The recently passed state legislation rerouting trail project funds to road construction is a sorry example of Alaska's leaders marching boldly toward the past. While other states celebrate the tremendous economic and practical transportation benefits of bicycle trails, Alaska is impudently road building its way back to the 19th century. How incredibly myopic.
The benefits of an extensive urban bicycle system are simply undeniable. For example, data from the Centers for Disease Control shows obesity from decreased physical activity is a huge and costly epidemic in America. The CDC has concluded that "greater access to trails can directly impact our nation's obesity epidemic by improving access to places for physical activity." Reducing trail construction will cost us far more in future health care bills.
Trails have short-term financial benefits. Numerous cities have revitalized small shopping centers and housing districts through trail connections between schools, homes and work sites. Tourists seek out cities that encourage bicycling as a means of visiting local attractions. Imagine the increased business potential of offering cruise ship visitors a cycle tour of Juneau on wooded trails. How delightful and enticing it could be as an added attraction. Too bad our Legislature has no such imagination.
Linking traffic congestion with a lack of roads is outdated thinking.
Offering the public multiple transportation options does reduce congestion. Pedestrian and cycling trails separated from the road way are safe, fast and clean to ride even in rainy weather. It is the spray from automobiles and the limited visibility near roadways that makes bicycling dangerous and unappealing in wet weather. Routing trails around, over or under intersections so that cyclists avoid stopping for traffic lights makes cycling and walking a faster and far more pleasant commute.
Juneau has the foundation of an outstanding cycling and pedestrian trail system. In conjunction with the award-winning city transit program, an expanded trail network would be a crown jewel for the city. What a tremendous gift that would be to Juneau's 21st-century inhabitants.
Gov. Murkowski could bestow a true and lasting legacy upon Juneau and other communities of Alaska by refusing to sign Senate Bill 71 and by promising to keep the maximum allowable federal funding available for trails and roadside parks.