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

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.

Help your kids celebrate International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 5

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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. 5, 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.

timeline-posts-walk-to-schoolTo 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 Trail Works to host trail maintenance day on Saturday, Sept. 17

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SitkaTrailWorksLogoSitka Trail Works board members are hosting a trail maintenance day at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, meeting at the parking area on the uphill side of the road just beyond Whale Park.

The effort will focus on pulling young alders on the ocean-side of the Sawmill Creek Road separated multi-use path, past Whale Park, to keep the view open. Participants are asked to bring work gloves and five-gallon buckets.

For further information, please call the Sitka Trail Works office at 747-7244.

Sitka Fine Arts Camp builds new walkways around Odess Theater, Allen Hall

 

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WalkwaysConceptDrawingVisitors to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp may have noticed the new walkways and landscaping around Odess Theater and Allen Hall this summer.

The new walkways were built thanks to the support of Carol Odess and other donors, according to Sitka Fine Arts Camp Director Roger Schmidt, and they make the Odess Theater and Allen Hall buildings more accessible. The new landscaping was designed by Sitka architect Monique Anderson using the 1910 architect’s plan for the Sheldon Jackson College campus.

The project started this winter, and concrete was poured in April for the new walkways. During the 100 Volunteers Day at the end of April, volunteers helped with the landscaping, planting flowers, shrubs and even some strawberries along the walkways.

“Of course there is still a lot of work to do on campus,” Anderson said. “A future project will be realigning the quad walkways to the historical road alignment. The Sitka Sea Walk spur to Lincoln Street was positioned to line up with this future alignment. Sitka Fine Arts Camp will be seeking donors for this work.”

Click this link to see the design and reasoning for the project. A slideshow of scenes from the construction, with Carol Odess in one of the photos, (courtesy of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp) is posted below.

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Sitka Planning Commission to discuss Sitka Comprehensive Plan, Katlian walkability on Aug. 2

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Mary Ann Peterson of the Celebrate Katlian Street group, left, and Paul Wistrand of the Juneau office of the Federal Highway Authority check out a Katlian Street curb cut during a May 2015 walkability assessment of the street.

Thumb_DigitalLogo2016422110743The Sitka Planning Commission will discuss the 2030 Sitka Comprehensive Plan during its meeting from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 2, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street).

In addition, the meeting agenda includes looking at a policy for acquisition, disposal and retention of municipally owned land, and the group will break into teams to conduct a walkability assessment on Katlian Street.

Improving the walkability of Katlian Street has been a community wellness goal since the 2014 Sitka Health Summit, when the Celebrate Katlian Street: A Vibrant Community group was created. In addition to improving the walkability of Katlian Street, the group also has been trying to improve business opportunities and is working on a historical district application.

In May 2015, federal, state and city officials conducted several walkability and bikeability assessments around Sitka, including on Katlian Street. A walkability assessment looks at a variety of conditions, such as the condition of the sidewalk pavement (is it fractured, is it wide enough, are there power poles blocking wheelchairs), how the sidewalks link different communities (including those higher on the hill above Katlian), how is the land along the street being used (residential, industrial, business, etc.), how inviting the area is to walking, how safe is it for walking, etc. More details are in the document attached below.

• Walkability and Walking Tour Assessment of Land Use

• Aug. 2, 2016, Sitka Planning Commission Agenda