Sitka Comprehensive Plan open house on June 6 includes training for upcoming bike/pedestrian count

There will be a “Planning Our Future Together” open house from 5-8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6, for the Sitka 2030 Comprehensive Plan project, and part of that open house includes training for a bicyclist and pedestrian count on Tuesday, June 13. The open house will be set up so you can stay for 15 minutes or the full three hours, depending upon your interest in the topics.

Over the past year or so, the Sitka Planning Commission, city planners and contractor Barbara Sheinberg have been working on an update of the Sitka Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 2007. They have been working on the plan by topics, with the first Planning Commission meeting each month usually devoted to one topic from the plan.

The open house will feature updates on three sections of the comprehensive plan — Transportation; History, Culture and Arts; and Parks, Trails and Recreation — and residents will be able to vote on the actions they favor. There also will be an introduction to the S-MAP, an idea wall where people can draw “Ideas For A Better Sitka,” and a haiku contest where you can win a $100 gift card. Oh, yeah, there also will be pizza.

In addition, there will be short 10-minute training sessions for the Sitka bicyclist and pedestrian count scheduled for Tuesday, June 13. This bike/ped count will give city planners information about how many people are biking or walking to get around downtown Sitka.

From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 13, Sitka residents will take one-hour shifts to count walkers and bikers at two major intersections in Sitka. This information will help Sitka obtain funding for safety improvements. It also will provide data so Sitka can track changes over time in the number of people who are biking and walking in Sitka. According to the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, Sitka has 5.2 percent of its residents who commute to work by bike and 15.1 percent who commute to work by walking. But Tuesday, June 13, is a cruise ship day, when there will be more bikers and walkers out than usual and this will help us be able to tell if our infrastructure can handle the extra people.

For more information, contact the Sitka Planning Department at 747-1814.

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

Indian River pedestrian bridge to close on May 8 through mid-August for construction project

Construction to replace the Indian River pedestrian bridge in Sitka National Historical Park will begin Monday, May 8. Cross-park foot traffic will be closed through mid-August. Signs and maps will direct pedestrians around the park during construction. The detour will be through the Sitka Fine Arts Campus to Sawmill Creek Road. Detour maps are available at the park’s visitor’s center or the Russian Bishop’s House information desks.

The existing foot bridge is now 50 years old and is beginning to show signs of deterioration. It is National Park Service policy to repair or replace infrastructure prior to the occurrence of any safety issues. The new bridge will assure that park visitors can safely cross Indian River for decades to come.

Site preparation begins on Monday, May 8. The actual removal and reconstruction of bridge components will start May 15 and continue until Aug. 15.

“The in-river work will be completed by July 15th to protect the mid-summer salmon run,” said Brinnen Carter, chief of resources. “Hopefully, all the work will be completed by then, but it is likely that the contractor will have above-water work to complete between July 15th and August 15th. We know that the bridge is a critical component of the community’s walking trails and we want it back in operation as soon as possible.”

The trail linking the park’s east and west sections across the river is heavily-used. Pedestrian traffic will be re-directed with signs and maps through the Sitka Fine Arts Campus and down Sawmill Creek Road until the new, wider bridge is in place.

The new bridge, designed with considerable public input, will retain the character of the existing bridge but be wider to provide easier passage and better wildlife viewing.

For more information about this work, please contact Angie Richman at 747-0132 or Mike Trainor at 747-0150.

Alaska Region of the U.S. Forest Service invites public to help identify priority trail maintenance work

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Alaska Region is inviting the public to help identify trails that will be part of a U.S. Forest Service effort with partners and volunteers to increase the pace of trail maintenance.

Nationwide, the Forest Service will select nine to 15 priority areas among its nine regions where a backlog in trail maintenance contributed to reduced access, potential harm to natural resources or trail users and/or has the potential for increased future deferred maintenance costs.

“We look forward to receiving public comments identifying trails in need of maintenance that partners and volunteers are ready to support on the Chugach and Tongass National Forests,” said Becky Nourse, Acting Regional Forester of the Alaska Region. “Trail users and other members of the public can provide important feedback that will help us prioritize our trail maintenance efforts.”

The Alaska Region has until April 20 to submit at least three regional proposals to National Headquarters. Those proposals will be weighed against proposals submitted by other Forest Service regions.

The trail maintenance effort is outlined in the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016 and aims to increase trail maintenance by volunteers and partners by 100% by the end of 2021.

The selected sites will be part of the initial focus that will include a mosaic of areas with known trail maintenance needs that include areas near urban and remote areas, such as wilderness, are of varying sizes and trail lengths, are motorized and non-motorized, and those that incorporate a varied combination of partner and volunteer approaches and solutions.

The Forest Service manages more than 158,000 miles of trail – the largest trail system in the nation – providing motorized and non-motorized trail access across 154 national forests and grasslands. These Forest Service trails are well-loved and highly used with more than 84 million trail visits annually, helping to support mostly rural economies.

The Forest Service receives widespread support from tens of thousands of volunteers and partners each year who, in 2015, contributed nearly 1.4 million hours – a value of about $31.6 million – in maintenance and repair of nearly 30,000 miles of trails.

However, limited funding compounded by the rising cost of wildfire operations, has reduced the Forest Service’s ability to meet all of the agency’s standards for safety, quality recreation and economic and environmental sustainability.

To provide ideas and suggestions on potential priority areas and approaches for incorporating increased trail maintenance assistance from partners and volunteers, contact your local Forest Service office or Regional Trail Program Manager Sharon Seim by 5 p.m. on Monday, April 17. You are encouraged to provide feedback by phone at: 907-586-8804, or by email at: AKTrailsStewardship@fs.fed.us.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

The Alaska Region of the U.S. Forest Service manages almost 22 million acres of land within the Chugach and Tongass National Forests to meet society’s needs for a variety of goods, services, and amenities while enhancing the Forests’ health and productivity, and to foster similar outcomes for State and private forestland across Alaska. See our website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r10/home for more information.

Sitka National Historical Park starts Indian River Pedestrian Bridge and other projects for the season

Foot traffic on the trail linking the Sitka National Historical Park’s east and west sections across the Indian River pedestrian bridge will be restricted over the summer months as crews begin work to replace the almost 50-year-old foot bridge.

Access will be limited for periods of time from Wednesday, April 12, through Friday, April 14, as crews begin the project by clearing trees and brush in the construction zone near the bridge. This tree removal is being done by Saturday, April 15, before migratory birds may nest in the trees. A visual inspection of the trees to be removed has revealed no nests. Pedestrians should use caution during this as this work will be completed using heavy equipment

On May 8, the removal of the old bridge will begin, closing the cross-park trail completely at least until Aug. 15. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued a permit to allow in-water work to take place during this time. The bridge replacement project was delayed last summer when it was discovered the bridge would need new footings.

“We hope the work will result in minimum inconvenience for our many park visitors,” said Mike Trainor, Sitka National Historical Park Chief of Maintenance. “But all structures have a lifetime. For the long-term convenience and safety of cross-park traffic, the installation of a new bridge is necessary. And of course we are also mindful of the importance of Indian River as a salmon-bearing stream, so we will do everything possible for this work to pose a minimum disruption to that natural cycle of life.”

The new bridge will be similar in design and slightly wider to accommodate a larger number of visitors viewing the salmon runs while still allowing pedestrians and people walking their bikes to safely pass.

Park crews also will be engaged over the next several months in clearing selected understory and small trees over a half-acre between the park’s fort site and the shoreline. The goal is to help restore views from the fort site to the ocean to approximate the topography that existed during the Battle of 1804, the event that gave rise to the naming of park land as a national monument in 1910.

For more information about this work, please contact Angie Richman at 747-0132 or Mike Trainor at 747-0150.

Eighth annual Choose Respect March to take place on Thursday, March 23

Join the Sitka Youth Leadership Committee and Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV) and walk in the Eighth Annual Choose Respect March from noon to 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, March 23. There also will be a sign-making event from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, at The Island Institute, on Baranof Street across from Baranof Elementary School.

We’ll start at Totem Square at noon, head down Lincoln Street and gather at the Crescent Harbor Shelter. Let everyone know that you support the movement to stop the epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse in Alaska. At the rally, you will learn about some of the exciting programs in the community which empower youth to prevent violence before it ever occurs.

“When we started planning, we thought it would be timely to widen the focus from intimate partner violence to all kinds of violence we are witnessing these days,” said Martina Kurzer, SAFV Community Coordinator. “We’ll march for equality and diversity, and against violence and oppression. So immigration, LGBTQIA, poverty, abuse of power, are all issues we can express in this event. Our hope is to offer another opportunity for making a statement. We’ll have some speakers there, including Kathy Hope-Erickson, Phil Burdick, and hopefully, some student council members. The event will be over by 12:45 pm.”

Even though the state no longer provides support for statewide Choose Respect March events, SAFV is keeping the Sitka event going. If you are an employer, please allow your staff members to participate in this community event. Our goal is to be seen, statewide, as a community that cares.

Nearly one out of every two women in Sitka (47 percent) has experienced domestic violence, sexual violence, or both in her lifetime, according to a 2012 survey by the UAA Justice Center.

For questions, please call Martina or Julia at SAFV, 747-3370. We look forward to seeing you there.

Five Sitkans to give presentation about their Via Francigena treks on Jan. 26 at the Sitka Public Library

via-francigena

img_8746Last year, five Sitka residents hiked part of the 2,000-kilometer Via Francigena historic pilgrimage trail from Canterbury, England, to Rome. The five — Bridget Kauffman, Ted Laufenberg, Connie Kreiss, Karen Hegyi and Julien Naylor — will give a free presentation and slideshow on their hikes at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Sitka Public Library.

“There is so much variety along such a long walk,” Kreiss said. “The 30-kilometer stretch in England to the ferry in Dover is pastoral and a lovely introduction to England’s famous walking paths. Northeast France has canal systems to walk along, the numerous World War I cemeteries and battle sites, the vineyards of Champagne, miles of flat farmland — corn and grain production — and then the foothills and Dura Mountains into Switzerland. All along the way there are magnificent old cathedrals, and some monasteries and convents provided occasional hospitality for the night for pilgrim walkers. Italy has huge variety, starting in the French speaking Aosta valley in the north, down through the plains with flooded rice fields of the Po River Valley, through Tuscany with its hill-top walled towns and tourists, and on to Rome.”

img_8842According to Kreiss, Kauffman was the first of the Sitkans to hike part of the trail, hiking the last 400 kilometers from Aulla into Rome last spring. Kauffman was joined for the last few days of her hike by her husband, Laufenberg. Kreiss said she was the next to head to Europe, and she hiked nearly the entire trail from Canterbury to Rome, except for St. Bernard’s Pass between Switzerland and Italy due to deep snow. Hegyi and Naylor also walked most of the way later in the spring, starting from Canterbury.

“We all had different experiences,” Kreiss said.

“We hope to cover something on the history of this particular pilgrimage walk. It dates back at least to the Roman era, and some of the walk in England, France and Italy is on old Roman paving stones. I don’t recall seeing Roman roads in Switzerland, but I’m sure the route follows old Roman roads. After all we know, ‘All roads in Europe lead to Rome.’ The present walk is based on 10th Century documentation from Archbishop Sigeric, of Canterbury, who walked to Rome in 970 to meet with the Pope and then walked home again. His scribe made a record of each town they slept in, and that is the basis of the 79 stages of the current Via Francigena. The Via Francigena was made an official Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1994, and has been developed, more or less, by national and regional organizations in the four countries it covers,” Kreiss said.

img_8968“Walking it is probably similar to walking the famous Camino Frances in Spain to Santiago 30 or 40 years ago. People who live along the route often recognize you are a pilgrim as you walk along, and there are some places to stay which are only available to walkers with the special pilgrim’s credential (the little passport which you get stamped every day, so that when you arrive at the Vatican, you have proof that you walked the route). But it is more solitary than the Spanish camino and distances are sometimes longer between towns and accommodations. Probably less than 200 folks walk the entire route each year. Large numbers of walkers do some of the Italian portion.”

img_8139Kreiss said the five hikers will talk about their personal motivations for doing this walk, what to carry, what to expect, and about what we experienced along the way. They will talk about the variety of paths underfoot, the types of lodging, and of course the great food.

“We hope to inspire Sitkans to consider this long walk, or one of the easier pilgrim walks in Europe,” Kreiss said.