I grew up in Florida. Dark, chilly winter mornings don’t exist in the sunshine state. Year round mosquitoes do however, but that’s beside the point. Getting bundled up and in the saddle early has taken some getting used to, but it’s nice to know I’ll always have company. On any given morning, I’m joined on the Chester Creek Trail by fellow cyclists, dog-walkers, joggers, and of course our favorite antlered residents. Did you know Alaskans commute by bike or foot more often, per capita, than residents of any other state, according to the American Community Survey? However, when the alarm goes off and I watch the snow fall outside, I’m plagued by a thought shared occasionally by other year round bike commuters (not the Alaskan variety, of course). Should I just drive? What if the bike lanes and sidewalks are impassable?
While we have a long road ahead of us, Anchorage is making strides toward becoming a premier winter mobility city. The Municipality’s planning arm, Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS), just began a new Non-Motorized Plan. Currently, the muni relies on the 1997 Trails Plan, the 2007 Pedestrian Plan, and the 2010 Bike Plan when making decisions about new infrastructure for non-motorized transportation. The updated plan will replace all three plans and take a more holistic approach to building a non-motorized network.
At the same time, AMATS is working on a Complete Streets Policy for the municipality. “Complete Streets” refer to roadways designed for all users, not just cars. Whether you’re eight or 80, on a bike or in a wheelchair, Complete Streets are safe, inviting places for you to travel.
Complementary to these efforts, Mayor Berkowitz launched the Vision Zero initiative in 2016. Vision Zero is an international movement proven to reduce traffic deaths and major injuries to zero. The local effort coordinates agency and community actions to take a data-driven approach to making Anchorage safer for everyone.
We need to keep the momentum going and ensure the Non-Motorized Plan, Complete Streets Policy, and Vision Zero initiative make real change in our community. These policies and planning efforts are important steps in creating concrete solutions. Problems with pedestrian and bicycling safety still plague Anchorage and the rest of the country. Nationally, deaths of people on bikes rose 12.2 percent in 2015. In Anchorage, 69 pedestrians and bicyclists have been struck by people in cars from 2014 to October 12, 2017. We simply do not have enough safe routes between neighborhoods and community hubs. This is especially true downtown, where bicycling facilities like bike lanes, separate pathways, etc., are non-existent and access from other parts of town is difficult.
We must adopt a Non-Motorized Plan and Complete Streets Policy that facilitate safe and welcoming movement through our city, regardless of mode of travel. More bicyclists and pedestrians in community hubs like downtown attract investment, support local businesses, and increase employee productivity. Not to mention the health benefits, increased livability, and enjoyment that active transportation provides.
How can you make a difference? AMATS is scheduled to release a draft version of the Complete Streets Policy in November and began work on the Non-Motorized Plan in September. Bike Anchorage will be actively involved in both efforts by advocating for a safer, more livable community for all. Please consider volunteering with us to engage the public to make these initiatives real solutions for Anchorage. We can achieve a more livable Anchorage if we speak up and make it happen together. Check out www.bikeanchorage.org and the Bike Anchorage Facebook Page for opportunities to get involved.
Written by Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. Board Member Pierce Schwalb
for Anchorage Press.