Non-motorized transportation adds fuel to council meeting

An entertaining 10-minute presentation by Sean Baski and Laura Paul with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities took the spotlight during Monday night’s two-hour Homer City Council meeting. 

“You are above and beyond the most professional presenter we’ve ever had,” council member Beau Burgess told Baski, design project manager for the state’s resurfacing of the Sterling Highway from the intersection with Pioneer Avenue to the end of the Spit.

With the council set to consider Resolution 14-085, requesting DOT&PF retain the existing road profile and striping along Ocean Drive which consists of one wide bike-pedestrian lane on the south side of the road, Baski and Paul came armed with a stack of materials to prove two six-foot-wide shoulders and two 12-foot-wide driving lanes were a better option.

“The decision for six-foot shoulders is based off a lot of engineering science, most all of it safety-related,” said Baski. 

Project guidelines recognize problems with shared-use, two-way pathways like the one currently along Ocean Drive, said Baski. For one thing, bike lanes are intended for one-way traffic, he said.

The guidelines also recommend a minimum separation between shared-use pathways and vehicle lanes to help alert drivers to the separation. Lack of that separation, which can be anything from diagonal stripes to guardrails, also encourages wrong-way ridership of cyclists, something that “goes against the rules of the road,” said Baski.

Safety concerns also arise when vehicles use the pathway as a passing lane.

Knowing the science as he does, Baski said as an engineer, restriping Ocean Drive as it has existed would be a tough decision.

“Ethically, I don’t know if I could take that stance,” he said, extending the same moral dilemma to “the state of Alaska and whoever is the engineer of record to go against all the science we have backing up all our designs.”

Plans to even the shoulder width on each side of Ocean Drive were discussed at a Homer open house in July 2013, and that recommendation received concurrence from city hall, Baski told the council. It also was endorsed by the Homer Cycling Club.  

“Lastly, I would like to commend the people of Homer, the city council, city staff for being such an active community. It’s a breath of fresh air, a community that shares their opinions,” said Baski, drawing laughter from the council and the audience.

He also thanked the council and city staff for working collaboratively with the state of Alaska to push forward many projects.

Referring to the effect a day of being on the water can have on vehicle operators’ alertness, council member Bryan Zak spoke in favor of not changing the striping on Ocean Drive.

“In my coming off the Spit last night, I was glad people were on the (other side),” said Zak.

Council member David Lewis and Mayor Beth Wythe suggested DOT move the crosswalk nearer to Lampert Lane and Homer Farmers Market. 

When the council’s agenda reached the point for Resolution 14-085 to be introduced, it was clear Baski and Paul had successfully made their point. The resolution failed for lack of a second.

“That was the outcome we were hoping for,” Baski told the Homer News on Tuesday.

Paul said based on the council’s comments, she and Baski would look at moving the crosswalk east of Lampert Street. 

“We don’t stripe for awhile now,” said Baski. “It’s one of those final details. It’s just signs and some paint. Those can be worked out.”

Catriona Lowe of the Homer Cycling Club thanked Baski for his “excellent presentation.” She also noted the need to educate drivers about existing speed limits in general and crosswalks in particular.

 Former Homer Mayor Jack Cushing encouraged the city to push the state to consider pedestrian safety as well as cyclists.

“I found during my tenure as an elected official that the state can always be challenged to come up with more funding for projects that Homer wants. So, I’d like to challenge the council to challenge the state to come up with elevated sidewalks,” he said.

The topic of safety on Homer’s streets and crosswalks also was raised later in the meeting by council member Barbara Howard.

“We are a very caring, responsible people to each other until we get behind a wheel and I don’t know what happens to us,” she said. “It’s a law: stop when you see people. Learn where the crosswalks are. … We’re encouraging walking, biking, moms out with babies, and yet we drive like bats out of hell. Shame on us.”

In other business Monday night, the council passed Ordinance 14-35, prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in city structures, vehicles and watercraft, but not without a discussion between its sponsor, Lewis, and its opponent, Burgess.

Lewis said he brought the ordinance forward after someone was reported using e-cigarettes in the Homer Public Library. Burgess argued the resolution attempted to pre-regulate without “definitive evidence” about the harm of e-cigarettes. Wythe agreed with Burgess that more regulation isn’t necessarily a better plan, but she pointed out the ordinance only addressed the use of e-cigarettes on city properties and said nothing about public spaces.

The ordinance passed with council members Lewis, Zak, Howard and Gus VanDyke voting yes and Burgess voting no. Council member Francie Roberts was excused from the meeting. 

The next regular meeting of the Homer City Council is 6 p.m. Aug. 25, with a work session at 4 p.m. and a Committee of the Whole at 5 p.m.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at