Friday, December 03, 2010

Bicycling network!

Due to the determined efforts of some boy scouts from Troop 92 and several residents on Gold Hill Road, DOT may construct a bike and pedestrian path along Gold Hill Road. Gold Hill has been pretty dangerous for bikers and walkers, as there is NO shoulder whatsoever, and there have been accidents, kids and adults struck by cars. Adding this path to the road would, as did the bike path along the Parks Highway, improve safety and really encourage more bicycling, skateboarding, skating, and so forth. And it would provide those ski teams with a safe place to practice during the summer, instead of scaring the bejeesus out of drivers.

DOT is holding an open house on the topic at the Annex, Thursday, December 9, from 4 to 7 pm. DOT is looking for comments from the public on this, and will have four alternative plans. Al Beck, the engineering manager, emphasized to me that this project has come from the grassroots up and needs the feedback from the community. Is preserving the trees important to you? speak up. Is there an alternative design that they should consider? bring your ideas with you. Should the scope of the project include the whole of Gold Hill Road or only part of it? now's your chance to let them know. Any aspect of the project: how it should be executed, where, if, all of that: let them know iat this meeting. If you can't make it in person, you can still comment or ask questions to inform your comments, by contacting Beck at 451-5359 or e-mailing him at If you want, you can fax them to 451-5126, attention Al Beck.
Alternative one: widen the shoulders on each side of the road, making each shoulder a one-way bike lane. (See the overall road view, with property lines, earthwork lines, existing road, and proposed road limits, in a PDF at DOT.) This alternative would, it looks like, double the size of the roadway (shrubbery would have to be cleared, too).

Here is a cutaway view of what might be a typical section of the road (showing filled roadsides and ditched or cut roadsides).

Alternative two: create an attached two-lane path on one side of Gold Hill Road. (See the overall road view PDF at DOT.)

Here's the cutaway of the attached path.

Alternative three: create a separated bike path (as on the Parks Highway). While this is probably the safest, it takes up the most room and wipes out the most trees. (See the overal road view PDF at DOT.)

Here's the cutaway of the separated path.

Alternative four: take the existing road and make it one-way for automobile traffic (the map shows that as toward UAF), using part of the road for a bike path. This is rather a novel approach, and would serve to encourage bike and pedestrian traffic over vehicular traffic. It would also be the no-disruption version in terms of road-widening or property impact. I don't think it would fly, though--there's just too many people living on the road who rely on cars. Here's the cutaway of this version.


Deirdre Helfferich said...

From Tom Clark:

To the Editor,

In response to the Dec. 3rd Ester Republic blog post, I have a question: if the path along the Parks highway is so great, why are there people still riding and running the length of Gold Hill Road?

Answer: being on the side of a wide, fast road isn't that much fun. Converting Gold Hill Road to a widened road means faster traffic, no matter the speed limit. People currently enjoy using Gold Hill Road, not in spite of the fact that it is a narrow road, but because it is a narrow road. The trees are nearby. Birds sing to you. There are interesting yards to look at. Most drivers are moving along at 40 mph. This funky-cool, intimate setting will dissolve with the planned upgrades.

As it stands now, folks heading to and from the People's Republic of Ester have a choice: Parks or Gold Hill. If even the least intrusive option put forth by DOT goes through (discounting the center divided, one way road -- like that will ever happen), the choice will be Parks Hwy. Sr. or Parks Hwy. Jr. Hmm. Pretty sad choice.

Quite cheerfully,
Tom Clark
Gold Hill Road

WoodnWeb said...

Hi Tom,
I understand your sentiment about the "funky cool" Gold Hill road. The problem is the safety of the road for all users has not been accomplished. I know of 4 people who were hit by automobiles while trying to grab the edge of the road and not be in the direct line of the drives right tires.

The number of trips used by resident on the road has risen to over 1500 trips a day. Safety is the bottom line, as one mother told me last week, "I dont want to be the first mother to lose a child to that road."

The project is in the public comment stage. Widening both sides of the road so that all users can manage the road safely might be the most practical direction to go in. I too hope that Gold Hill road doesn't become another Parks Highway. Personally, I dont see that happening even if the final decision has a bike lane. I believe this would have a positive effect not only on all of the users of the road but to the community as a whole.

Thanks for lending your voice to the debate.

jimc said...

I am aware of one pedestrian/ vehicle accident in Dec sev yrs ago involving a motorist who was physically impaired (i.e. not intoxicated). While I believe there may have been lots of near misses; I like more specifics about the 4 folks that WoodnWeb cites. I'm hoping that these accidents were reported to the Troopers because that would be the basis for more enforcement on Goldhill and possibly the leverage for a speed study and possible reduction in allowed speed and/or changes in road design that would 'encourage' motorists to abide by the speed limit(admitedly only part of the problem for ped/byc on GH). Improved safety on GH sounds great but the prospect of a 100' swath of openness is very unappealing. Is there a 'middle ground'?

chris eshleman said...

Alt 1: That car does not need to be that close to the cyclist. There's no one in the other lane. Move over

radroy said...

Hi JIMC, I will ask people directly if they would like their events described in full with their identification and police reports? Suffice to say that 2 of the people are local athletes and the other two adults had their children in their bike trailer when they were hit, the kids were hit that is. To address both you and chris eshleman, I believe a path on one side of the road is the "middle ground". The alternative to go into oncoming traffic because. "There's no one in the other lane. Move over" is a very unsafe practice. The narrowness of this road makes people do just that. I think the middle ground is a low impact attached trail on the road. The drives have the other road users in sight and in their mind but enough room to get around them so as to not go into oncoming traffic.

Lee in Alaska said...

I think that a detached or attached separate path is by far the least safe option. The number of driveways and roads that enter Gold Hill Road preclude a detached path from being safe, unless you are just meandering along the path at 0.5 mph. Gold Hill Rd. is very different from the Parks in this respect. People exiting side roads and driveways simply do not stop to look and see if someone is coming along a bike path. Try biking along the "bike path", oops, I mean sidewalk, along Geist Road and you will see what I mean. You're safer on the road, even if the shoulder is narrow.

Also detached and attached paths are not maintained in the winter time. So for half the year this would not take bikes and pedestrians off of the road at all. How many Ester people have tried riding the path the taxpayers already built for you into town in the winter? It was quite a slog when I did it even in October.

Also detached and attached paths are not maintained in the long run, with potholes and tree roots eventually making them unusable for transit use. Have you ever tried riding the path along Chena Pump Road.

Detached paths are unsafe and a waste of taxpayer dollars. I think doing nothing is safer than doing that. Children are no safer on a detached path than on a shoulder, where at least they are visible.

Attached paths put cyclists in a position where they are moving directly against motorized traffic in close proximity. This is far more dangerous than just riding on the road in the right lane.

Please do not push the attached or detached path options. I fear that someone will be very hurt or killed if that is installed. Both are incredibly unsafe.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

I'm a bit confused, because it sounds like no option is safe, in your view. An attached path or widened shoulder is indeed maintained, because there's no difficulty in plowing it. A detached path would have the problem of being unmaintained in the winter.

The Parks Highway detached path is well used in the summer, and becomes a ski path and (although it's not supposed to) a snowmachine trail in the winter. I agree that Gold Hill is a different kettle of fish, though, because it does have a huge number of driveways coming on to the road. However, having bike traffic as part of the road traffic just doesn't seem to me to be any safer (and really, less safe) than traffic in an attached path or widened shoulder would.

I think that after a path is installed, in whichever form it ends up, drivers living along Gold Hill would soon learn to expect that bike traffic is on the path.