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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Help your kids celebrate International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 4

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WalkToSchoolDay_HomepageMapNot too long ago, most of us walked or biked to school. But now, most kids arrive at school via their parents’ cars or school buses. Wednesday, Oct. 4, is International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, and Sitka parents and teachers are encouraged to help their schoolchildren walk to school on this day.

In 1970, more than half of all elementary school students ages 6-11 walked to school. By 2006, only 15 percent were walking to school. Alarmed by this trend, a group called the Partnership for a Walkable America started National Walk To School Day in 1997 as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. In 2000, the event became international when the UK and Canada (both of which had already been promoting walking to school) and the USA joined together for the first International Walk to School Day. In addition to expanding into several other countries, the dates also have expanded and October is International Walk To School Month.

“Walking or biking to school is an excellent way to add some physical activity into your day,” said Doug Osborne, Sitka Community Hospital Director of Health Promotion. “It can be a great way to start the day. Walking or biking can be a lot of fun. It’s also important to remember to be safe.”

WBTSD_12inch_ColorWalking or biking to school with their children is a good way for parents to catch up on what’s happening in their children’s lives. Other benefits to walking or biking to school include less traffic, cleaner air, and friendlier communities. Walking with their children is a good way for parents see if there are things along the route that can be done to improve safety, such as improving lighting, checking crosswalks and watching for aggressive pets along the route.

International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day is a great teaching tool for safety. Parents and teachers can teach the kids about road safety rules and the importance of being visible when they walk or bike alongside the roads. They also can check their kids’ clothes and backpacks to make sure they have reflective tape on them.

Reflectors Save Lives posterReflective tape is particularly important as we enter the dark months of the winter. Students need to Be Safe, Be Seen, and reflective tape can make a big difference in their visibility. Not only are kids sometimes hard to be seen because they’re blocked by cars, but many cars in Southeast Alaska experience condensation problems during the fall and winter that make it hard to see through windshields. Reflective tape and blinking lights can make it so kids are seen hundreds of feet before they would be if they wore plain dark clothes. The Alaska Injury Prevention Center’s pedestrian safety program will mail free reflective tape to people who call (907) 929-3939. The Alaska Injury Prevention Center also produced a YouTube video that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see.

To learn more about International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, contact your local school to see if any events are scheduled, or check with the Alaska Safe Routes To School program. The official International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day website also has a lot of information about how to set up an event for your school, including tool kits to help you arrange an event. Even if your kids don’t walk the entire way to school, you can drop them off a mile or so away and walk in with them. Many parents create walking school buses to bring several students who live in the same area to school together in one group.

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.

Julie Hughes Triathlon celebrates its 33rd year on Saturday, May 20

The 33rd running, biking and swimming of the Julie Hughes Triathlon starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 20, at Blatchley Middle School.

The event is a fundraiser for the Sitka Cancer Survivors Society and honors the memory of a young Sitka woman who passed away from leukemia at the age of 15. (Click here for an April 2013 Capital City Weekly article about Julie Hughes.) Day-of-race registration ends at 8 a.m., a pre-race briefing takes place at 8:45 a.m., and the race starts at 9 a.m. (NOTE, the website says the race starts at 9 a.m., but the flier says 8:30 a.m. for the race start, so be early.) The bike staging area opens at 7 a.m.

JulieHughesTriathlonFor the sixth straight year, the Baranof Barracudas Swim Club is organizing the race, having taken over event hosting duties from the Hughes family. Registration takes place online at http://juliehughestri.com/. The entry fee is $35 per person ($15 per child age 17 or younger), and people can enter as individuals or teams. Day-of-race registrations are $40 for adults and $20 for children. Participants are encouraged to have bike safety checks done at Yellow Jersey Cycle Shop before the race.

The course is a five-mile run from Blatchley Middle School to the U.S. Coast Guard-Air Station Sitka gate and back, a 14-mile bike ride from Blatchley to the Starrigavan Recreation Area at the end of Halibut Point Road and back, and a 1,000-yard swim at the Blatchley Middle School swimming pool. There is a shorter course available for participants who are age 12 or younger (1.5-mile run, six-mile bike, 500-yard swim).

For more information, contact Kevin Knox at 738-4664, or send an e-mail to bbsc.sitka@gmail.com.

Sitka Community Hospital launches ‘Be Bright At Night’ biking and walking safety campaign

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NewSitkaCommunityHospitalLogoGetting around Sitka on foot or on bike is good for your health, and it’s good for the environment too. However it’s important that these activities be done safely.

Pedestrians — including people who travel by foot, wheelchair, stroller, or similar means — and cyclists are among the most vulnerable users of the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the next 24 hours, on average, 445 people in the United States will be treated in an emergency department for traffic-related pedestrian injuries. In 2012 alone, 76,000 walkers were injured in the United States.

Now that we’re into the darker season with more inclement weather, this is why the Sitka Community Hospital is launching its “Be Bright At Night” biking and walking safety campaign.

Sitka can be dark especially in winter and many of the bicycle and pedestrian fatalities happen in low visibility. Drivers can only stop or swerve for the people they see so having lights, reflectors and high visibility coats provides a great protective factor. Thanks for funds from Wells Fargo Bank and the State of Alaska Injury Prevention Program, the Sitka Community Hospital Health Promotion Program will be raffling off high visibility coats at various locations throughout Sitka.

People usually refer to injuries from collisions with cars as “accidents,” however they are preventable. The baseline data showed just 3 percent of walkers and bicyclists in Sitka were visible to motorists in dark conditions from about 150 feet. The hospital is committed to bringing that number up, especially in light of the fact that Sitka’s walk and bike commuting rates are significantly higher than the national average.

Having a coat that covers your whole upper body and can be seen from all sides is one way to be visible and safe as you walk the family dog, bike home from work or go for a walk anywhere near cars.

For more information the “Be Bright At Night” campaign, contact Sitka Community Hospital’s Director of Health Promotion Doug Osborne at 747-0373.

Edgecumbe Drive Reconstruction Project nearing completion, with a safer biking and walking path

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10-24-13-Edgecumbe-Drive-sign-e1382728578427The Edgecumbe Drive Reconstruction Project is nearly ready for paving and completion, according to a Friday, Aug. 28, 2015, cover story in the Daily Sitka Sentinel (note, password required to view story on website). The article also highlighted the safer biking and walking facilities on the mile-long stretch of road, which include safer crosswalks, a multi-use path, and Sitka’s second roundabout (or third, if you count the one around St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral).

The project includes a new 10-foot-wide multi-use path on one side of the street for pedestrians and cyclists. The path is intended to provide a safe route for slow-moving bikes and pedestrians to travel. Edgecumbe Drive’s proximity to Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School was a major driver in the decision to provide this pedestrian amenity.

The new separated multi-use path replaces a narrow bike path on the downhill side of the roadway. The now-10-foot-wide path, which uses space from the narrowed traffic lanes, will be shared by cyclists and walkers.

“We didn’t like it because it encouraged wrong-way bike travel,” David Longtin, senior engineer with the City and Borough of Sitka Public Works Department, told the Sentinel. “People wanted to use the bike path, but when they were heading north then they were on the wrong side of the road, and that’s something we wanted to eliminate.”

City and state law require bicyclists to ride on the right side of the road, with traffic, for safety reasons. Walkers are to walk on the left side of the road, opposing traffic, when there isn’t a sidewalk or multi-use path available. Cyclists traveling at traffic speed can use the road, but should ride on the right side.

Longtin said paving on the path may start as soon as Saturday, if weather cooperates. Paving the main road will follow after the path is completed. Longtin told the Daily Sitka Sentinel that the construction crews can pave about 150 linear feet per hour, so the whole street should be paved within a week, depending on the weather.

Another new feature is a roundabout near the top of Kimsham Street, near where Edgecumbe Drive, Washusetts, Kimsham, and private driveway meet. The roundabout was added to the plans about a month ago, and it replaces the five-way intersection originally in the plans. While there is some increased cost ($140,000 to the $4.6 million project), Longtin said the roundabout will be a safer alternative. Roundabouts reduce collisions by 37 percent and fatal wrecks by 90 percent compared to intersections controlled by stop signs, according to Federal Highway Administration studies.

“It’ll cost some, but we feel it’ll be a good safety improvement and it’ll keep traffic moving,” Longtin said. “There’s fewer collisions and when there is a collision it’s more of a glancing blow than a t-bone collision.”

Other safety improvements from the project include bulb-outs at the Edgecumbe Drive crosswalks near Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School (which narrow the traffic lanes near intersections to slow cars and make it a shorter distance for pedestrians to cross), and rectangular rapid-flash beacons to to warn drivers of the crosswalk. There also will be buttons on all four corners of the intersection that will light the beacons so drivers know somebody is about to use the crosswalk. These traffic lights are powered by solar panels designed for Sitka’s latitude and light conditions.

Sitka Community Hospital thanks those who helped with its recent ‘Be Safe, Be Seen’ promotion

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(Editor’s note: The following is a thank you note from Sitka Community Hospital for those who participated in its recent Be Safe, Be Seen promotion.)

Dear Editor,

Walking and bicycling are economical and environmentally responsible ways to simultaneously meet needs for transportation, physical activity, and fun — all in one. Sitka has been nationally recognized as both a walk and bike friendly town and our rates for both activities are higher than the national average.

Living in a rain forest in Alaska means we often have low visibility. It’s important for pedestrians and cyclist to be visible as a courtesy to drivers and more importantly as a way to prevent collisions and injuries.

One of the best ways to protect yourself is by wearing a high-visibility jacket that provides total upper body coverage so you can be seen from both a long distance and from all sides. As part of the State of Alaska’s Injury Prevention program, 25 high-visibility GAGE jackets were purchased and distributed through Sitka Community Hospital’s Health Promotion Department. Thank you to the State of Alaska for the funding and to Murray Pacific, who sold the stylish raincoats at a generous discount. Also, thanks to the library staff who supported and hosted our “be safe be seen” educational event and jacket give away on Feb. 25.

High-visibility clothing is one item on the safe habits list including: biking on the right side of the road, wearing a helmet, looking left, right and then left again before crossing a street. The goal of this pilot project is to work together to start a trend of wearing bright clothing when biking or walking. Please encourage your family and friends to dress according to the conditions.

If you are walking or biking near cars, in low light, please don’t do it in dark clothes. Please consider joining the “High Vis. Evolution” and help our town shine bright!

Sincerely,

Doug Osborne, Bill Giant, Patrick Williams