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Survey says more people bike, fly to work than take public transit in Anchorage area

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: July 8, 2016
  • Published February 2, 2015

A regional transportation survey conducted last fall found that Anchorage-area residents were more likely to take a bike or an airplane to work than public transit.

The federally funded Regional Household Travel Survey, the highlights of which were recently released to Alaska Dispatch News, surveyed more than 7,400 people between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough starting last September. People were asked to report their travel habits, part of a wide-ranging effort to assess current and future travel demands in the region.

The survey results, which are still being finalized, show that 2.2 percent rode bikes to work as their usual means of commuting, 1.8 percent flew in an airplane, and 1.7 percent took public transit. About 11 percent of respondents carpooled to work, but the vast majority, 74 percent, drove alone. The data also explore daily nonwork trips, routes, travel times and opinions on regional transportation, and local officials and transportation planners will use the results to update long-range planning models and make decisions on where to spend money on transportation projects.

It's the first time the survey has been conducted in more than a decade. Craig Lyon, Anchorage's transportation planning manager, said he was "really stunned" to see that 1.8 percent of survey respondents traveled by airplane to get to work.

"I don't know if that meant some people commuted from Skwentna, or what," Lyon said, referring to a Mat-Su Borough community on the Iditarod Trail that is not connected to the state's road system.

Lyon added that the survey did not go into enough detail to determine whether the flight-commuters were on commercial or private planes, or if those responding were pilots or North Slope workers. About 20,000 people, predominantly from Anchorage, travel each month by plane to the Slope through the charter service run by ConocoPhillips, said Conoco spokeswoman Natalie Lowman.

For private flights to work, Tim Coons, the manager at Lake Hood Seaplane Base in Anchorage, said Alaska's variable weather would be a big factor in the dependability of that kind of transportation.

"I'm not familiar with anybody in particular who's doing it, but the classic case of it might be somebody that's involved in the air transportation business themselves," Coons said. Some examples might be pilots, air traffic controllers or air cargo operators, he said.

He added: "Aviation is integral to Alaska, there's no doubt about that."

Lance Wilber, director of People Mover, said Friday he had not yet seen the survey and couldn't immediately comment on its implications for public transit. But Lyon described the effort to increase ridership on transit systems, in Anchorage and elsewhere, as an "eternal struggle." Last fall, the city's bus system reported declining ridership.

To conduct the regional survey, coordinators sent postcards to randomly-selected households in Anchorage, Chugiak-Eagle River and the Mat-Su Borough, and people were asked to record "travel diaries" and report the results either online or over the phone. The survey was sponsored by Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions, or AMATS, the city's official planning organization.

In all, 3,104 households completed the survey, or about 2 percent of the region, and recorded a total of 28,362 trips, according to the "highlights" sheet sent by Lyon.

More bike commuters

In addition to the flight-commuting statistic, Lyon said he was surprised to see in the regional survey a larger number of bike commuters compared to the number of people taking public transit. Out of 3,790 employed adults, 2.2 percent reported regularly biking to work, compared to 1.7 percent who took public transit or paratransit.

The statistic was less surprising to Brian Litmans, president of Bike Anchorage, a nonprofit volunteer organization vying to make Anchorage into a more bike-friendly city.

"It correlates with what we're seeing across the nation, as far as a greater interest in bicycling," said Litmans, who also serves on the AMATS Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Litmans said the figure is also consistent with other surveys that have shown across-the-board increases in the number of cyclists in Anchorage. He also noted that participation in Bike-to-Work Day, an annual summer event, has doubled over the last seven years.

Since 2002, when the last Regional Travel Survey was conducted, Anchorage has taken steps toward improving bicycle infrastructure. In 2010, the Assembly adopted the Anchorage Bicycle Plan, which assessed the current state of biking in the city and laid the foundation for establishing a bicycle network. Though an extensive recreational trail system provides bike access for commuters in some parts of the city, there are fewer than 10 miles of bicycle lanes on Anchorage roadways.

It's been slow going so far putting the bicycle plan in action, but Nicole Rehm, the plan's administrator, said project teams are in the planning phase for 10 different projects that would add bike lanes to various Anchorage streets through relatively simple modifications. Four of those projects, on state roads such as C Street, could begin as early as this spring, Rehm said.

Transportation fair to be held next week

Anyone curious about the status of the future of transportation in the region can find information on dozens of ongoing local and state transportation projects, including Anchorage's bike plan, on display at the city's first-ever Transportation Fair this week. The fair is scheduled for Wednesday between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Alaska Airlines Center.

Organizers are calling the event a "super open house," with more than 50 booths offering information about state and local projects that are being planned, designed or in construction. The fair was spearheaded by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, in partnership with the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility, the Anchorage Police Department and the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

At each booth, a consultant or project manager will be on hand to answer questions from the public, said Anne Brooks of Brooks and Associates, who is organizing the project for DOT. The event is is modeled after a similar transportation fair that has been held in the Mat-Su Borough since 2007.

For more information on the fair and a complete list of featured projects, visit anchoragetranspofair.blogspot.com.

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