Anchorage should be designed around people, not just cars

Recently, a visiting presenter to Anchorage gave a talk that resonated with the Anchorage business community and many local leaders. Hosted by the AEDC, Roger Brooks, author and ‘placemaking expert’, spoke about how Anchorage could be a more attractive place for tourists. Brooks stressed the importance of navigable streets and wayfinding. He emphasized that cities should be designed around people, not only cars. He poked fun at our confusing and busy one way streets. Here’s the thing: although a polished presenter and entertaining educator, Mr. Brooks wasn’t saying anything new. Local advocates and community members have been shouting these truths for years.

The reality is that Anchorage, for too long, has been a city designed primarily around cars. Excess parking eats up our buildable land and policies that incentivize parking lots result in sprawling seas of pavement. High speed, one-way highways course recklessly through our urban core and frequently result in pedestrians being harmed. Skinny, rollercoaster sidewalks are interrupted by utility poles smack-dab in the middle of walkways. Pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users, kids walking to school during a bus driver shortage: Anchorage infrastructure is, frankly, not safe for these user groups.

Anchorage can and should be a model for better urban planning and infrastructure. We are the largest city in Alaska, and the northernmost metropolis in the world. We enjoy unparalleled access to nature–even in an urban context–via our trails and parks. We have boundless potential to be a city of innovation, whether in technology or in transit. To make that happen, we’re going to have to turn off the autopilot mode that simply maximizes high-speed vehicular flow.

The Anchorage Assembly is paying close attention to this matter and we are looking for solutions. First, we hope to organize a joint task force with ASD and the Anchorage School Board on safe walking routes to schools. Assembly members Cross, Sulte, and myself have volunteered for this task force and we are looking forward to this important work.

Second, members are interested in how we can harness the power of our Metropolitan Planning Organization, AMATS, to envision and build a safer, more pedestrian-, cyclist- and wheelchair-friendly city. When casting the future of our city in concrete, we need to ensure that the end product is inclusive of multiple types of commuters, resilient to climate change, and attractive to tourists.

Every four years, the AMATS Policy Committee creates a new Transportation Improvement Program, or “TIP”. The TIP prioritizes how federal dollars will be spent on capital improvements to our transportation system in the Municipality. It is a five member voting body, comprised of 1) two Assembly members, 2) the Commissioner of ADOT&PF or designee, 3) the Mayor of Anchorage or designee, 4) and the Commissioner of the SOA Dept. of Environmental Conservation or designee. This five member body decides which projects will be included in the next four years. There is also an Assembly member alternate position (currently yours truly).

In an effort to express our desire that the 2023-2026 TIP prioritize safety for non-motorized travel, Assembly members Zaletel and Dunbar, who serve on the AMATS Policy Committee, and myself will soon bring forward a resolution before the Anchorage Assembly that calls for the deletion of an unpopular and long-opposed highway expansion project in favor of adding a corridor study of the busy A/C couplet that runs from Midtown to Downtown. We want to know how this urban corridor can be made safer for all user groups. Additionally, the resolution supports a trail & easement inventory, downtown traffic signal upgrades, and a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan. Although the entire Assembly doesn’t get to vote on the TIP, we hope that the resolution, if passed, will be a strong statement in support of the AMATS Policy Committee implementing these changes in the final approved version.

This resolution is the start of a broader policymaking conversation. It’s imperative that Anchorage go a step further and develop transportation plans that reflect the goals and values of our community. On interrelated issues of transportation, infrastructure, and land use, the time is now for Anchorage to make bold policy decisions and to embrace a design future that revolves around people, not just cars.

Daniel Volland represents District 1 – North Anchorage – on the Anchorage Assembly. 

Subscribe
Notify of

11 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
jimeliv504
1 month ago

n is the start of a broader policymaking conversation. It’s imperative that Anchorage go a step further and de

Lisa
1 month ago

The sentiment here is laudable and important. The actual words of this piece, though, sound like a bunch of politician-speak.

Qan
1 month ago

We also need a traffic department that doesn’t crap their pants at the prospect of a bike race downtown, or *gasp* a non-standard crosswalk!!! (Rainbow? …would kill kids! Artistic, like Roger Brooks suggested? Definitely also killing children.)

Spending some money is certainly part of the solution, but really probably number two behind freeing our regulators minds to think openly and ambitiously about what our existing infrastructure is capable of (larger and denser cities with more traffic, narrower lanes, and smaller sidewalks have figured out the bike race thing, for instance). Our traffic department just doesn’t want to.

Erik Wassell
1 month ago

Maybe the Assembly should come up with a plan to properly maintain the streets we have before thinking about spending millions of dollars on pie-in-the-sky projects that will not solve the so-called problems and only serve a small segment of the population.

1 month ago

It’s the future, solar powered escalators and trolleys.
Just bury all school buses and recycle the tires and steel. Wa laa. So simple and tourist will love it.

Erik Johnson
1 month ago

Don’t forget many other Alaskans would like to spend as Little time in Anchorage as possible. When can we drive from Muldoon (from Mat-Su) to Rabbit Creek (headed to the Peninsula) without stopping?

Marc
1 month ago

The “start” is reining in AMATS which is largely responsible for the mess we are in. And a first step is affiliating with NACTO and adopting NACTO guidelines, a resolution for which has been ignored by Zalatal and Dunbar, while Volland begs ignorance of NACTO though FHWA embraces NACTO recommendations (such as https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/designing-ages-abilities-new/).

Stop with the rhetoric!

Marc
1 month ago

I prepared the draft of a resolution/ordinance that I believe would place the Municipality on an appropriate track with respect to infrastructure design and deployment that would protect non-motorized users. Of course, as the NTSB and our European friends have repeatedly pointed out, the most effective ways to ensure the safety of non-motorized users of our transportation corridors is to implement ASE (automated speed enforcement – which today is highly accurate and could be deployed in a civil in rem mode which would avoid the communities prior issues) and to reduce speed limits to 30 km for residential streets and… Read more »

James Roscoe Wilke
1 month ago

What an idiot. 10 bucks says he drives a nice SUV to work but wants you to ride the bus.

lipag32988
1 month ago

n is the start of a broader p

lipag32988
1 month ago

Spending some money is certainly part of the solution, but really probably number two behind freeing our regulators minds to think openly and ambitiously about what our existing infrastructure is capable of (larger and denser cities with more traffic, narrower lanes, and smaller sidewalks have figured out the bike race thing, for instance). Our traffic department just doesn’t want to.