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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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.

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

photo 2 (3)

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.

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