Anchorage Alaska and cyclist safety

Update: I dug into this a little and found this issue is a little more nuanced than what I originally reported. Updated information is now included below.

The city of Anchorage, Alaska has been working on a rewrite of their traffic code — “Title 9” — since last year. During this rewrite process, the Anchorage Police Department proposed a drastic change that would undermine the rights of some Anchorage cyclists.

Cyclists riding on sidewalks and paths in Anchorage are essentially considered pedestrians under the current provisions of Title 9 § 38.20. According to the Anchorage PD, with cyclists traveling at an average speed of “20 to 30 mph” on the sidewalk [Yeah, right], the current law increases the danger for those cyclists. They’d like the “cyclists as pedestrians” law changed to automatically make the cyclist liable if the cyclist is involved in a collision at at sidewalk or path intersection.

Imagine a child toodling on her bike on a neighborhood sidewalk at walking speed. If this new law is approved, I can pull into my driveway without looking and leave the kid a mangled mess on the sidewalk, and I’m completely innocent.

A little more typical example might be the busboy on his way to work traveling 7 MPH on his BMX bike on a sidepath. A careful driver turning right across the sidewalk will look to ensure a pedestrian isn’t stepping into the street, but hey — if it’s Ukalek on a bike and I don’t like Ukalek because he took my job, I can ‘accidentally’ nudge him and ensure he’s not able to work for a few weeks, and I have an automatic get out of jail free card courtesy the Anchorage PD!

Another problem is Anchorage’s system of multiuse sidepaths that parallel busy roads. Check out this bike path adjacent to C Street in Anchorage, for example. With bike facilities design like this, Anchorage encourages unsafe cycling, and then wants to blame the victim when the inevitable occurs and the cyclist gets hooked at an intersection!

View Larger Map

Don’t do that

I know that sidewalk cycling is inherently dangerous, and that cyclists should always ride on the road in favor of the sidewalk. I’ve taught my children to avoid sidewalk cycling.

I’m also in favor of laws that define sidewalk cyclists as “pedestrians,” which is the case currently in Anchorage and in a handful of other locations. In removes a lot of the legal ambiguity that exists in most locations in which the status of a cyclist on the sidewalk is undefined. When motorists turn across an intersection, they should watch people moving into the intersection from an adjacent sidewalk or side path. It’s really not so difficult.

Instead of declaring open season on sidewalk cyclists (and I know many many cyclists who have no problem with this, but that’s another issue), I think Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-802 is a reasonable compromise to the issue of speeding cyclists on sidewalks. CRS 42-4-802 reads, “no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and ride a bicycle, walk, or run into the path of a moving vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

Via Biking in LA.

More at Bicycle Anchorage and Alaska Bicycle & Pedestrian Alliance. The city council meeting was yesterday but I don’t know what the outcome was.


  1. The proposed Alaska law makes no sense, although I wonder whether it's a rebuttable presumption of fault, rather than strict fault. In other words, cyclists are at fault unless they can show fault on the part of the motorist. Either way, it's bad policy for all kinds of reasons.

    I do have one comment on sidewalk riding, though. I've read the stats on that, too, but I have to say they don't make sense to me. Many U.S. cyclists look to other countries for examples of great bicycle infrastructure, without realizing that the bike tracks and paths overseas resemble what we would call a sidewalk — and in some cases are built directly into the sidewalk. Here's a photo I took last year in Seoul, Korea:

    In the same light, the multi-use path paralleling the Alaskan road looks pretty safe and convenient to me, and not too different from the paths in Europe.

  2. The point I tried to make is that sidepaths like those in Anchorage / Copenhagen / Amsterdam etc does result in right hooks for cyclists on the path (even the Dutch acknowledge this), but then creating a law forcing cyclists to stop at each intersections & driveway adds insult to the injury and discourages use of those facilities.

    Does Anchorage have a mandatory sidepath law?

  3. Anchorage has a parallel provision to this: “no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and ride a bicycle, walk, or run into the path of a moving vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

    If the problem is speeding cyclists on the paths and sidewalks, how about a speed limit?

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