OPINION: An exciting transportation first for Downtown Anchorage

This summer, cyclists will have a new way to get around Anchorage: Downtown’s first protected bike lane. From May to September, this two-way protected bike lane will link the Chester Creek Trail to downtown on A Street and then run along 6th Avenue toward Elderberry Park and the Coastal Trail, allowing residents and tourists to venture off our greenbelt trails to visit downtown businesses by bike. It’s the second phase of a pilot study evaluating summer installations of protected bike lanes on Alaska roadways, a collaboration between Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Municipality of Anchorage’s Traffic Department and Bike Anchorage.

On-street protected bike lanes are the gold standard for bike transportation facilities. They work by creating a designated space on the roadway for bikes with a physical barrier (such as posts, parked cars or curbs) separating bicyclists and vehicles. This design improves the chances that drivers will see bicyclists compared to riding on the sidewalk, while the physical barrier relieves bicyclists of worry that a vehicle may veer into their path.

Protected bike lanes are welcoming and comfortable for most people who would like to ride a bike around town, and are proven to increase safety for everyone on the road–including drivers. Cities all over the world have been using them for decades to great success.

The protected bike lanes for this pilot study will be installed by converting the leftmost vehicle lane on A Street and 6th Ave. Traffic analysis has shown that one travel lane on these streets can be easily converted with minimal impacts on traffic congestion at peak times. These downtown streets have few parking spaces, and plenty of space to accommodate both bikes and vehicles so that everyone has access to downtown shops, restaurants and events. Our community does not have to choose one type of transportation over the other; we are fortunate to now have the freedom to go by bike, foot, bus or car.

Anchorage is a great place to ride a bike. We have world-class greenbelt trails right inside the city, and the new protected bike lane will connect cyclists into the heart of downtown during the summer months. Our regional parks offer incredible singletrack trails for summer riding and the increasingly popular fat-tire biking for winter adventures. Our city and state health departments support biking as a means to improve air quality as well as physical and mental health. And now, with a protected bike lane running through the heart of downtown, bicyclists can enjoy safe, comfortable access to shops, restaurants and live music all summer long.

We are excited to see this project kick off at the end of May and encourage everyone to give it a try and let the project team know what you think. Your input and experience helps us create a facility that works for everyone. We hope to see patience and kindness from everyone as we all try out a new way to move around our city. As we pedal along the protected bike lane this summer, we’re making progress toward a safer and more accessible transportation network for everyone.

Alexa Dobson is the executive director of Bike Anchorage.

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