Be Safe, Be Seen during Alaska’s dark winter months

When you walk or bike through Alaska during winter’s dark months, are you making sure to “Be Safe, Be Seen?”

Even though a pedestrian may be on sidewalks separated from cars, you still need to make sure your clothes are bright and reflective. That way drivers can see you when they leave their home and business driveways and enter traffic.

Why wearing white is not enough.

Too many people in Alaska wear black clothes during the winter, including when they are walking or biking. This doesn’t give the drivers a fighting chance to see you before it’s too late. Not only is it dark during the winter, but in heavy snow years there are berms that can make it difficult to see walkers and bikers. Also, some drivers don’t wait for their windshields to fully defrost, so their vision is obstructed.

The typical driver needs 260 feet to stop at 60 mph, but dark blue or black clothes only give them about 55 feet. Red clothes are a little bit better, giving drivers 80 feet, while yellow clothes give 120 feet and white clothes give 180 feet (if you can pick the person out from the snow background). People wearing reflectors can be seen as far away as 500 feet.

This is why many Alaska walkers and bikers wear reflective tape on their clothes or reflective vests, even on short trips such as checking the mail or walking the dog. Click here to learn more about the state’s Alaska Reflector Program. The Center for Safe Alaskans’ Bike and Walk Safe Program will mail free reflective tape to people who call (907) 929-3939, or click this link. The Center for Safe Alaskans (when it was known as the Alaska Injury Prevention Center) also produced a YouTube video that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see.

Don’t forget to put reflective tape on your sleeves, backpack, rain pants, bike helmet and bike frame, not just on the trunk of your jacket. And if you’re biking, don’t forget you are required by state law to have a solid white light on front and red reflector on bike when you are on the road after dark.

“I have found that cutting the (reflective) tape length-wise and placing it on the jacket exterior on a moving part of the body (such as around the wrist area), in addition to placement on the torso, yields high visibility,” said Lulu Jensen, Center for Safe Alaskans project director.

Help your kids celebrate International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 2

walk-to-school-1

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. 2, is International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, and Sitka parents and teachers are encouraged to help their schoolchildren safely walk or bike 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, a health educator with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). “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.

Why wearing white is not enough.

Reflective 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. Parents can buy reflective tape from local sporting goods, fabric, and similar stores. Sometimes it’s available from local health organizations. The Center for Safe Alaskans (formerly known as the Alaska Injury Prevention Center) produced a YouTube video (also embedded below) that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see, and will have some free reflective tape available starting in October 2019.

To 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.

Alaska ranked 25th most dangerous state for fatalities of older pedestrians; Anchorage the most dangerous area 

(The following is a press release from the Alaska office of the AARP)

ANCHORAGE, AK— The rate of pedestrian deaths in Alaska has quadrupled in the last decade, according to Dangerous by Design 2019. The new report from Smart Growth America highlights the risk of being struck by a car and killed while walking in Alaska. The report ranks Alaska 50th in the nation in terms of the number of pedestrian fatalities overall, but the 25th most dangerous state for older adults.

Between 2008 and 2017, adults age 50-older were 45 percent more likely to be struck and killed while walking compared to people younger than 50.

From 2017 to 2035 the state’s 65-older population will grow 68 percent, Alaska’s state demographer projects in the August 2018 Alaska Economic Trends.

“Alaska has traditionally had one of the youngest populations in the nation, but we’ve been the fastest aging state for years, too. Our community design needs to shift to reflect this, with short- and long-term fixes to increase safety for all ages,” said Terry Snyder, AARP Alaska volunteer state president. “Changes like longer crossing times help everyone who moves a little slower, like young children, frail elders, or fit young adults who on crutches.”

Nationwide, the number of people struck and killed while walking increased 35 percent in the past decade, according to the Dangerous by Design report released in February 2019. The last two years tracked, 2016 and 2017, had the highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 1990. Older adults, people of color and people walking in low-income areas are disproportionately likely to be struck and killed while walking.

Anchorage’s pedestrian death rate is the highest in the state, and matches the national average.

“The good news is that Anchorage’s and Fairbanks’ Metropolitan Planning Organizations have adopted Complete Streets policies, which look at the needs of all street users, including walkers and bicyclists as well as drivers,” said Snyder. “This is an important first step towards improving pedestrian safety.”

The Alaska state report is linked below, as is the full Dangerous By Design 2019 report. Learn more about AARP’s work to promote complete streets and livable communities at www.aarp.org/livable-communities/getting-around/.

• Dangerous By Design 2019 full report

• Dangerous By Design Alaska Report 2019

• Anchorage Vision Zero Report Executive Summary

• Anchorage Vision Zero Final Report

• Anchorage Complete Streets Policy

Scenes from the inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference held June 4-8 in Sitka

The inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference took place June 4-8 in Sitka, and the weather cooperated with mostly sunny skies in the rain forest. Each day of the conference featured a group bike ride or hike around Sitka.

The first two days of the conference featured Smart Cycling training (a League of American Bicyclists program), taught by Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., and Pierce Schwalb of Bike Anchorage. There is a plan for Bike Anchorage to teach more Smart Cycling classes around the state in the next year or two, and even some League Certified Instructor classes. There also was a presentation to the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday about the advantages of being a walk- and bike-friendly community.

The next two days featured a variety of presentations on a wide range of topics. On Thursday, these included sessions on engineering and infrastructure planning, pop-up projects in Anchorage, working with law enforcement, a session for motorists, a lunch-and-learn about basic bike repair led by Charlie Lowell of the Susitna Bicycle Institute in Anchorage, starting a bike school, youth and family cycling, equity and access of all ages and abilities, and best practices for developing a mountain bike culture. After a group bike ride, the day concluded with a Bikes and Bites presentation from Lee Hart of Confluence AK, who discussed how communities have transformed themselves with mountain biking.

On Friday, the session topics included making systemic changes and working with various partners and decision-makers, creating behavior change, a lunch-and-learn on walkable communities, a series of three walk audits using wheelchairs and other assistive equipment loaned from Southeast Alaska Independent Living, and a chance to work on developing projects to do in your home communities as a follow-up to the conference. On Saturday, participants had an optional bike ride or hike with boat trip, followed by an organizational meeting about starting a statewide active transportation group.

Event organizers plan to host a second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in 2020, so watch this website for more details.

Some of the presentation PowerPoints are linked below as PDF files, and there are a few handouts people might want. If other PowerPoint presentations become available, they will be added below. A slideshow of scenes from the conference is linked below.

• Best Practices for Developing Bike Culture

• Behavior Change Presentation

• Making systemic changes

• Complete Streets For Planning Presentation

• Statewide Organizations And Decision Making

• Walk This Way Main Presentation

• Trails and Active Transportation

• Tips For Leading A Walk Audit-Mark Fenton

• Safe Routes To School — Get to know your neighborhood with a walk audit

• Walkability and walking tour assessment of land use

• Three page walking biking traffic counts form

• Alaska Complete Streets

• AARP Livability Fact Sheets

• AARP Walk Audit Tool Kit

• AARP Walk Audit Leader Guide

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Alaska Walk and Bike Conference to highlight ways to make Alaska more walk and bike friendly

The inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference takes place June 4-8 in Sitka — Alaska’s only community to hold national Walk Friendly Communities and Bicycle Friendly Community designations.

The conference opens with two days of Smart Cycling training from the League of American Bicyclists, followed by two days of walking and biking presentations. The fifth day includes an optional bike ride, an optional hike with harbor cruise, and a Walk/Bike Alaska organizational meeting. The conference costs $40 for the full conference, or $25 for each two-day segment. People can register at http://akwalkbikeconference.eventsmart.com. The Aspen Suites Hotel, where much of the conference will take place, has a block of rooms reserved for the conference, but will release them to the general public on May 3, so book now.

“Having this conference in Sitka is a great opportunity and I’m particularly excited about the team of speakers we have lined up,” said Doug Osborne, Sitka Community Hospital director of health promotion and one of the conference organizers. “The conference is designed so that people can participate ways that fit their interests and schedule. Some will want to complete the Smart Cycling course on Tuesday and Wednesday, others will enjoy doing the whole four-day conference while many will go for an individual session, a lunch and learn, a late afternoon group ride/walk or one of the evening special events. It’s going to be a fun week with a lot of learning, good discussion, and physical activity along the way.”

“The State of Alaska Physical Activity and Nutrition Program is excited to support the 2019 Walk Bike Conference in Sitka occurring at the same time as the Sitka Summer Music Festival,” said Dawn Groth, who works for the Alaska Division of Public Health’s Chronic Disease and Health Promotion program and is another conference organizer. “Sitka’s recognition as both a walk and bicycle friendly city make Sitka the perfect community to host a walk-bike conference. Building active and walkable communities can help support local economies, reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, and encourage safe walking and biking for all ages. Sitka is an example of a community Sitka is an example of a community working to create activity friendly routes to everyday destinations to encourage active people and a healthy nation.”

Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., shown here with her two sons (now ages 8 and 10), will lead the Smart Cycling training.

Sitka was honored with a Bronze level Walk Friendly Community designation in 2013 and 2017, and earned a Silver level Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2016 (with Bronze level designations in 2008 and 2012). Both designations came out of Sitka Health Summit projects, which also led to the creation of Walk Sitka and the Sitka Cycling Club groups to promote walking and biking in Sitka.

The Smart Cycling training part of the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference is designed to help cyclists feel more comfortable and safer riding in traffic. It also is good for educators (especially physical education teachers), youth leaders, and others who might be leading group bike rides with younger students.

The second two-day segment focuses on the Five E’s (Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation) that are the main components in the Walk Friendly Communities and Bicycle Friendly Community applications. In addition, there will be presentations on the health benefits of active transportation, accommodations needed for the elderly and disabled, how to start a bike school, and how to conduct a walk audit.

Elle Steele of Sacramento, Calif., who is a League Certified Instructor from the League of American Bicyclists and will lead the Smart Cycling training, will be one of the keynote speakers. She is board president of Trips For Kids Sacramento, a nonprofit that provides bike adventures for underserved youth, and also owns Whimsical Cycle, which promotes riding bikes for everyday transportation.

Lee Hart of Valdez and the Anchorage-based Confluence coalition promoting the outdoor recreation economic sector in Alaska will be a keynote speaker.

Another keynote speaker is Lee Hart of Valdez, who founded an Anchorage-based coalition called Confluence to promote the outdoor recreation economic sector in Alaska. She also founded the Valdez Adventure Alliance which introduced fat-biking and big mountain downhill fat-biking to new riders. Hart spoke about the benefits of outdoor recreation in Sitka in February 2019.

Other speakers include Doug Osborne, Charles Bingham, Holly Marban, Lynne Brandon and Rick Petersen of Sitka; Dawn Groth, Pierce Schwalb, Charlie Lowell and Sarana Schell of Anchorage; and others.

A tentative agenda is posted below. For more information, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 747-0373 or akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com.

• Tentative agenda for 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka (last updated May 30, 2019)

Register now for the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference taking place June 4-8 in Sitka

The inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference will take place June 4-8 in Sitka, and online registration has opened.

You can go to this link, https://akwalkbikeconference.eventsmart.com/, to register. You can pay online using PayPal or credit/debit cards, or you can be invoiced with information about where to send a check.

Remember the conference only costs $40 for the whole conference, or $25 for the first two days (the Smart Cycling training) or $25 for the second two days (the Walk/Bike sessions).

In addition, we do have a limited number of travel scholarships to the conference. You can learn more by clicking the form link below. The scholarship deadline is April 15.

Please note that our tentative agenda is evolving, so watch this website for updates.

• 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference Scholarship Form (opens as Word Doc)

Sitka to host inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 4-8

Are you looking for ways to make Alaska more walking and bicycling friendly? Sitka will host the inaugural Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 4-8.

While the agenda is still being finalized (a tentative agenda is posted below), there will be a two-day Smart Cycling class (from the League of American Bicyclists training program), and two days of work sessions about how to be a better bicycling and walking advocate. The last day includes a Saturday hike and bike ride, and maybe a harbor cruise.

Why is this conference in Sitka? Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both a Bicycle Friendly Community designation (Silver) and a Walk Friendly Communities designation (Bronze). This is a chance to see what works in Sitka, and some of the challenges it still faces in its efforts to become more walkable and bikeable.

Prices are low for this event — $25 for the Smart Cycling training on June 4-5, $25 for the Walk/Bike work sessions on June 6-7, or $40 for the whole conference. If we are able to secure the harbor cruise, there probably will be an extra fee for it. There also are special conference rates at the Aspen Hotel, which is downtown and within easy walking distance of most community facilities.

For more details, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 747-0373 or akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com.

• Tentative agenda for 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference in Sitka (last updated March 29, 2019)