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Sitkans pedal to health, wealth in May

theleague-bikemonthMay is National Bike Month, and cycling advocates in Sitka have prepared a slate of activities to help residents gear up for the summer riding season.

In 2008, Sitka became the first community in Alaska to be named a “Bike Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists. Doug Osborne, a health educator at SEARHC, was instrumental in winning that recognition.

He still considers the bike a good way to combine exercise and environmental awareness, with basic utility.

“In the way the bike is the most efficient machine ever made, it’s also one of the most efficient ways to get around. Because you’re checking a lot of boxes. So when I get over to SEARHC, I’ve gotten at least 15 minutes of physical activity, I’ve gotten some fresh air. I’ve had some fun. It’s a nice stress-reducing activity. And I’ve gotten from point A to point B.”

Osborne represents the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition, which has planned events for the entire month. Residents are encouraged to log their miles online with the National Bike Challenge to earn points for themselves or their teams. Wednesday May 8 is National Bike to School Day, and National Bike to Work Week begins on May 13.

On Friday of that week, bikers who pedal over the bridge to UAS will be treated to free pancake-and-egg breakfast beginning at 7:30.

If these incentives aren’t enough, Osborne says riders can just enjoy not spending money on their cars for a month.

“The biggest savings that we are sitting on is personal transportation. Nationwide, Americans on average spend something like 14-percent of their income on transportation – a huge amount. Because it’s car dependent and cars are so expensive in so many ways.”

Osborne says that dedicated bike commuters realize huge savings over driving – savings that can add up in dramatic fashion.

“People who can ride – you’re sitting on a lottery ticket. If you were to turn that in and just try it for a year, it’s a $4,000 to $5,000 turnaround a lot of times.”

Osborne has the benefit of experience to back up these claims. He’s been an all-weather bike commuter since moving to Sitka. In fact, moving to Sitka was the catalyst for the change in his driving habits: The relative nearness of everything, the friendliness of the drivers, the good roads – all helped tip him toward becoming a full-time rider.

“Well, you know I’ve had a bike since college in Ft. Collins, but in terms of being a bike commuter, it was really in Sitka. When I lived in east Anchorage I was doing the car commute, which, if you didn’t time it right you could be in stop-and-go traffic for a half-hour or forty-five minutes. So, when I became a bike commuter was really when I came to Sitka ten years ago.

KCAW’s Holly Keen contributed to this story.

Sitka mayor Mim McConnell with her bike in April. McConnell is one of three Sitka assembly members who bike commute. A fourth drives an electric car. (Photo Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition)

Sitka mayor Mim McConnell with her bike in April. McConnell is one of three Sitka assembly members who bike commute. A fourth drives an electric car. (Photo Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition)

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