Sitka renews bronze-level designation in Walk Friendly Communities program

The City and Borough of Sitka earned a renewal of its bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation, joining seven other communities announced on Oct. 18 (Alaska Day) that they earned their first or renewed their previous designations. In 2013, Sitka became the first and so far only town in Alaska to earn a bronze-level or higher designation from the Walk Friendly Communities program, coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Juneau has honorable mention status).

“I am proud of the hard work city staff has done to improve the lives of Sitkans with the limited funding we have available,” Sitka Mayor Matt Hunter said. “Thank you to the dedicated group of citizens who spend their time advocating for safer streets and who seek to recognize the city’s efforts.”

Becoming a Walk Friendly Community was a community wellness project of the 2008 and 2012 Sitka Health Summits (the 2008 project was before there was a national Walk Friendly Communities program). In 2008, Sitka residents wanted the community to be friendlier to people walking or riding bikes (Sitka earned its first Bicycle Friendly Community designation that year), and in 2012 they wanted to add the WFC designation to the BFC award. Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both Walk Friendly Communities (bronze in 2013 and 2017) and Bicycle Friendly Community  (bronze in 2008 and 2012, silver in 2016) designations.

The WFC award came about when community members decided they wanted to improve and recognize Sitka as a walkable community. The Walk Sitka work group followed a national template developed by the Walk Friendly Communities program designed to help cities and towns become more walkable. The community assessment tool/application (click here for Sitka’s 2017 renewal application) helps communities identify their walking strengths and weaknesses by asking dozens of questions in the following categories — community profile, current status of walking, planning, education and encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation.

“We hoped we might upgrade to the silver level this time, but we’re still the only official Walk Friendly Communities award-winner in Alaska,” said Charles Bingham, who helped coordinate the Walk Sitka group and wrote the WFC applications in 2013 and 2017. “We’re happy to win the award, but we’re also happy for the feedback we received to help make Sitka a more walkable community.”

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments, according to the program’s website. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

“The majority of trips in the car are for less than three miles, and if we can encourage people to walk or bike instead we promote a culture of wellness,” Bingham said. “Not only are people getting heart-healthy physical health benefits from walking, there are benefits for mental and emotional health when you take a walk in the woods. In addition, by walking and biking we reduce the amount of car exhaust we have to breathe, and there are economic benefits when we have walkable communities. There also are increased social connections when people, because neighbors can chat with each other instead of being barricaded in a steel box on wheels.”

 

The eight new or renewing Walk Friendly Communities for Fall 2017 were Washington, D.C., at the gold level; Columbus, Ohio; Long Beach, Calif.; and Redwood City, Calif.; at the silver level; and Essex Junction, Vt.; Gainesville, Fla.; Northampton, Mass.; and Sitka; at the bronze level. They bring the nation’s total to 67 awardees in the program at four levels — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (Seattle and New York City are the lone platinum WFCs). In 2011, Juneau received an honorable mention in the program but has not earned a full WFC designation. The Walk Friendly Communities designation is good for five years, and Sitka doesn’t have to renew its award until the spring of 2022, although it can apply earlier if it thinks it’s ready to upgrade a level.

“Communities nationwide are implementing some very impressive plans and projects to create welcoming pedestrian environments,” said Dan Gelinne, WFC program manager. “All cities and towns face challenges related to pedestrian safety and walkability, but these Walk Friendly Communities are well-positioned to address these concerns and proactively improve their streets. We hope their innovative projects and programs can serve as models to other communities.”

The Walk Friendly Communities program has two application periods each year. Each application is reviewed by at least three reviewers to provide a fair assessment of the community and technical feedback on how to improve the community’s walkability.

Some of the major changes since Sitka’s 2013 application included the replacement of the Indian River Pedestrian Bridge in Sitka National Historical Park, the multi-purpose path from Whale Park to the end of Sawmill Creek Road, funding commitments for two extensions to the Sitka Sea Walk and to finish the Cross Trail, a new multi-purpose path on Edgecumbe Drive, proposed bike-walk improvements to Sawmill Creek Road from the roundabout to Jeff Davis Street, new walking encouragement programs, and more.

According to Sitka’s community report card and feedback (posted at the bottom of this article):

“Based on our review, we are re-designating Sitka as a Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community. Among the many programs and initiatives you shared with us, we were particularly impressed with:

  • The consistently high walking mode share and (low) pedestrian crash rate.
  • The level of planning effort and community support for Sitka’s trail system.
  • Slow speed limits through downtown and in school zones, paired with pedestrian countdown signals at Sitka’s two main intersections.
  • The variety and frequency of walking programs.”

The Walk Friendly Communities program was launched in October 2010. It is coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), which is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is funded by FedEx Corp.

The next WFC application deadline is Dec. 15, with the results announced in April 2018. Interested communities can go to http://www.walkfriendly.org/, where they can learn more about the program and review the community assessment tool.

• Sitka, Alaska, 2017 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

• National press release for October 2017 Walk Friendly Communities

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Sitka’s renewal application for a 2017 Walk Friendly Communities designation has been submitted

Walk Sitka has submitted its renewal application for a 2017 Walk Friendly Communities award designation. The application period closed on Thursday, June 15, and results will be announced in a few months. In 2013, Sitka earned a Bronze Level WFC designation, and we’re hoping to move up to Silver or Gold this year.

Applying for a Walk Friendly Communities designation was one of three community wellness projects chosen at the 2012 Sitka Health Summit. By going through this national award application process we hoped to gain a better handle on the status of walking in Sitka and what we can do to improve it. We feel there have been many improvements to walking in Sitka just in the past year, with the launch of many walking programs (Park Prescriptions, Sitka Trail Works weekend hikes, Senior Hiking Club, etc.), the construction on the Sitka Sea Walk and upcoming expansions, continued construction on the Cross Trail and other Sitka Trail Works projects, and more.

The 72-page community assessment tool, which helps communities fill out the application, has nine sections — Community Profile, Status of Walking, Planning, Education and Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation and Additional Questions. Once submitted, the actual application printed out at 40 pages.

A copy of our 2013 and 2017 applications are posted below, along with our 2013 report card from the WFC program. Feel free to review it and let us know ways we can make Sitka more walk friendly. So far, Sitka is the only community in Alaska to earn a Bronze Level or higher Walk Friendly Communities designation (Juneau received an honorable mention in 2010). Don’t forget to like our Facebook page and watch this site for updates.

• 2017 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

• 2013 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

• Sitka, Alaska, 2013 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

Tenth annual Sitka Health Summit to take place Friday, Oct. 21, at UAS Sitka Campus

Sitka Health Summit Poster FINAL

newsitkahealthsummitlogoDo you have any good community wellness ideas for Sitka? It’s time 10th annual Sitka Health Summit planning day, which takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 21, in Room 229 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.

The Sitka Health Summit got its start in 2007 when then-Sitka Community Hospital CEO Moe Chaudry and then-SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Vice President of Hospital Services Frank Sutton decided they needed to bridge the gaps between Sitka’s largest two health services. They launched the Sitka Health Summit, with the help of other supporters in Sitka, as a way to improve community wellness, honor local wellness champions, and more.

One of the highlights of the Sitka Health Summit has been the annual community wellness planning day. During planning day, Sitka residents get together to discuss the health needs of the community and create community wellness projects to address these needs.

Over the years there have been a variety of Sitka Health Summit projects — create a local market for local fish and produce, build a Sitka community greenhouse, become a Bicycle Friendly Community, become a Walk Friendly Community, encourage more kids and families to get outdoors for recreation, support a community health and wellness center (Hames), plant fruit trees around town, get more local fish into school lunches, build a Choose Respect mural, Revitalize Sitka, the Sick-a-Waste compost project, the Sitka Community Food AssessmentPark PrescriptionsTogether for a Meth-Free Sitka, the Sitka Kitch (a project to create a community rental kitchen and improve Sitka’s emergency food storage capacity), Celebrate Katlian Street: A Vibrant Community, and the Southeast Youth Resource Guide.

The 2015 Sitka Health Summit projects were to develop an American Disabilities Act-compliant Sitka Community Playground near Crescent Harbor, build a community garden plot behind the Island Institute (this started off as a project to build a community greenhouse on top of the Sitka cold storage plant, but it morphed into a different project), and to create a way to honor and support the well-being of elders in Sitka.

This year, Sitka residents are invited to submit community wellness project ideas before the Sitka Health Summit. They can do this by going to the Sitka Health Summit website, http://www.sitkahealthsummit.org/, and clicking on the Submit Ideas link at the top of the gateway page (link opens a short SurveyMonkey survey). You also can submit ideas to Doug Osborne at 747-0373 or dosborne@sitkahospital.org. The top two projects this year will receive $2,000 in seed money to get the projects started.

To register for the Sitka Heath Summit planning day, call Zachary Desmond at 747-4600 or email him at zachary@braveheartvolunteers.org. In your email, please include your name, email address, phone number, organization (you can list self if you’re not representing an organization), and any food restrictions. A free lunch with locally sourced seafood (in honor of the Fish To Schools project from 2010) will be provided.

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

KatlianCurbCutMaryAnnPetersonPaulWistrand

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

Sitka Health Summit chooses three 2015-16 community wellness projects

SitkaHealthSummitGroup

newsitkahealthsummitlogoSitka residents decided to find ways to honor and support our elders, build an accessible community playground near Crescent Harbor, and build a community greenhouse on the roof of the city cold storage building (or a similar-flat-roofed structure), choosing those as the three community wellness projects Sitka residents chose to pursue in 2015-16 at the ninth annual Sitka Health Summit planning day Friday, Oct. 9, at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.

VotingForBroadProjectsThese three projects (one broad topic, and two specific topic projects that tied as top vote-getters) each were awarded with $2,000 in Tier 1 seed money to help get them started. The three projects were picked after 57 Sitka residents brainstormed and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of a wide variety of community wellness projects. In addition to the Tier 1 awards, the Sitka Health Summit also made applications available for Tier 2 grants of $10,000 for projects dealing with nutrition (applications are due Oct. 23, contact Lauren Hughey at lauren.hughey@searhc.org or go to http://www.sitkahealthsummitak.org/ for more information).

LynneBrandonAwardThe Sitka Health Summit also honored Lynne Brandon with a lifetime achievement award for her work promoting healthy lifestyles during her 13 years as Sitka’s Director of Parks and Recreation and now in her new position as executive director of Sitka Trail Works Inc.

Each of the three Tier 1 projects will host a kick-off event in the near future, and these events are open to the public and anybody who wants to help with the project. More information about the projects, their kick-off meetings, and contact people are listed below.

  • Design and build an ADA-accessible Sitka Community Playground, 6 p.m., Monday, Oct. 26, Sitka Community Hospital classroom, contact Kealoha Harmon, 747-3500 — This project is to create an accessible, attractive, low maintenance and safe community playground that will meet the needs of both children and their families. Right now Sitka does not have any playgrounds that are compliant with the Americans with Disability Act. Building the community playground was selected as a Sitka Health Summit goal in 2011, and a lot of important work has been done. Now it’s time to move this community-supported project forward.
  • Build a Sitka Community Greenhouse on the roof of the city cold storage plant (or similar flat-roofed building), 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 28, Sitka Pioneer’s Home Manager’s House (Brave Heart Volunteers building), contact Charles Bingham, 623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com — This project’s goal is to increase local food production and food security by using greenhouses, including ones situated on rooftops, a practice growing in popularity around the world. Everyone needs the nutritional boost that only vegetables provide and the more we grow locally the better. There are so many benefits to growing food here; freshness, nutritional value, sustainability and the economic benefits that come from keeping dollars in Sitka. Rooftop greenhouses also can capture waste heat and provide a flat, slug-free growing environment that will help us with food security. Rooftop greenhouses can be a point of interest for visitors, a point of learning for students, and a point of community pride for everyone who believes in innovation and using space wisely.
  • Create a way to honor and support the well-being of elders in Sitka, 3 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6, Hames Athletic and Wellness Center, contact Caitlin Blaisdell, 747-5080 — One of the largest and fastest-growing populations in Sitka is its elders. The Elder Connection action group is focused on organizing systems to support the health and well-being of seniors living is Sitka. We want everyone’s Golden Years to be just that, and we know that we can do more to support this critical group of wisdom keepers.

NutritionGroupDiscussesProjectIdeasThe Sitka Health Summit is coordinated by a coalition of local groups that includes the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Sitka Community Hospital, Brave Heart Volunteers, the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus, and the State of Alaska Division of Public Health Nursing, with financial help from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco-Seattle Branch Community Development Division.

Over the years there have been a variety of Sitka Health Summit projects — create a local market for local fish and produce, build a Sitka community greenhouse, become a Bicycle Friendly Community, become a Walk Friendly Community, encourage more kids and families to get outdoors for recreation, support a community health and wellness center (Hames), plant fruit trees around town, get more local fish into school lunches, build a Choose Respect mural, Revitalize Sitka, the Sick-a-Waste compost project, the Sitka Community Food AssessmentPark PrescriptionsTogether for a Meth-Free Sitka, and Sitka Kitch (a project to create a community rental kitchen and improve Sitka’s emergency food storage capacity). The 2014 Sitka Health Summit projects were Celebrate Katlian Street: A Vibrant Community and the Southeast Youth Resource Guide (which evolved into Family Fun Days at the Hames Athletic and Wellness Center).

For more information about the Sitka Health Summit and its current and past projects, go to http://www.sitkahealthsummitak.org/.

Sitka Health Summit planning day to be Oct. 9 at UAS Sitka Campus

SHS 2015 Promo Flyer 2 (1)

newsitkahealthsummitlogoJoin us for the ninth annual Sitka Health Summit planning day, which takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9, at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.

The Sitka Health Summit got its start in 2007 when then-Sitka Community Hospital CEO Moe Chaudry and then-SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Vice President of Hospital Services Frank Sutton decided they needed to bridge the gaps between Sitka’s largest two health services. They launched the Sitka Health Summit, with the help of other supporters in Sitka, as a way to improve community wellness, honor local wellness champions, and more.

One of the highlights of the Sitka Health Summit has been the annual community wellness planning day. During planning day, Sitka residents get together to discuss the health needs of the community and create community wellness projects to address these needs.

Over the years there have been a variety of Sitka Health Summit projects — create a local market for local fish and produce, build a Sitka community greenhouse, become a Bicycle Friendly Community, become a Walk Friendly Community, encourage more kids and families to get outdoors for recreation, support a community health and wellness center (Hames), plant fruit trees around town, get more local fish into school lunches, build a Choose Respect mural, Revitalize Sitka, the Sick-a-Waste compost project, the Sitka Community Food Assessment, Park PrescriptionsTogether for a Meth-Free Sitka, and Sitka Kitch (a project to create a community rental kitchen and improve Sitka’s emergency food storage capacity). The 2014 Sitka Health Summit projects were Celebrate Katlian Street: A Vibrant Community and the Southeast Youth Resource Guide.

This year community members will select two Tier One projects, which will receive $2,000 in seed money to get started. Also, qualifying projects will have the opportunity to apply for Tier Two funding of up to an additional $20,000.

To register for the Sitka Heath Summit planning day, call Zachary Desmond at 747-4600 or email him at zachary@braveheartvolunteers.org. A free lunch with locally sourced food will be provided.

Greater Sitka Arts Council posts list of participants in Arti-Gras Gallery Walk set for Friday, March 13

Art Walk 2015 Flyer photo

The Greater Sitka Arts Council has announced the participating businesses and artists in its Arti-Gras Gallery Walk from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, March 13, in downtown Sitka.

The gallery walk is part of the eighth annual Arti-Gras Arts and Music Festival, which takes place every March. The gallery walk is an opportunity for Sitkans to view new work from local artists, both emerging and established.

The participating businesses/galleries are:

For more information, contact Sarah Lawrie of the Greater Sitka Arts Council at 747-2787 or 738-5234, or by email at justsosarah@gmail.com.