Anchorage is celebrating it’s 10th annual Bike to Work Day on Wednesday — an event aimed at promoting bike commuting in Anchorage. But Bike to Work Day isn’t the only time cyclists are on the road in the city. Data from the American Community Survey says that bike commuting in Anchorage is up 151 percent since 1990. It’s one of the top cities in the nation for bike commuters.
Jackie Edwards pushes her teal bike up the hill on the Chester Creek Trail toward the bridge over Northern Lights.
“I am bike commuting from work,” she says, pausing to catch her breath. “To my house.”
It’s her first time trying it.
“I’m just trying to include a little bit more activity in my life. And I’ve always wanted to ride my bike but I didn’t have the guts. Within the last week or so, I just decided I wanted to give it a shot.”
She says as a beginner, it’s exhausting, but worth it.
“I get to see pockets of my community that I would never, ever see driving in my vehicle. So it’s great.”
Edwards is joining more than 1,800 regular bike commuters in Anchorage. It seems like a small number — it’s only 1.1 percent of all commuters in the city. But it’s almost twice the national average. And the number doesn’t account for folks who bike other places like to the grocery store or to volunteer positions, as Chris Black is doing.
“For me, I like it,” he says as he pauses at the same hill. “It’s a really good alternative. You lose a few pounds and stuff like that.”
Black says he bikes because it’s healthy for him. Bill Popp from the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation says it’s also healthy for the local economy. Retail sales are up for bikes and bike parts. And Popp says making the community more bike friendly attracts young professionals and, to a degree, some businesses.
“When they’re thinking about making an investment in a city,” he explains they think, “what kind of cultural and environmental opportunity does that city represent to the workforce that they’re going to want to hire either by importing that workforce or hiring it locally and retaining it.”
But along with all of the positives are some negatives. Cyclist and driver Julie Saddoris says she’s been almost hit by cars a few times and sometimes drivers are just rude to her.
“Cyclists and cars interact on the road together, and there’s a lot of anxiety and frustration on both sides. And I think that improvements could be made to make the two coexist better on the road.”
So what’s the solution? She says one is increasing awareness. She’s proposing a “Share the Road” specialized license plate to the next state legislature.
But Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage Co-founder Brian Litmans says sometimes it’s easier than that. He says reports confirm that there’s safety in numbers.
“With more people out there bicycling, motorists become more aware and recognize there’s more bicyclists on the road. So I think we’re seeing that the behaviors are just starting to change,” he says. “More motorists are recognizing me at crosswalks and waving me through. And that makes it a much safer city to bike in.”
Litmans says the city also needs better marking and signage on bike lanes and bike routes, so people are more likely to see cyclists.
Back on the trail, Edwards, the first time bike commuter, says making use of the new perspective of being on a bike helps keep her safe, too.
“I think it’s interesting – I’m more aware. More aware, just paying attention to all of the traffic around me versus when I’m in my car.” She says she pays attention when she’s in her car, but when she’s on her bike paying attention prevents her from getting hit.
After her brief rest, she’s ready to finish her ride. She hops on her bike and is off.