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 2.0’ walking and biking visibility campaign

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Sharon Bergman of the Rotary Club of Sitka presents a check to Sitka Community Hospital CEO Rob Allen to purchase high-visibility reflective jackets that will be raffled off at various locations around Sitka.

Be Bright Poster 2016 [logo at bottom lowres]Getting 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 (CDC), in the next 24 hours, on average, 445 people in the U.S. will be treated in an emergency department for traffic-related pedestrian injuries. In 2012 alone 76,000 people were injured.

That’s why the Sitka Community Hospital, in partnership with the Rotary Club of Sitka, is launching the “Be Bright At Night 2.0” walking and biking visibility 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 to funds from the Rotary Club of Sitka, the Sitka Community Hospital will be raffling off high visibility coats at various locations throughout Sitka:

  • The Sitka Public Health Center at 210 Moller Drive,
  • Tongass Threads,
  • The White Elephant thrift shop (White E),
  • The Sitka Public Library,
  • The Hames Athletic and Wellness Center,
  • Swan Lake Senior Center,
  • The Salvation Army Little Store,
  • Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School,
  • KIFW-AM radio,
  • Blatchley Middle School,
  • Sitka Community Hospital, and
  • On the Sitka Chatters group on Facebook.

Having a coat that covers your whole upper body and can be seen from all sides is one way to be visible and stay seen as you walk the family dog, bike home from work or go for a stroll anywhere near cars. The upgraded Gage high-visibility rain coats, which were purchased at a discounted price from Murray Pacific, have reflective strips built into the jackets.

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

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.

 

 

Alaska DOT puts pedestrian crossing flags at two Sitka intersections on Halibut Point Road

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Pedestrian crossing flags have been installed at the Halibut Point Road and North Lakeview Drive intersection, in front of Blatchley Middle School. But where’s the paint for the crosswalk or safety lights?

 

On March 20, the Sitka Police Department page on Facebook posted the following message and photo (below) after the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities installed pedestrian crossing flags at two intersections on heavily traveled Halibut Point Road in Sitka:

SitkaPedestrianCrossingFlagsSPD would like to say a big THANK YOU to Steve Bell, from DOT, for installing Pedestrian Crosswalk Flags at the Blatchley Middle School and McDonald’s crosswalks. In an effort to make pedestrians and the crosswalk more visible until the permanent paint can be applied to the roadway, Bell has installed holders on both sides of the roadway containing Pedestrian Crosswalk Flags. The idea is simple, when a person wishes to cross the road they grab a flag and wave it a bit to get the attention of motorists, and once traffic has stopped and it is safe to cross, do so and deposit the flag in the holder on the other side of the road. The brightly colored reflective flags benefit pedestrians by making them more visible to drivers and the simple act of holding one alerts drivers that the pedestrian has a desire and intent to cross the road. In addition, simply having the brightly colored flags at both ends of a crosswalk makes the crosswalk stand out more, making it easier to notice on the approach. Be advised that the flags are not formal traffic control devices but a way for pedestrians to make themselves more visible to approaching traffic.

 

One set of pedestrian crossing flags (also known as pedestrian crosswalk flags) was installed at the corner of North Lakeview Drive, just in front of Blatchley Middle School and the AC Lakeside grocery store next door. The other set of pedestrian crossing flags was installed at the corner of Peterson Street (in front of McDonald’s, which is just down the hill from three nearby schools — Sitka High School, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, and the SEER School).

The basic premise of pedestrian crossing flags is simple. A set of about eight flags will be split into two holders on each side of a busy intersection. Whenever pedestrians need to cross the busy road, they grab one of the flags from its holder and wave it several times to let drivers know they plan to cross the road, and they continue to wave the flag as they cross. Once safely across the street, they replace the flag in the holder on the other side.

Even before a young cyclist was hit at the McDonald’s intersection in early February, Sitka residents had been complaining about the lack of pedestrian safety at these two intersections. After the vehicle-bicycle collision sent a high school freshman to two Seattle hospitals for a month, local DOT staff installed better signs and discussed other measures that could improve safety. That’s when the idea of pedestrian crossing flags came up. According to Alaska DOT traffic engineer David Epstein, “We have deployed them at several intersections in Juneau for that purpose, and they are performing well. We modified the flags with reflective yellow tape. It makes them much more noticeable at night.”

But do they really work? The jury is still out about the effectiveness of pedestrian crossing flags. Most of the data so far is anecdotal, and there haven’t been many formal studies.

Pedestrian crossing flags have been around for several years, and several U.S. cities have tried them, including Seattle and Kirkland, Wash.; Berkeley, Calif.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Sand Point, Idaho; and others. The pedestrian crossing flags also have been tried in Juneau, Alaska. Of course, 150 years ago, it was the cars that needed the safety flags, before they began to rule the roads.

Some communities, such as Seattle and Berkeley, have given up on the pedestrian crossing flags, for various reasons including ineffectiveness, theft of the flags, and more. “Berkeley analyzed its flag program and issued a data-driven report about a decade ago that for crossing a major arterial at an unsignalized marked crosswalk, flags did not improve driver behavior in yielding to pedestrians. For this reason, the program was abandoned,” wrote Wendy Alfsen, executive director for California Walks.

Some pedestrians don’t like them because they feel weird having to wave them (or they feel like they’re waving a white flag and surrendering). Other walking advocates don’t like them because they feel requiring flags and reflective clothing is blaming the victim instead of addressing the real problem, poorly designed roads built for cars with no accommodations for people who walk or bike.

One reason some traffic engineers like the pedestrian crossing flags is because it’s an inexpensive solution to an increasing problem, getting drivers to notice and stop for pedestrians. It’s usually seen as a supplement to other pedestrian safety features, such as freshly painted crosswalks, flashing lights above the intersection, push-button traffic lights, and other traffic calming measures such as lower speed limits. Pedestrian crossing flags also are viewed as a temporary and not a permanent solution in many cases.

“One can debate optimal solutions all day long, but the benefit of the crossing flags is that one may act without delay, and citizens can take leadership in making something happen,” wrote Mobility Education Foundation President David Levinger of Seattle, when responding a a question about the effectiveness of the flags on the America Walks Forum email listserv for walking advocates. “In Washington D.C., there was a location on Connecticut Avenue that was quite problematic. Ped flags at that location were installed, a bit to the dismay of engineers in DCDOT. After about five years, then finally installed rectangular rapid flashing beacons and removed the flags, but they were well appreciated in the interim. My true personal feeling is that we should train drivers to recognize a pedestrian’s intent to cross the street and train pedestrians to extend their hand outward from their body as an expression of intent to cross as is taught to children in other countries. Then, pedestrians would always have a ‘flag’ with them that would be an effective tool to achieve driver yielding.”

DSC_0141Most communities include signage and training when they install the pedestrian crossing flags. They put signs by the holders to let pedestrians know how to use them (see example), and they work with local media to get the word out to drivers and pedestrians about the new pedestrian crossing flags and how they work. So far, the only media in Sitka explaining the pedestrian crossing flags has been the Facebook post, which had limited reach. There have been no newspaper articles or radio PSAs about them.

Also, go back up to the top of this article and look at the photo of the intersection in front of Blatchley Middle School. Do you see any paint showing the crosswalk? What about flashing lights above the intersection? Halibut Point Road is one of Sitka’s two busiest roads and it has some of the highest speed limits, but there are no real traffic-calming measures in front of the school. When school starts and lets out, there usually is a staff member who puts on a safety vest and carries a STOP sign into the intersection to allow students to cross the street and to let school buses turn onto HPR. But the rest of the day this is an uncontrolled intersection. The McDonald’s intersection is uncontrolled all day.

Epstein said last year’s HPR construction project is one reason the Blatchley crosswalk is barely visible.

“With regard to the marginally-visible crosswalk by Blatchley Middle School: as you know, HPR was rehabilitated during the 2014 construction season. The project took much longer than anticipated. By the time the top lift of asphalt had been laid down and the obligatory two-week, pre-marking curing period had elapsed, it was too late to apply permanent pavement markings. We needed more favorable temperature and moisture conditions than were prevalent at the time. The only option left was to apply paint, which (obviously) doesn’t last long under traffic conditions. When weather permits this spring, the crosswalks will be permanently delineated with inlaid methyl methacrylate, the most durable marking material we have. It should retain its visibility for several years.”

Another issue with the pedestrian crossing flags is where do you carry them if you’re carrying a big load of groceries or pushing a stroller with kids or elder in a wheelchair? Bob Planthold, who is a board member with California Walks, noted other problems with the flags and accessibility.

“Accessibility is a major flaw in this program. How can someone who is blind know where to pick it up and deposit it? How can someone who has neuro-muscular spasticity use a flag? Are these flags so highly reflective that at night a car’s headlight would pick it up far enough away for a car to stop or slow so the pedestrian can cross?” Planthold wrote. “What about a 6-year old crossing? Even if using a flag, kids strides are shorter, making it possible a deliberate crossing could be slower than a car driver expects of an adult. What about when pushing a baby in a stroller and holding the hand of a toddler? Grow a third hand? Or hold flag in mouth?”

So if you’re driving down Halibut Point Road and see a pedestrian grab one of the pedestrian crossing flags from the holder. Slow down and stop to let the pedestrian cross. And hopefully the Alaska DOT will get better markings for the crosswalks at these two intersections to make things safer.

Seventh annual Sitka Health Summit helps celebrate a culture of wellness in Sitka

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The seventh annual Sitka Health Summit is coming up, and this year’s event features health fair, lunch-and-learn, community planning day and community wellness awards.

This annual event got its start in 2007, when leaders from Sitka Community Hospital and the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) got together to try and build bridges between their health organizations. Working with other partners, they created the Sitka Health Summit as a way to help improve the health culture in Sitka.

Summit_LogoThis year’s summit opens with the Sitka Community Health Fair, which takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, at Sweetland Hall on the Sheldon Jackson Campus. This event features workers from the Alaska Health Fair Inc., who will provide a variety of medical tests such as cholesterol checks, glucose tests, vision screenings, flu shots, and more. It also includes informational booths from a variety of health-related programs in Sitka.

WalkLunchAndLearnAt noon on Monday, Sept. 23, at Kettleson Memorial Library will be a lunch-and-learn with Dr. Don Lehmann, a local physician and sports medicine specialist. He will give a brief talk called “Whistle While You Walk,” which will feature highlights about Sitka’s trail system. Participants can enter for a chance to win a set of walking sticks.

The “Community Planning Day: Selecting Sitka’s Wellness Goals” is from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, at Sweetland Hall. This all-day event is when members of the community get together and select two community wellness projects to work on this year. The two projects will receive $1,500 in seed money, plus facilitation to help get the project going. Last year’s three winning projects included the Sitka Downtown Revitalization project, Walk Sitka‘s work in applying for a Walk Friendly Communities award, and the Sitka Community Food Assessment. Some of the top projects from previous years include the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community award applications in 2008 and 2012, the Choose Respect mural at Blatchley Middle School to raise awareness about sexual and domestic violence, the Sitka Outdoor Recreation Coalition’s Get Out, Sitka! project to get more families and kids outdoors, supporting the Hames Athletic and Wellness Center as a community resource, etc. There also have been several projects related to local foods, such as creating a Sitka Farmers Market, expanding community gardens and building a community greenhouse, planting dozens of fruit trees around town, promoting more local fish in school lunches, community composting,, and more. The first 65 people to RSVP will receive a free lunch (contact Clara Gray at clara.gray@searhc.org).

Finally, this year’s Sitka Community Wellness Champion Awards will be presented as part of the Monthly Grind at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, at the Sheet’ká Kwáan Naa Kahídi on Katlian Street. The awards are made in a variety of categories, such as physical fitness, nutrition, tobacco control and policy, holistic health, injury prevention, and general wellness.

For more information, call Doug Osborne at 966-8734 or go to the Sitka Health Summit’s website at http://www.sitkahealthsummitak.org/.

Julie Hughes Triathlon celebrates its 29th year on May 18

JulieHughesShirt-1(1)The 29th running, biking and swimming of the Julie Hughes Triathlon starts at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 18, 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 a recent Capital City Weekly article about Julie Hughes.)

For the second straight year, the Baranof Barracudas Swim Club is organizing the race, taking over event hosting duties from the Hughes family. Registration takes place online at http://juliehughestri.com/. The entry fee is $25 per person, and people can enter as individuals or teams. Participants are encouraged to have bike safety checks done at Yellow Jersey Cycle Shop before the race.

The course is a five-mile run/walk from Blatchley Middle School to the U.S. Coast Guard-Air Station Sitka gate and back, a 12-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.

New this year is a high school challenge competition between Sitka and Pacific high school clubs and other groups (Mount Edgecumbe High School has already completed its school year and the students have gone home). The top school clubs or groups with the most participants (one point per event leg per person) can earn a $200 donation to the school activity fund.

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

• 2013 Julie Hughes Triathlon race flier

• 2013 Julie Hughes Triathlon high school challenge flier