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

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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

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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.

Sitka awarded $1.36 million for second phase of Sitka Sea Walk

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The Sitka Sea Walk is about to get 1,763 feet longer.

The Alaska Transportation Alternatives Program (ATAP) recently announced it was funding $1.36 million for the second phase of the Sitka Sea Walk, which will extend the popular pathway between Harrigan Centennial Hall and the O’Connell Bridge lightering dock.

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Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell, left, and State Sen. Bert Stedman cut the ribbon opening the Sitka Sea Walk on Alaska Day (Oct. 18), 2013.

This new phase of the walkway will run along the embankment on the water side of the bridge, allowing visitors and Sitka residents to walk from the lightering dock to Harrigan Centennial Hall without having to cross a busy street. The extension also will connect to the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk, completed in October 2013, which runs parallel to Lincoln Street from the Crescent Harbor parking lot to the border of the Sitka National Historical Park. The Sitka National Historical Park currently is hosting community meetings about various plans to complete the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk from the border of the park down to the park’s visitor center.

The total cost of Phase II of the Sitka Sea Walk is $1.7 million, with $200,000 coming from the Alaska Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) and $140,000 coming from the Commercial Passenger Excise Tax (CPET). In 2014, the city applied and was approved to receive $181.940 in FLAP funds (with a local match of $18,060), which become available in the Fall of 2017. The FLAP and CPET funds can be used to meet the $340,000 match requirement to receive the $1.36 million from ATAP.

On June 28, the Sitka Assembly approved the submission of the grant application for ATAP funds, and the state announced on July 28 that the Sitka Sea Walk extension was one of 15 projects funded around the state. While not in the application, the city also plans a connector path from the O’Connell Bridge lightering dock to Lincoln Street and Totem Square.

“I think it will be a great addition to the visitor industry, visitors can get off at (Harrigan) Centennial Hall and get to this part of town,” Sitka City Administrator Mark Gorman told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “I think it will facilitate more walkability to all of Sitka. It will enhance the visitor experience.”

In the Sitka Assembly’s resolution approving the grant application, the Sitka Sea Walk and its extension are listed as priorities in the 2002 Sitka Non-Motorized Transportation Plan, the 2007 Sitka Comprehensive Plan, the Sitka Tourism Plans 1.0 and 2.0, the Sitka Downtown Master Plan, and the 2011 Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Action Plan. In surveys of cruise ship visitors and independent travelers completed in 2010 for the Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Action Plan, there was a desire for more walking and hiking activities and tours, and most cruise ship visitors choose to walk during their visit to Sitka.

GuyWalkingOnSpurOverBreakwaterIn addition to helping celebrate Sitka’s connection to the sea, there is another big reason to build the Sitka Sea Walk extension — safety.

In a memorandum to Mayor Mim McConnell, the Sitka Assembly and Gorman about the application, Public Works Director Mark Harmon and Municipal Engineer Dan Tadic noted how the Sitka Sea Walk extension “around the seaward side of the O’Connell Bridge solves a long-standing, identified safety issue with pedestrians making uncontrolled crossings of the State of Alaska owned and maintained Harbor Drive. A comprehensive wayfinding signage system along with a designated pedestrian route will result in visitors moving in predictable ways. Not only is this a significant safety improvement, but (it) also reduces the potential for visitor-resident conflicts and frustration.”

When the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk was built in 2013, safety also was a factor since before the Sitka Sea Walk pedestrians had to cross Lincoln Street at least twice to get to where sidewalks were only available on one side of the street. The construction of the Sitka Sea Walk not only eliminated the street crossings, it directed pedestrian traffic away from the street so there were fewer auto-pedestrian conflicts.

The ATAP funding is expected to become available in early 2017, pending an environmental review by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, according to Marcheta Moulton, small federal programs manager for the ADT&PF. Tadic said the city will probably go through the design process in Fall/Winter 2017-18, with construction starting in 2018.

Fundraiser on Saturday, June 18, will raise money for lighted crosswalk signs

HPR fundraiser flyer

There’s good news and bad news about the intersection of Halibut Point Road and Peterson Street. After hearing public comments about the dangers of the intersection, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has approved — but not funded — a plan for the City and Borough of Sitka to install lighted crosswalk lights at the intersection.

To raise funds for the new safety lights, there will be a car wash and hot dog fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, at the Sitka Fire Hall (209 Lake Street).

Residents also can contribute to this special public safety fund by mailing or delivering  a check made out to the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department (in care of Dave Miller), 209 Lake Street, Sitka, Alaska 99835.

Project sponsors include, the Sitka Police Department, the Police & Fire commission, Sitka Volunteer Fire Department, Sitka Rotary Club, Girl Scout Troop 4140, the State of Alaska Department of Transportation, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, and Sitka Community Hospital.

For more information, contact Retha Winger at 738-2073.

Sitka Girl Scout Troop 4140 launches safety survey over Halibut Point Road-Peterson Street intersection

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HPRPetersonIntersectionLookingNorthThe Sitka Girl Scout Troop 4140 recently launched an intersection safety survey for the Halibut Point Road-Peterson Street intersection near McDonald’s.

This particular intersection is on one of Sitka’s busiest roads (Halibut Point Road, aka HPR), and Peterson Street is on a hill that leads to three different schools (Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Sitka High School, and The SEER School). In January 2015, it also was the site of a pickup truck-bicycle collision that resulted in then-15-year-old Cody Bergman being medevacked to Seattle with serious injuries.

In March 2015, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) posted safety flags for the intersection (and another intersection in front of Blatchley Middle School), but many residents in Sitka want to see more, such as a stop light, lower speed limits, or better pedestrian-crossing markers.

“We are hoping to get some feedback from Sitkans so we can give DOT a push to review the safety of that intersection,” the troop wrote in an email (which didn’t identify the writer). “Obviously budgets are tight, but safety should be a priority.”

The safety survey asks people if they have any stories or experiences they want to contribute. Comments can be left in boxes at the Highliner Coffee Shop or Backdoor Cafe, emailed to hpr.troop4140@gmail.com, or submitted on the troop’s website. The comments will be compiled and forwarded to the Alaska DOT for review.