Many have seen the Ghost Bike along Northern Lights Boulevard by now, or Bob Hallinen's picture of it recently published by the Daily News. A bicycle commuter, Eldridge Griffith, was killed in a car collision at the location in January. Mr. Griffith is not the only person who died in Anchorage in the last few years as a pedestrian or cyclist. Numerous other collisions killed or injured non-motorized commuters in the municipality with what appears to be an increasing frequency. While Alaska ranks number one in the nation for per capita walking or biking commutes, the trend of more frequent accidents is not unique to Anchorage or Alaska in general.
Last month, the National Complete Streets Coalition, in conjunction with the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), released "Dangerous by Design 2014," a report on pedestrian fatalities and injuries throughout the nation's metro areas due to unsafe and hazardous transportation thoroughfares. According to the report, nearly 47,000 people were killed while walking on unsafe streets between 2003 and 2012, marking a growing epidemic in urban, suburban and rural communities. (The report can be found online at smartgrowthamerica.org.)
Given the hundreds of miles of unsafe and dangerous streets and roads across the country, over 600 jurisdictions have begun to implement "complete streets" policies. These policies encourage transportation planners and designers to consider the safety, interest and convenience of all users, including drivers, bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians of all ages and abilities during the design and construction of transportation projects.
Communities around our state are already in the process of examining ways at the local level to make safer roads and to provide real transportation choices for all Alaskans regardless of age and ability. At the federal level, Sen. Mark Begich championed the inclusion of complete streets into the highway authorization legislation in 2012. The current transportation law, the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act," is a short-term compromise for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 that does not include a complete streets element.
In order to keep transportation choice and pedestrian safety in the forefront, Sen. Begich introduced the Safe Streets Act (S.2004) with support from many professional and user groups including the ASLA. The Safe Streets Act ensures that when transportation infrastructure projects are funded by the federal government, they accommodate the safety and convenience of all users in accordance with complete streets principles. The intent of the legislation is to allow state or local transportation planning organizations to implement the principles as they are best suited for the specific local project without federal mandates or increased federal spending. This is the real strength of the bill -- ensuring that local landscape architects with designers in our sister professions will make planning and design decisions for local users.
Ultimately, what we all look for in infrastructure investment is safer streets that accommodate the various users. Well-designed, lasting infrastructure fosters economic development and creates stronger, more livable and more resilient places to live in our state. Alaska landscape architects support the Safe Streets Act and applaud Sen. Begich for championing complete streets legislation at the federal level. During our recent visit to Washington, D.C., the ASLA Alaska chapter leadership encouraged our entire congressional delegation to support complete streets and co-sponsor this timely legislation for the benefit of all Alaskans.
Tamas Deak, Alaska trustee of the American Society of Landscape Architects, is a principal and landscape architect at KPB Architects in Anchorage.
By TAMAS DEAK