Biking in Anchorage Alaska

By July 18, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

I have recently returned from Anchorage Alaska and have been awakened! Perhaps the theme of this journal will be overshadowed by the grandiose picture that has been created of Alaska. Alaska is monumental! Words can’t adequately describe the power of nature that surrounds you, the rising heights of mountains, majestic glacial valleys, endless fields, forests that engulf you within, and free to roam bears and moose, to name a few. Anchorage, in itself, is an oasis of civilization in an environment which is otherwise dominated by nature. While in this environment, I could easily imagine what it must have been like for the early American settlers having first arrived on this continent. “The wild frontier” was not a means of an escape to nature, rather a feeling of entrapment, as the only protection from it were wooden fences and close by neighbors. Perhaps, it is this mystique of Alaska that has prevented much analysis of Anchorage’s wildly progressive (even liberal) accomplishments towards alternative transportation amenities.
While driving through Anchorage, my mouth was often dry as it hung open in amazement of the number of cyclists casually cruising along the city streets via bike paths. Almost every major road had a bike path along it! Additionally, a network of paths exist along coastlines and throughout parks and adjacent to rivers. These paths were actively used by commuters, kids, older folks, parents, cyclists, skateboarders, in-line skaters, walkers, joggers, athletes and non-athletes alike. Many roads had both the path and the shoulder which, in a way, caused a little confusion for the cyclist. Which to use? Few roads had marked bike lanes, but most had shoulders and again, almost all had a path along them. My amazement continued to grow as I explored the city and realized that the number of paths was not an isolated phenomenon. These were everywhere! The city limits of Anchorage didn’t even mark an end to paved paths. Paths had been fully developed from Seward (120 miles South of Anchorage) to the North of Anchorage including Eagle River and even further North including the small towns of Palmer and Wasilla (that’s as far as I went).
Anchorage is a smallish city with a population of about 275,000 people. Much like Reno, its physical size, population, political philosophy and cost of living statistics are similar. This surprised me as I had expected that with these similarities and an oil driven economy and the wild banter of Sen. Stevens, that accommodating pedestrian traffic and keeping people in touch with nature through outdoor paved paths would be a low priority. Instead, I found the opposite. Not only do these paths provide a means of transportation, but, they encouraged a harmony with nature and community. Along the paths were several stops with benches, scenic overlooks, information kiosks, and more. People would gather at these stops and talk. Encountering people along the path is inevitable. It’s surprising the power that eye contact has when confronting a person. Instead of brake lights or a cold metal body, personal contact, a “hello!” and eye contact provides an indescribable feeling of well being, friendliness and harmony that is unachievable while driving. This feeling seems to translate into the lives of locals throughout the community.
While cycling with the local ABC (Arctic Bike Club), I attempted to get some “dirt” about the area. “What do you like least about living in Anchorage?” I asked. Expecting to hear a story about the weather, mosquitoes, conservative politics, poverty, cost of living, etc, I was already prejudiced towards those answers when I heard. “Ummm… I really can’t think of anything… “ over and over again.
I thought about Reno while I was there and how we can do better. I explained to the locals how funny it is that Reno wants to market itself as the “adventure capital.” I explained that the city of Reno has invested 100’s of thousands of dollars in publicity in trying to remake itself as a place for outdoor enthusiasts and, then afterwards, planning the infrastructure. I giggled as I read the emails about Mayberry and the opposition by RTC to painting a white stripe and designating a bike lane. Reno can do better and it would behoove the community to do so. Not only because of the sky rocketing cost of fuel, but, because of a lack of community awareness. As an auto-centric city, we have been restricted from understanding the many positive aspects that our community has to offer, including its nature and its people. We must branch out and encourage people to interact through the aggressive development of alternative, non-motorized transportation routes. Reno is alive with beauty! People here genuinely care about each other and routinely make sacrifices to demonstrate this. What other city can compare? Creating paved paths and non-motorized routes will provide a means for both Reno residents and tourists alike to interact and understand the incredible and diverse place in which we live.

Author pgallas

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