Residents are asking DOT to improve safety along the Girdwood bike path
Some Girdwood residents and members of the area’s board of supervisors are concerned about safety on the bike path along Alyeska Highway. They say they’re afraid to use the pathway because tourists drive on it when they confuse it for the main highway.
The Alaska Department of Transportation finished reconstruction of the Alyeska Highway Multiuse Pathway in 2017 in response to safety concerns from area residents. They implemented a design feature in use across the state, referred to as pathway “sweeps,” a safety feature designed to minimize crashes from bikes approaching turning vehicles.
But some residents say there are safety issues with this DOT pathway design. The paved path is fairly wide, and visitors sometimes mistake it for a frontage road. Ken Waugh with the Girdwood Public Safety Committee says this design feature could lead to an accident.
“It's just been something that I think the community is proactively trying to address,” Waugh told Channel 2 in an interview while standing on the bike path June 11 — his point was immediately demonstrated as a vehicle about 200 yards away was seen driving down the path.
“And actually, if you turned around right now, you can see a truck driving down the bike path,” he said. “That truck drove down from the street above on the bike path. And now, by God, he's gonna’ drive down the bike path some more. So that's exactly what we're talking about.”
At intersections of side roads with the Alyeska Highway, the bike path sweeps out towards the highway. The intent of this design is to reduce the chance of collisions between vehicles on side roads and pedestrians and bikers on the path. But residents say this design puts people on the bike path in dangerous proximity to highway traffic.
“When you’ve got a bunch of kids riding, it’s kind of spooky when they come so close to the Highway,” Girdwood resident Matt Martyn said. He was riding bikes on the path with his two young children June 11. His young son echoed his concerns, saying, “When a car comes down the bike path, it makes me feel like I’m gonna’ get ran over.”
Several meetings were held between members of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and representatives of the DOT to address these safety concerns. Correspondence from the period of Feb. 2018 to Jan. 2019 show requests from Girdwood residents for DOT to alleviate problems with the sweep design — including better marking of the bike path and adding physical barriers to vehicle traffic. But, DOT insists that the path is safe, and that the sweeps are a standard safety feature in Alaska and the rest of the nation.
“You want to bring bikers and walkers to a stopping point so that they can make eye contact, so that they’re aware of each other’s presence,” DOT Spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said. “When a driver is coming off a side street, they need to anticipate where they’re going to stop, and look at traffic both in the bike path and on the highway.”
McCarthy says the path is well-marked with 17 signs along the whole stretch. She says if residents note a particular problem area where vehicles are driving on the path, they should first report it to the police as it’s illegal. She says DOT would then take efforts to mark the problem area more clearly.
Waugh with the transportation safety committee says DOT has not been acquiescent to residents’ requests for change.
“DOT has been very unresponsive to virtually everything that this community has asked,” he said. “The last public meeting that was held on this with DOT was very final from their standpoint: ‘We've talked to you about this, we've told you why we think this is an appropriate design, and we're not gonna’ do anything about it, so stop bothering us.’”
McCarthy claims the opposite — that DOT encourages engagement from concerned residents.
“We would never say that. Absolutely not,” she said. “But, we will say that this pathway is safe. To build it otherwise would put pedestrians and bikers in danger.”