22, at Totem Square Park. This event is supported by Sitka Community Hospital, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and the City and Borough of Sitka. For more information, contact John Stein at 747-7811.

 

Sitka author Pauline Duncan will share her Sitka Herring and Baby Raven books at a Babies & Books Earth Day Event at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, at the Sitka Public Library. Babies, toddlers and siblings are welcome. For more information, contact the library at 747-8708.

The fourth annual youth eco-challenge is free and takes place from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 22, at the Sitka National Historical Park. School-aged youth teams (ages 5-12) will test their outdoor skills and teamwork while they make their way through the Sitka National Historical Park. Sign up in teams of four, or as individuals to be put on a team. Teams of multiple ages are recommended. It’s a race. Limited spots available, so register early. The registration deadline is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19. Contact Julia Tawney to register, 747-7509 or julia@sitkawild.org.

The Sitka Gymnastics Academy‘s Earth Day Showcase takes place from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at the Sitka Cirque (207 Smith Street). The Sitka Gymnastics program is donating half of the money raised by this event to the Sitka Conservation Society. Tickets are $10 for adults and $3-$5 for youth.

• Sitka Earth Week Events Schedule for 2017

• Parade of the Species 2017 flier

• Eco-Challenge 2017 flier

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

NewDowntownBanners

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

icybaranofstreetlouisecbradyphotofacebook

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.

halfclearedsidewalk

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.