An Anchorage experiment: What happens when one of downtown’s busiest streets gets a protected bike lane?

In a pilot project, city and state officials are testing out the bike lane, which connects the Chester Creek Greenbelt to the Coastal Trail, as they seek ways to improve Anchorage’s transportation system and the downtown area.

In downtown Anchorage, much of Sixth Avenue has been temporarily transformed for the summer: A two-way protected bike path now occupies the street’s northernmost lane, running about a mile west from A Street to Coastal Place.

On the westernmost lane of A Street, it stretches from Sixth to 10th Avenue.

The protected bike lane opened at the end of May, and is the second phase in a pilot project to test the feasibility of the infrastructure in Alaska. Such lanes have improved safety for cyclists and other road users in Lower 48 communities, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The temporary lane will remain through September.

The bike lane is separated from vehicle lanes by plastic flex-posts and curbs placed all along its length. Some temporary striping and signs also mark the lane’s purpose and travel directions. Bike signals have been installed alongside the traffic signals at numerous intersections.

“There’s a distinct difference to the feeling of being in the protected bike lane, just because you have that physical barrier and there’s posts and rubber curbs,” said Alexa Dobson, executive director of Bike Anchorage, a local biking advocacy group.

“More importantly, I think it creates a space specifically for bikes. It says, ‘bikes are welcome here,’” she said.

The project is a collaboration between the municipality and the Alaska Department of Transportation, funded solely through a $1 million federal grant. Throughout the summer, they’ll collect data on traffic speeds and volume, and, using video, data on the numbers and types of cyclists and other non-motorized users. The project piloted the city’s first protected bike lane last fall in East Anchorage.

In its first weeks, public reception to the bike lane has been mixed, ranging from ardent support, to indifference, to some frustration and criticism.


“All of this stuff is an experiment,” said Assembly member Daniel Volland, who represents North Anchorage, including downtown, and has advocated for the project, along with other recent bike-friendly initiatives.

“It can help us decide in the future — is something like this as a permanent installation worth the investment? Or is this the right location?” Volland said.

Why Sixth Avenue?

Bike advocates have long pushed for the city to improve bike safety on Anchorage’s roads and for better connectivity to the hundreds of miles of paved multi-use trails that snake through the city’s greenbelts and parks.

“I think what’s really cool is that it connects the shared pathway on the Chester Creek Greenbelt, and then all the way over to the Coastal Trail, so you get that trail connectivity with a downtown thoroughfare,” Volland said.

Dobson said feedback she’s received from riders has been “uniformly positive” so far.

“They’re really excited about it not only for what it specifically is, but also for what it represents: that we’re taking this bike infrastructure and really improving and expanding it,” she said.

City officials, including Mayor Dave Bronson and Volland, and dozens of cyclists celebrated the lane’s opening during a ribbon-cutting ceremony and group bike ride earlier this month.

For Dobson, one comment she heard from a rider stood out: “This feels like a real downtown now.”

On Monday afternoon, Sixth Avenue bustled with vehicle traffic and pedestrians. Over a period of two hours, just a few cyclists used the lane.

Advocates for the project anticipate that more people will begin to use it as awareness grows. The pilot study will examine usage and popularity along with impacts to traffic and safety, Volland said.

“It’s been a long-standing request from the community that we have some bicycle infrastructure downtown,” said Radhika Krishna, executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership. “We need ways for people to access downtown using all modes of transportation.”

Unlike much of the rest of Anchorage, biking on the sidewalks is illegal in a large swath of downtown. Until now, its streets offered no designated biking lanes, leaving cyclists to ride with traffic in the roads.


“The whole point of having a protected bike lane is to make bikes visible and make it safer to ride on those roadways that have higher speeds and higher traffic volume,” Dobson said.

Sixth Avenue is one of downtown’s busiest streets, with three lanes funneling traffic, including freight and commuters, east through downtown toward the Glenn and Seward highways.

Krishna and Dobson both said that before the protected bike lane was installed, they’d never have ventured onto Sixth Avenue while riding their bikes. Now, it feels safe, they said.

Positive results in East Anchorage

The city’s first pilot of a protected bike lane last September saw positive results, said Anna Bosin, central region traffic safety engineer with the Department of Transportation.

For one month, the lane ran along Pine and McCarrey streets between DeBarr Road and Mountain View Drive. The team collected data on the number of vehicles using the road, speeds, and pedestrian and bicyclist counts, both before and during the installation.

The biggest takeaway: Instances of “extreme speeding” — vehicles traveling 20 mph or more over the limit — were dramatically reduced, down from one out of every 60 vehicles to one out of every 6,000, Bosin said.


National research similarly shows that protected bike lines have a calming effect on vehicular traffic, she said, reducing collisions and improving safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Phase one also showed that a wider variety of people used the bike lane, rather than “confident riders” who regularly brave riding in roadways with traffic, she said.

“It changed. Now you saw little kids out there with their skateboards and their pets. You saw families, you saw elderly people with tricycles riding through on the protected bike lane,” Bosin said. “Those users now had a safe spot that was separated from the pedestrian” and vehicular traffic.

That, in turn, improved the experience for pedestrians, who no longer had to share the sidewalk with fast-moving bikes and scooters, she said.

They’re hoping to see similar results downtown this summer.

Other Anchorage downtown transportation projects are happening simultaneously: A site selection study for a new downtown Transit Center is also underway, plus a city study of downtown streets engineering, along with a state study and project to redesign the connection of the Seward and Glenn highways just east of downtown in Fairview.


Downtown has also been seeing a lot of new private development, including numerous new businesses, construction and major renovation projects, Krishna said, adding that it’s time for public investment in the area.

“I think this is an exciting moment in our city where we get to look at how transportation works in the core of Anchorage and think about what facilities and resources we need to make that work for the next 30 years or 50 years,” Krishna said.

Some opposition and concern

Others are skeptical of the project.

“It’s a waste of money,” said Laura Jacques, who on Monday was planting flowers into pots outside the store where she works on Sixth Avenue. So far, she hasn’t seen anyone use it, aside from a bicycle rally during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Down the street from Jacques, Angel Ochoa, owner of Wild Starr Coffee House, said she hopes it improves problems with people riding their bikes on the busy pedestrian-only sidewalk.

So far, she hasn’t noticed a big change or increase in riders, but there’s been more honking and frustrated drivers, she said. Now people must turn left onto E street from what’s usually the middle lane on the three-lane street, she said. With two car lanes, more traffic is slowed behind the turning vehicles as they wait for pedestrians to cross the intersection during green lights.

On social media, some drivers, business owners and a few cyclists have criticized the project, voicing frustration over its location, the reduction of car lanes and impacts to traffic during rush hour. A Republican legislator and former Anchorage Assembly member from Eagle River, Jamie Allard, in a Facebook post urged people frustrated with the lane to provide public comment on the project, saying, “This will be an epic failure.”

Officials chose Sixth Avenue in part because they did not want to significantly affect traffic capacity and parking, Bosin said.


“We looked at the volumes of traffic and we have extra capacity in that roadway,” Bosin said. With only two lanes, aggressive driving movements, like weaving to pass and speeding, are minimized, she added.

And they wanted to improve bike access in an area with little biking infrastructure, she said.

“We have a great trail system kind of on the periphery of downtown, but not really through downtown. And so it kind of all led us to the downtown corridor, to find a location that could connect non-motorized users through that area safely and comfortably,” she said.

Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel, during a meeting last month, told city and state traffic engineers that she’s worried it will “result in possibly a bad outcome,” particularly with a two-way bike lane on a busy one-way urban street, rather than the single bike lanes on that were on both sides of Pine and McCarrey Streets, in a lower-speed residential area.

“I’m very nervous about the location of this,” Zaletel said, adding that Sixth is a truck route. “... And my concern is that something will go wrong, and we’ll never do it again, because that’s how things go in this town.”

Bosin said the project consulted with several freight companies regarding the design of the lane, to ensure trucks could still safely navigate the road and turns.

During the earlier pilot in East Anchorage, community members also gave some negative feedback, Volland said. Some didn’t like how flimsy the flex-posts were. Others found it visually confusing and unclear where cars could park or drive, he said.

Some communities in the Lower 48 have seen increase in economic activity in areas where bike lanes were added. Volland hopes it will similarly encourage more people to visit businesses.

Reimagining downtown’s infrastructure, such as adding permanent biking lanes, will likely come with some tradeoffs, like possibly increasing commute times for drivers, Volland said.

“Is it worth it to create a more vibrant downtown?” He said. “Ultimately, the community is going to have to drive that conversation.”

The project is collecting feedback and comments from residents on its website,

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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at