Public meeting addresses bike and pedestrian safety in Anchorage

Members of the public speak to public officials during the meeting on bike and pedestrian safety. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together (AFACT) held a meeting on bicycle and pedestrian safety on Wednesday to address concrete ways to make Anchorage’s streets safer.

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At the start of the meeting, St Mary’s Episcopal Church member Lyn Franks presented a research report on traffic safety created by members of the church. During the report, Franks raised concerns about the lack of information in the state of Alaska driver’s manual about how motorists should look out for bicyclists as well as the lack of funding for traffic safety education in the Anchorage School District.

“In the driver’s manual it says, ‘As a driver you must be alert and courteous to all bicyclists,'” Franks said. “While that section does say that drivers must be alert and courteous to all bicyclists, it does not include any information on specific steps that drivers can take to be safe around bikes.”

After the report, time was given for public testimony. Those who spoke gave personal accounts of their experiences using Anchorage’s roads, often citing lack of visibility and confusion over rules of the road as reasons for collisions.

Katie Dougherty, the project manager for Vision Zero, spoke about the work being done to address public concerns. Vision Zero is a data-driven approach adopted by many cities across the US to reduce traffic fatalities. When asked if she would commit to reinstating the Anchorage School District’s Be Safe Be Seen program, Dougherty replied that plans to fund that program were already in the works.

“[We] are already working together to develop a 3-year Safe Routes to School program, which includes nearly $40,000 a year for the Be Safe Be Seen program,” said Dougherty. “So we will be reigniting it, and we look forward to distributing those materials and the educational curriculum to students in the Anchorage School District.”

At the end of the meeting, Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles Director Marla Thompson said she would commit to updating the state driver’s manual to include information on actions that drivers must take when sharing the road with bicyclists and pedestrians. She also committed to including questions on the written driver test about sharing the road with bicyclists.

In 2016, there were 17 car collisions with pedestrians and bikes in Anchorage. As of May 2017, there have been seven collisions.