Girdwood Bike Path Improvements Planned | Glacier City Gazette
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Girdwood Bike Path Improvements Planned

Girdwood Bike Path Improvements Planned

By Emily Maxwell
Associate Editor

This summer, cars, campers and trucks were not an unusual sight on the bike path parallel to the Alyeska Highway. Not surprisingly, motor vehicles on a path meant for pedestrian use presents a safety concern for the community. Girdwood, in true community fashion, rallied together for a solution.

The bike path has had issues since its construction when the contractor did not properly follow the design put forth by the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) and approved through public process by Land Use Committee and Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS). Until recently, no sustainable solutions have been implemented.

In its current form, parts of the path “sweep” towards the highway, inviting unwitting drivers to turn off of the highway onto the bike path, with drivers often completely unaware that they are on a pedestrian path while maintaining high speeds meant for the highway. This summer, the community concern hit a fever pitch.

GBOS had sent a series of letters to the DOT regarding the issues with the bike path but to no avail. DOT’s response to GBOS letters about the sweeps was that the contractor completed the project and moved on to other ones. Recently, Girdwood Alliance sent its lobbyist to Juneau to ask DOT for a solution. Now, GBOS is working with the DOT to find both short- and long-term solutions.

At a recent, special GBOS meeting intended to review and vote upon a draft letter to DOT and to provide a budget for the short-term mitigation of the sweeps, GBOS discussed potential solutions. The short-term solution proposal includes stencils painted on the walk ways where the sweeps are located to alert motorists. It was also proposed that movable bollards be set up in the center of the walkway, indicating that it is for pedestrians only, with the movable bollards being ideal for snow removal. Additionally, it was proposed that stripes be painted to help clearly delineate the bike path from the road

Long-term solution proposals include straightening of the bike path to include a six-foot space between the highway and the outer edge of the bike path. This would include significant work to the drainage ditches, which would be costly both monetarily and time-wise.

“Girdwood is generally quite good at advocating for our interests. We tend to show up with not just a problem but also a solution. There’s clearly a lot of activism in this community,” says Mike Edgington, Land Use Supervisor and GBOS Co-Chair.

“The multi-layered approach has been successful,” Edgington said. “Ken Waugh [Public Safety Advisory Committee Co-Chair] had brought in a film crew to film the problem of cars driving on the path. While they were filming parts of the path, a car drove right onto it, so we had the publicity. Secondly, on a local political level, we’ve been writing letters. The third layer is lobbying which Girdwood Alliance brings to the table. The important thing is that we’ve been trying to push practical solutions, and that’s generally the best way to work with an engineering-driven organization like DOT.”

DOT Traffic and Safety Engineer Scott Thomas echoed Edgington’s sentiments in regards to collaboration. “We’re really pleased with our work with the Girdwood Board of Supervisors,” Thomas said. “It seems like the community has stepped up and taken an active role in finding a solution.”

Lesley de Jaray / Glacier City Gazette
The current bike path design forces cyclists and pedestrians to travel to the edge of Alyeska Hwy, causing drivers to swerve away to avoid an accident. There are regular incidents of vehicles being driven on the bike path.

Mike Edgington / Glacier City Gazette
This drone photo shows the bike path sweeping toward moving traffic on Alyeska Highway at the intersection with Brenner Circle. The bike path was not constructed to the specifications that were approved during the planning process. Drivers unaware of the bike path use it as a road.