The story includes part of an interview KCAW news director Robert Woolsey did with Charles Bingham, who wrote the original Walk Friendly Community application in 2013 and the renewal application in 2017. In the interview, they discuss the 40-page application and what goes into a walkable community.
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.
Participants are reminded to submit their punch cards to a ranger at Sitka National Historical Park’s visitor center by 3 p.m. on Frida,y Sept. 29, to be eligible for the drawing. This drawing includes three cash prizes provided by Sitka Community Hospital Foundation. The prizes will be awarded as checks, and will either be mailed to the winners, or will be available for pick up at the Sitka Community Hospital.
The Park Prescriptions Program promotes health and wellness by encouraging Sitkans to recreate within their national park. Park Prescriptions was a Sitka Health Summit project that started as a partnership between the park and local medical providers, who prescribed hikes around the park to their patients. Now people can self-prescribe the hikes, and turn in their completed punch cards to win prizes. Quarterly drawings are held by the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation. Eligible participants who have completed their punch card are eligible to win cash prizes.
To participate, stop by the park’s visitor center, or the Sitka Community Hospital to pick up a punch card or contact Ryan Carpenter at 747-0121 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you have questions, please call the park’s visitor center at 747-0110.
OPENED BRIDGE – Sitka National Historical Park Superintendent David Elkowitz and contractor Jeremy Twaddle of Island Enterprises Inc. cut a ceremonial ribbon to officially open the Indian River foot bridge Friday morning, July 28, 2017. The new bridge, which is two feet wider than the old one, was completed on schedule, just ahead of pink salmon spawning. Pictured on the bridge are, from left, Ryan Carpenter, Elkowitz, Brinnen Carter, Twaddle and Mike Trainor. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)
An informal ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by park superintendent David Elkowitz will dedicate the new bridge. “We heartily invite all of our park users, including the Park Prescriptions participants and daily walkers, to join us in crossing the river for the first time using this latest park infrastructure improvement,” Elkowitz said.
The removal and replacement of an almost half-century-old bridge was necessary to ensure park visitors have safe passage through the park. The new bridge is wider to allow for enhanced salmon and other wildlife viewing for decades to come. As before, bicyclists are reminded to walk their bikes through park trails, including over the bridge.
Speaking about the project, which began in early May, Sitka National Historical Park Chief of Maintenance Mike Trainor said, “Our goal was to have this project completed by mid-July to protect the late summer salmon run, which is one of the park’s most important natural resource missions. I’m happy to report the first pink salmon are just beginning to show up at the mouth of the river. We also wanted to ensure a minimum inconvenience to park visitors and especially those who use the cross-park trail to get to and from downtown Sitka. We thank everyone for their patience.”
The cross-trail linking the Park’s east and west sections across the footbridge has been a traditional pedestrian commuter route, and park visitor walk, for decades.
The new bridge was designed after considerable public input, and retains the character of the old bridge. For more information about this work, please contact Angie Richman at 747-0132 or Mike Trainor at 747-0150.
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.
The Sitka National Historical Park offers a variety of daily guided walking tours that teach Sitka residents and visitors about the park’s natural and cultural resources. The guided walks program launches in May and runs through October. Some days may only have one or two walks scheduled, instead of all of them, so check the park’s website for each week’s schedule.
The Battle Walk returns to the battleground and former fort site of the Tlingít-Russian Battle of 1804, which was pivotal in determining the history of the Alaska region. Offered most days, this guided walk is approximately three-quarters of a mile, and lasts about 45 minutes to one hour.
The Totem Walk tells the stories and legends of the totem poles on the Totem Loop Trail, focusing on the common totem figures, the origins of the 1903 John Brady collection, carving methods, and the native culture of Southeast Alaska. Offered most days, this guided walk is approximately one mile, and lasts about 45 minutes to one hour.
The Sea Otter Discovery Talk teaches visitors about the ecological, cultural, and historical importance of sea otters and how they are uniquely adapted to their ocean environment. The talk lasts about 15 minutes.
The Russian-American History Downtown Walking Tour visits sites related to Sitka’s Russian American Heritage, including the Russian Bishop’s House, St Michael’s Cathedral, Building 29, the Blockhouse, and Castle Hill. This guided walk is approximately half a mile, and lasts about one hour.
The schedule may vary from day to day due to which cruise ships are in town and all walks aren’t offered each day. Each week’s schedule is posted at this link. Please check the link regularly, because new walking tours may be added throughout the summer.
All ranger-led tours meet at the Sitka National Historical Park visitor center, except for the Russian-American History Downtown Walking Tour, which meets at the Russian Bishop’s House.
For more information about the ranger-guided tours at Sitka National Historical Park, call the visitor center at 747-0110. Also, don’t forget to get a Park Prescriptions card to log your walks in the park, so you can have a chance to win quarterly prizes for each completed card.