Alaska DOT&PF lists two options for Sawmill Creek Road bike/ped improvements project

There are power poles in the middle of the sidewalk and shrubs from the yards of area houses creeping into the sidewalk on Sawmill Creek Road across from Baranof Elementary School and the Elks Lodge. Note the pedestrian under the speed limit sign to get a scale of how tight things are when you try to get by the poles.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has proposed two options for the Sawmill Creek Road resurfacing and pedestrian improvements project between the roundabout and Jeff Davis Street.

The proposal was announced at a poorly advertised open house on Monday, May 8, at Harrigan Centennial Hall (there was no mention of the meeting in the Friday, May 5, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel), when DOT staff from Juneau showed maps and diagrams detailing the two options. The DOT staff was supposed to give a report at the Tuesday, May 9, meeting of the Sitka Assembly, but the report was tabled to a later meeting when the Assembly shrank the meeting agenda to time-sensitive items only following the weekend shooting death of a city employee by another city employee.

“We’re just looking for public input, what people like and what people don’t like,” Colleen Ivaniszek, a designer and engineering assistant with DOT told the Daily Sitka Sentinel in an article in the Wednesday, May 10, edition.

“I just looked at the Assembly agenda for tomorrow (Tuesday, May 9) night and it looks like DOT is presenting two options for the design of Sawmill Creek from the Roundabout to Jeff Davis,” Sitka Trail Works Director Lynne Brandon wrote in an email shared with the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition. “It looks like they want the Assembly to choose the option. I don’t think there has been any other input from the community. This isn’t enough public process. It’s a report, so I don’t think the Assembly can make a decision at the meeting, but I think they should know that more public process is necessary and the bike-friendly option is the only way to go, not the share-road.”

The last major public meeting for this project was in December 2015 at the Sealing Cove Business Park.

This section of Sawmill Creek Road has narrow sidewalks blocked by power poles (see photo above), which prevent people in wheelchairs or using rolling walk-assist carts from being able to get by. Cyclists consider it the most dangerous section of major road in Sitka because it is the only stretch of major road without a designated bike lane or multi-use path from the ferry terminal at the end of Halibut Point Road to the industrial park at the end of Sawmill Creek Road. There also is motor vehicle parking along both sides of Sawmill Creek Road, which means cyclists have to worry about getting doored until they get past Jeff Davis Street.

“I’m really hopeful for the proposed changes to SMC Road between Baranof and Jeff Davis,” William The Giant said in a Facebook post. “I’ve been bike commuting in Sitka for about eight years now, and this small chunk of road is easily one of the most dangerous stretches for a biker in town. It might seem like a lazy little street to a driver, but for a biker it’s a choice between being firmly in traffic, or riding along in the ‘door zone’ of all the parked vehicles. It’s a no-win situation either way, since a bike accident along this road is almost guaranteed to jam up some poor driver’s axle.

“I have a baby I’m now hauling around in a bike trailer almost daily, and I absolutely dread this section of road. Honestly, I’m really surprised we’ve been providing parking to a handful of residents at the cost of safety along a major road for so long. When I read we’d only give up parking along one side of the road to create two bike lanes it sounded like a dream come true to me. Especially, since the area is being improved one way or the other, it would be strange to ‘upgrade’ it to be a new version of the same terrible layout. I will be eternally thankful to those who have to walk across the street each morning to get to their cars to make our roads safer.”

Of the two options, Option One is closest to the unacceptable status quo. In fact, it widens the driving lanes from 12 feet to 13.5 feet (and wider lanes lead to higher road speeds, which lead to more serious injuries and fatalities). It keeps the current eight-foot parking lanes on both sides of the street, but it does relocate some power poles and makes some upgrades to the sidewalk and curb ramps. This option is not an improvement for the most dangerous stretch of road and sidewalk in Sitka.

Option Two is the safer option, as it shrinks the driving lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet, eliminates the parking lane on one side of the road, and creates five-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road. This is by far the better option of the two. You can learn more about both options in the link posted at the bottom of the article.

“I agree that Option Two is the best,” Sitka cyclist Dave Nuetzel wrote in an email. “This removes parking on one side and adds two bike lanes. I also commented that bump-outs for crosswalks and a flashing crosswalk at Baranof Street are needed. … Option One with ‘shared’ lanes would basically be the same as it already is.  This stretch of highway is the only area in Sitka without a bike lane or wide shoulder. … Not sure how they plan to move cyclists from the multi-purpose path to the bike lane on the other side of the road. Currently no crosswalk at Jeff Davis.”

Girl Scout Troop 4140, which recently worked with the state and city to get a solar-powered flashing crosswalk sign for the Halibut Point Road-Peterson Street intersection, wants to see a similar flashing crosswalk sign on Sawmill Creek Road.

“Girl Scout Troop 4140 would like to have solar-powered crosswalk signs at SMC/Baranof Street (at the Baranof Elementary crosswalk) included in the design, but we need your help,” troop leader Retha Winger wrote in a Facebook post encouraging people to contact DOT about the crosswalk. “DOT is currently accepting comments about their design changes and they are requesting comments from Sitkans. You can review the design changes here, http://dot.alaska.gov/sereg/projects/sitka_sawmill_rd/index.shtml. Please send comments to Chris.Schelb@alaska.gov. PLEASE EMAIL CHRIS AND LET HIM KNOW THAT WE WANT A SOLAR-POWERED CROSSWALK AT THE BARANOF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CROSSWALK! All comments are important and appreciated. They need to hear our collective concern for the safety of our children. Thank you!”

Both options will make the intersection of DeGroff Street and Sawmill Creek Road a 90-degree turn, which will reduce car speeds as drivers leave Sawmill Creek Road for the residential DeGroff Street. Another change will move the bike path that crosses Jeff Davis Street a bit closer to the highway, so it’s easier for drivers to see the cyclists. Another plan is to improve the sidewalks by Monastery Street.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is taking public comment on the two options for the next 30 days. You can email comments to Chris.Schelb@alaska.gov, or send them by regular mail to Sawmill Creek Road Resurfacing and Pedestrian Improvements, c/o Alaska DOT&PF, P.O. Box 112506, Juneau, Alaska, 99511-2506.

• Sawmill Creek Road Resurfacing and Pedestrian Improvements Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sitka National Historical Park to host free spring migration bird walks on May 6 and May 13

Observe and learn about the migrant and resident bird species of Sitka National Historical Park during the park’s spring migration bird walks. These programs will be held from 8-10 a.m. on Saturday, May 6, and Saturday, May 13.

Spring migration bird walks are open to beginner and experienced bird watchers and will offer participants the chance to identify by sight and sound the abundant bird species that depend on the park’s coastal and rainforest ecosystems.

Participants are encouraged to dress warmly and to be prepared to spend the duration of the program outside in variable weather conditions. Those who have binoculars are encouraged to bring them to the program. There will be a limited number of binoculars available for participants to use during the program and field guides will be provided.

The program will begin and conclude at the park’s visitor center. For more information about the park’s spring migration bird walks, please contact Ryan Carpenter at 747-0121 or at ryan_p_carpenter@nps.gov.

Scenes from the People’s Climate March held April 29 in Sitka

About 100-125 Sitkans showed up when Sitka hosted a sister march to the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29, in Washington, D.C. The Sitka march met at the Crescent Harbor Shelter, then marchers headed up Lincoln Street to do a loop around St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral before heading back down Lincoln Street to St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church.

According to the People’s Climate March website, this is why people were marching:

“On the 100th Day of the Trump Administration, we will be in the streets of Washington D.C. to show the world and our leaders that we will resist attacks on our people, our communities and our planet. We will come together from across the United States to strengthen our movement. We will demonstrate our power and resistance at the gates of the White House. We will bring our solutions to the climate crisis, the problems that affect our communities and the threats to peace to our leaders in Congress to demand action.”

A slideshow of scenes from the march is posted below:

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Sitka to host People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29

Sitka will host a sister march to the People’s Climate March taking place on Saturday, April 29, in Washington, D.C. The Sitka march will be at 2 p.m. on April 29, and marchers should meet at the Crescent Harbor Shelter.

According to the People’s Climate March website, this is why people are marching:

“On the 100th Day of the Trump Administration, we will be in the streets of Washington D.C. to show the world and our leaders that we will resist attacks on our people, our communities and our planet. We will come together from across the United States to strengthen our movement. We will demonstrate our power and resistance at the gates of the White House. We will bring our solutions to the climate crisis, the problems that affect our communities and the threats to peace to our leaders in Congress to demand action.”

Sitka Trail Works releases weekend guided hike schedule for the 2017 summer

Sitka Trail Works will kick off its 2017 summer series of weekend hikes on Saturday, May 13, with a easy to moderate three-mile hike on the Starrigavan Loop. Meet at the Old Sitka Boat Launch Parking Lot at 9 a.m. That will be followed on Saturday, May 20, by a lesson on geocaching taught by volunteers. After a short tutorial at 8:30 a.m. at the Sitka High School entrance to the Cross Trail, participants will go discover some local geocaches (bring a smartphone or GPS device, if you have one).

The series of weekend hikes are led by various members of Sitka Trail Works, and there also are occasional bike rides and kayak trips on the schedule. Most of the hikes near town are free (donations are accepted), but some of the hikes require a boat trip and those have fees. The schedule runs through the end of August.

(Click image to enlarge)

In other news, Sitka Trail Works recently received funding for Phase 6 of the Cross Trail, and construction is expected to start in FY 2019, after the next reauthorization of the federal transportation bill in 2018. Sitka Trail Works also received funding for Phase II of the Mosquito Cove Trail Repairs Project, which repairs trail damage done by August 2015 and January 2017 storms.

On National Trails Day (Saturday, June 3), Sitka Trail Works and other groups will do repair work to trails TBA. Tools will be available, but you should bring gloves, pruners and toppers, if you have them.

Don’t forget to check the Sitka Trail Works website for current trail condition reports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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