Anchorage residents choose alternative to the pump

As gas prices reached an all-time high this past year, many Anchorage residents have been using bicycles and city buses as their primary form of transportation.

KRUA DJ, Chris Himes is an avid bicycle commuter who has to compete with autos for road space on a daily basis. He said bicycle lanes are artificial barriers.

Himes said that the city needs to educate motorists about the integration of bicycles on the roadways.

“The city’s assumption that bicycle lanes will solve the problem is incorrect,” Himes said.

Craig Lyon, of Anchorage Municipality’s transportation planning, said the city is currently drafting a plan to accommodate bicycle commuters. It is a three-part plan confronting issues regarding alternative forms of transportation.

The first part of the plan addresses pedestrian needs and was completed last year. The second part addresses bicycle commuters.

“The plan is intended to make commuting via the city’s main roads easier for bicyclists,” Lyon said.

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The initiative is currently in the drafting phase. After it is finalized, it will move to the assembly for implementation. A primary concern is that roads may have to be drastically changed, as many are rather narrow.

Some roadways, like Northern Lights and Benson, although popular thoroughfares, are considered too congested for bike lines. Instead, alternate bike paths that hook up to the green belts are being proposed.
According to Lyon, implementation of the plan is slated to begin during the spring of 2009.

Although the city acknowledges the need for better bicycle routes, some residents feel the problem is more about uneducated motorists.

Zach Isaacs, a nursing major at UAA, rides his bike to get from point A to point B. Isaacs said that although the city’s trails are conducive to bike commuting, the roads are not, because drivers are not educated about bike laws.

According to the Alaska State Bicycle Law, no person may ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk in a business district. Not only is it legal for bicyclists to ride on the road, in many areas where it is crucial to commute, it is illegal for them to do otherwise.
Isaacs said that for an alternative to biking, he sometimes uses the People Mover.

During the winter months, the city bus system sees an increase in riders due to the weather, however there has been a substantial increase over the past year.

Planning technician for People Mover Tim Pearson said gas prices are a stimulus for people to ride the bus. He said he also attributes the general economy as a large factor, as many people have to focus on basic needs.

According to anchoragegasprices.com, gas prices have gone down almost a dollar in the past month. The prices are still high enough, however, to force Anchorage residents to seek alternative forms of transportation.

“Many people are changing from being a two car family to only having one car. If it’s a choice between feeding your family, and having a car – it’s not a hard decision,” Pearson said.

Within the last three months the numbers of average daily bus commuters have surged. According to Pearson, People Mover had an average of 15,518 passengers per week from July to September, up 2,000 since January.

The U-Pass Program allows students at UAA, APU and the Charter College to ride the city transit system for free. In 2007, the average daily student ridership was 1,103; the number rose to 1,149 in 2008.

Many students at UAA are choosing to ride the bus because of the U-Pass Program. Engineering senior Haley Runa said she rides the bus in order to avoid the expenses of a parking pass.
Although the transit system is a significantly cheaper alternative to driving, it still has its flaws.

JPC major Will Caynor is a daily bus rider, but said he has a problem with the bus schedules.

“The buses stop running so early, it makes it impossible to do anything on weekends,” Caynor said.

The People Mover does not run very early or late during the week, and has limited hours of operation and routes on the weekends.

According to Pearson, People Mover only releases schedule changes once a year in July, in order to not change the times during the school year.

Public transportation and bike commuting are both fiscally and ecologically responsible alternatives. They also have their shortcomings, but as UAA political science major Chris Stefanovich said: “[At least] I never have to worry about getting a DUI.”