An Anchorage cyclist shares the road – and how he stays safe
Cycling is a year-round sport and means of transportation in Anchorage, and a local group is working with municipality officials to make roads safer for drivers and cyclists alike.
For Pierce Schwalb, the director of advocacy group Bike Anchorage, neither slush nor low temperatures can keep him from his favorite means of commuting. During the week he bikes from his Spenard home to the downtown area, but even a simple ride to and from work has its struggles including snow on the side of the roads and sidewalks.
"(There are) frequent occurrences where bike lanes are impassable or shoulders are impassable," Schwalb said. "And that goes back to coming up with the solutions with the city and state on, you know, how do we prioritize these? How do we get more funding for our hardworking snow plows, street crews to make sure those are scraped and clear?"
Another major concern Schwalb has while riding is drivers not seeing him. He says he looks both ways, sometimes twice, before crossing streets to avoid an accident.
Bike Anchorage's mission is to make Anchorage more bicycle-friendly. Its members promote a vibrant, livable and healthy city where biking is safe and practical..
"We educate cyclists and drivers alike on safe cycling practices, rules of the road, how to stay visible, riding techniques; and then we throw big bike events to really celebrate cyclists here in Anchorage," Schwalb said.
Assembly members and the Municipality of Anchorage are working together with Bike Anchorage on a plan called Vision Zero, which hopes to eliminate local traffic fatalities and help locals share roads and sidewalks.
"It's really sad when you hear of situations of bikes and cars or pedestrians and cars coming together; it's always the soft-shelled one that loses," said Assembly member Chris Constant. "And we have this problem, it seems like, on an annual basis."
Finding funds for Vision Zero has been a struggle, but advocates say safety fuels a strong community.
"Sidewalks, trails, parks, they always get squeezed when it comes time because our core functions really are public safety – but this is a public-safety issue if people are getting hurt," Constant said.
Schwalb says curbing the death toll of Anchorage's roads will help the city overall.
"If we want to be a strong, thriving place, then we need everyone to feel safe on the roads," Schwalb said.
One project under consideration is upgrading West 32nd and East 33nd avenues to help better connect commuting between Spenard and Midtown. Those improvements may include better lighting, more signage and larger pathways.
Bike Anchorage is also working with the local officials on the municipality's Non-Motorized Transportation Plan, intended to consider and link current and future pedestrian, bicycle and trail networks across Anchorage. Comments and suggestions for routes can be made on the plan's website.
Tips and tricks from Bike Anchorage for drivers and cyclists to work together on the road include the following:
Cyclists should ride with rather than against traffic, wear reflective gear, give hand signals announcing their intentions, make eye contact with motorists, and ride consistently and predictably.
Drivers should watch and treat bicycles like any other slow-moving vehicle, look both ways at the sidewalk when turning and take their time to avoid rushing a cyclist.
Bike Anchorage's main point for drivers is to not pass a cyclist until you can do so without putting anyone at risk. Allow at least 3 feet between your vehicle and the bike, more if possible, and make sure you don't place the cyclist or an oncoming motorist in danger.
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