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

Sitka awarded $1.36 million for second phase of Sitka Sea Walk

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The Sitka Sea Walk is about to get 1,763 feet longer.

The Alaska Transportation Alternatives Program (ATAP) recently announced it was funding $1.36 million for the second phase of the Sitka Sea Walk, which will extend the popular pathway between Harrigan Centennial Hall and the O’Connell Bridge lightering dock.

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Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell, left, and State Sen. Bert Stedman cut the ribbon opening the Sitka Sea Walk on Alaska Day (Oct. 18), 2013.

This new phase of the walkway will run along the embankment on the water side of the bridge, allowing visitors and Sitka residents to walk from the lightering dock to Harrigan Centennial Hall without having to cross a busy street. The extension also will connect to the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk, completed in October 2013, which runs parallel to Lincoln Street from the Crescent Harbor parking lot to the border of the Sitka National Historical Park. The Sitka National Historical Park currently is hosting community meetings about various plans to complete the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk from the border of the park down to the park’s visitor center.

The total cost of Phase II of the Sitka Sea Walk is $1.7 million, with $200,000 coming from the Alaska Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) and $140,000 coming from the Commercial Passenger Excise Tax (CPET). In 2014, the city applied and was approved to receive $181.940 in FLAP funds (with a local match of $18,060), which become available in the Fall of 2017. The FLAP and CPET funds can be used to meet the $340,000 match requirement to receive the $1.36 million from ATAP.

On June 28, the Sitka Assembly approved the submission of the grant application for ATAP funds, and the state announced on July 28 that the Sitka Sea Walk extension was one of 15 projects funded around the state. While not in the application, the city also plans a connector path from the O’Connell Bridge lightering dock to Lincoln Street and Totem Square.

“I think it will be a great addition to the visitor industry, visitors can get off at (Harrigan) Centennial Hall and get to this part of town,” Sitka City Administrator Mark Gorman told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “I think it will facilitate more walkability to all of Sitka. It will enhance the visitor experience.”

In the Sitka Assembly’s resolution approving the grant application, the Sitka Sea Walk and its extension are listed as priorities in the 2002 Sitka Non-Motorized Transportation Plan, the 2007 Sitka Comprehensive Plan, the Sitka Tourism Plans 1.0 and 2.0, the Sitka Downtown Master Plan, and the 2011 Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Action Plan. In surveys of cruise ship visitors and independent travelers completed in 2010 for the Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Action Plan, there was a desire for more walking and hiking activities and tours, and most cruise ship visitors choose to walk during their visit to Sitka.

GuyWalkingOnSpurOverBreakwaterIn addition to helping celebrate Sitka’s connection to the sea, there is another big reason to build the Sitka Sea Walk extension — safety.

In a memorandum to Mayor Mim McConnell, the Sitka Assembly and Gorman about the application, Public Works Director Mark Harmon and Municipal Engineer Dan Tadic noted how the Sitka Sea Walk extension “around the seaward side of the O’Connell Bridge solves a long-standing, identified safety issue with pedestrians making uncontrolled crossings of the State of Alaska owned and maintained Harbor Drive. A comprehensive wayfinding signage system along with a designated pedestrian route will result in visitors moving in predictable ways. Not only is this a significant safety improvement, but (it) also reduces the potential for visitor-resident conflicts and frustration.”

When the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk was built in 2013, safety also was a factor since before the Sitka Sea Walk pedestrians had to cross Lincoln Street at least twice to get to where sidewalks were only available on one side of the street. The construction of the Sitka Sea Walk not only eliminated the street crossings, it directed pedestrian traffic away from the street so there were fewer auto-pedestrian conflicts.

The ATAP funding is expected to become available in early 2017, pending an environmental review by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, according to Marcheta Moulton, small federal programs manager for the ADT&PF. Tadic said the city will probably go through the design process in Fall/Winter 2017-18, with construction starting in 2018.

Please sign our petition to reduce the default speed limit to 20 mph in Sitka neighborhoods

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An online petition has been launched to make 20 mph the default speed limit in Sitka neighborhoods to improve safety. Please sign the petition, so we can take the results to the Sitka Assembly and whichever commissions need to act on this.

Recently the states of Washington and Oregon changed their laws to allow communities to reduce the speed limits in residential neighborhoods to 20 mph for safety reasons. This is part of an international campaign called “20 is Plenty” trying to make neighborhood streets safer for pedestrians. The 20 is Plenty campaign also has been integrated into the “Vision Zero” programs in many states, including New York, Washington, and Oregon, to eliminate pedestrian and cycling deaths.

In Sitka, many of our residential neighborhoods have higher speed limits. For example, Marine Street is all residential except for one church but the speed limit is 25 mph and many cars drive faster on this street where lots of kids play (there is a playground a block away). Slowing down speeds in our neighborhoods helps make it safer for kids and elders, especially since some neighborhoods have no sidewalks.

Also, if someone gets hit by a car at 20 mph they are more likely to survive than if they get hit at 25 mph or higher speeds. The odds of death in a car-pedestrian collision are 5 percent for 20 mph, compared to 45 percent for 30 mph and 85 percent for 40 mph. Sitka already has a 15 mph speed limit on Katlian Street, so why not make the default speed limit for residential neighborhoods 20 mph. This link has more information about why 20 is plenty.

• Click this link to sign the petition.

Scenes from the community walk, dedication ceremony and reception for the Sitka Sea Walk

MayorMimMcConnellSenBertStedmanRibbonIsCutOn Friday, Oct. 18, Sitka celebrated the grand opening of its new Sitka Sea Walk with a community walk of the entire route from Crescent Harbor to just before the entrance to the Sitka National Historical Park, a dedication ceremony near the spur over the harbor breakwater, and a reception at the Sitka Sound Science Center.

About 25-30 people showed up for the community walk early the morning of Alaska Day, with Monique Anderson of Anderson Land Planning and City and Borough of Sitka project manager Dan Tadic leading the way. The walk featured periodic stops along the way to point out different features of the Sitka Sea Walk, with several members of the architecture, landscaping, construction and other crews providing insight.

After walking the full length of the Sitka Sea Walk (the part entering the Sitka National Historical Park will be finished by the National Park Service at a later date), the group hiked back to the area by the spur over the Crescent Harbor breakwater for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The crowd had grown to about 50 by the time acting city manager Jay Sweeney spoke a few words and then Mayor Mim McConnell and Sen. Bert Stedman used big scissors to cut the ribbon. A reception followed at the Sitka Sound Science Center.

Here is a slideshow of images from the event.

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Dedication ceremony set for Sitka Sea Walk on Alaska Day

TSitkaSeaWalkCelebrationimage copyhe Sitka Sea Walk will be dedicated on Alaska Day morning (Friday, Oct. 18), with a group walk along the full length of the walk followed by a ceremony and a reception.

Dan Tadic, the City and Borough of Sitka’s project manager, and Monique Anderson of Anderson Land Planning will lead the walking tour, which starts at 9:15 a.m. near Crescent Harbor. After a walk of the full project, which ends just short of the entrance to the Sitka National Historical Park, Dan and Monique will lead the group back to the area at the start of the breakwater spur for the dedication ceremony, which starts at 10 a.m.

The dedication ceremony will feature speeches by Sen. Bert Stedman and Mayor Mim McConnell, who will cut the ribbon together. A reception will follow at from 10:15-11 a.m. at the Sitka Sound Science Center. The walking tour, dedication ceremony and reception all are open to the public. For more information, contact Lynne Brandon at 747-1852.

The Sitka Sea Walk construction began in April, after the Sitka Assembly in March awarded a $1.22 million construction contract to CBC Construction of Sitka. The Sitka Sea Walk is a partnership of the City and Borough of Sitka, the Sitka Sound Science Center, the Southeast Alaska Land Trust and Sitka National Historical Park. It was built using cruise ship tax funds. A slideshow of scenes from the Sitka Sea Walk (including a few photos from the Sitka Sound Science Center) is posted below.

• Dedication ceremony program for the Sitka Sea Walk

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Sitka Sea Walk starting to take shape, but project not finished yet

Sarah and Eric Jordan check out the boats in Crescent Harbor while taking a hike on the Sitka Sea Walk on Tuesday, Sept. 10, (Photo by Charles Bingham)

Sarah and Eric Jordan check out the boats in Crescent Harbor while taking a hike on the Sitka Sea Walk on Tuesday, Sept. 10, (Photo by Charles Bingham)

SEA WALK WORK – CBC Construction’s Frank Kimball moves rocks near the Sitka Sound Science Center the morning of April 13,. Work has begun on the $1.22 million sea walk project including the stretch of sidewalk near the center that had dead-ended at the Crescent Harbor breakwater. The CBC bid for the scenic walk was so far below the estimated cost that five optional additional improvements were added to the project. The project will widen the sidewalk along Crescent Harbor, connect it to a new walkway in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center and add a walkway along the beach to Sitka National Historical Park. The add ons include using Alaska yellow cedar instead of treated lumber for the boardwalk; a walkway spur atop the eastern breakwater of Crescent Harbor; installing site lighting; improving Crescent Park drainage, and adding a trail from the basketball court to the entrance of the SJ Campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

SEA WALK WORK – CBC Construction’s Frank Kimball moves rocks near the Sitka Sound Science Center the morning of April 13,. Work has begun on the $1.22 million sea walk project including the stretch of sidewalk near the center that had dead-ended at the Crescent Harbor breakwater. The CBC bid for the scenic walk was so far below the estimated cost that five optional additional improvements were added to the project. The project will widen the sidewalk along Crescent Harbor, connect it to a new walkway in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center and add a walkway along the beach to Sitka National Historical Park. The add ons include using Alaska yellow cedar instead of treated lumber for the boardwalk; a walkway spur atop the eastern breakwater of Crescent Harbor; installing site lighting; improving Crescent Park drainage, and adding a trail from the basketball court to the entrance of the SJ Campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sections of the new Sitka Sea Walk are nearing completion, even though there is still much work to be done before the new coastal walking path from Harrigan Centennial Hall to the Sitka National Historical Park is finished.

The section of the Sitka Sea Walk that connects to the Crescent Harbor parking lot and Harrigan Centennial Hall is mostly done, and people already are using this section. There also is a completed section in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center.

However, construction crews still are excavating the part of the Sitka Sea Walk that drops from the road down to the beach near Sitka National Historical Park.  The section by the basketball and tennis courts also isn’t ready for foot traffic.

The Sitka Assembly awarded the contract to CBC Construction in March, and city officials were able to add five add-ons to the project because the winning bid was so low. The project is funded by cruise tax money and construction is expected to continue into the summer. Click here for more information about the project.

Construction work starts on the Sitka Sea Walk

SEA WALK WORK – CBC Construction’s Frank Kimball moves rocks near the Sitka Sound Science Center this morning. Work has begun on the $1.22 million sea walk project including the stretch of sidewalk near the center that had dead-ended at the Crescent Harbor breakwater. The CBC bid for the scenic walk was so far below the estimated cost that five optional additional improvements were added to the project. The project will widen the sidewalk along Crescent Harbor, connect it to a new walkway in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center and add a walkway along the beach to Sitka National Historical Park. The add ons include using Alaska yellow cedar instead of treated lumber for the boardwalk; a walkway spur atop the eastern breakwater of Crescent Harbor; installing site lighting; improving Crescent Park drainage, and adding a trail from the basketball court to the entrance of the SJ Campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

SEA WALK WORK – CBC Construction’s Frank Kimball moves rocks near the Sitka Sound Science Center this morning. Work has begun on the $1.22 million sea walk project including the stretch of sidewalk near the center that had dead-ended at the Crescent Harbor breakwater. The CBC bid for the scenic walk was so far below the estimated cost that five optional additional improvements were added to the project. The project will widen the sidewalk along Crescent Harbor, connect it to a new walkway in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center and add a walkway along the beach to Sitka National Historical Park. The add ons include using Alaska yellow cedar instead of treated lumber for the boardwalk; a walkway spur atop the eastern breakwater of Crescent Harbor; installing site lighting; improving Crescent Park drainage, and adding a trail from the basketball court to the entrance of the Sheldon Jackson Campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The Friday, April 12, 2013, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel features a photo by James Poulson of the start of construction on the new Sitka Sea Walk.

The photo shows an earthmover from CBC Construction starting to move rocks near the Sitka Sound Science Center, which is one of the highlighted stops along the new pathway that will run from Crescent Harbor downtown to the Sitka National Historical Park. The Sitka Assembly awarded the contract to CBC Construction in March, and city officials were able to add five add-ons to the project because the winning bid was so low. The project is funded by cruise tax money and construction is expected to continue into the summer. Click here for more information about the project.