Zack Fields column




2018 marks the 9th year that Bike Anchorage has hosted Winter Bike Fest, a city-wide event that has grown quickly with the expansion of fat biking. Since the first Bike Fest in 2010, Bike Anchorage has grown as well and hired its first paid executive director, Pierce Schwalb. With the rapid growth in winter cycling, and the city’s unprecedented support for safe transportation infrastructure, I wanted to catch up with Bike Anchorage’s relatively new director and get a report on this year’s Winter Bike Fest, which starts on February 1st and runs all month (full schedule at bikeanchorage.org/winterbikefest).

Zack Fields: This is advertised as a "fest." What are you and other cyclists celebrating?

Pierce Schwalb: Anchorage is home to a large community of dedicated, year-round cyclists. Bike Anchorage has been organizing Winter Bike Fest since 2010 to celebrate this community and bring awareness to the fact that, yes, you can bike through the winter in Anchorage. So many people love winter biking here and we want to share that with people who might be on the fence about it.

ZF: On the issue of expanded infrastructure since Mayor Berkowitz was elected, what are some new bike lanes that have been installed recently?

PS: We were really excited to see the upgrades to Spenard Road. With bike lanes, wide sidewalks, and traffic calming, it's a great example of what roads across the city can look like. It's a way more inviting place to be on a bike or on foot. We are also excited about the prospect of upgrades to 32nd and 33rd Avenues and other bike plan implementation projects like bike lanes on Peterkin Ave. As we envision an Anchorage that is inviting to a young and talented workforce, we have to start with transportation.

ZF: What was Bike Anchorage's role in advocating for them and do you feel like you have allies at the local level for these projects?

PS: Bike Anchorage was heavily involved in the city's 2010 bike plan that prioritized future bike projects. For the Spenard upgrades, Bike Anchorage demonstrated strong community support for bike lanes and worked with the city to make sure they were part of the project. One of the most heartening things about this job for me is working with bike advocates in local government. From our awesome Vision Zero coordinator to planners at AMATS, we've got allies working hard to make new projects happen.

ZF: Getting back to the Fest, what are some of the long or exotic trips people might learn about?

PS: The kickoff event on the 1st will be a great place to learn about all kinds of long distance bike trips. There will be a really intentional mix of do-it-yourself bike packing and fully supported trips - everywhere from Nepal to New Zealand. The four panelists have completed a dizzying quantity of trips. One of the things I'm most looking forward to learning about is how they fit all of these trips into their everyday lives.

ZF: What do you see as Alaska's place in the growing bike tourism industry? Could we be a destination for winter biking or summer bike packing?

PS: I think we have a lot working in our favor for this. Alaska Airlines now checks bikes for $25, so it's never been easier to get your bike here. One thing I always hear from people is how much they love our trails. Visitors, long-time residents, everyone uses the trails to get around town or go for a Sunday ride. We've got terrific winter biking at places like Kinkaid and Russian Jack. Imagine what a project like a path all the way to Girdwood could do for tourism. If we really commit to creating a cohesive network of trails and on-street bike facilities in Anchorage, and connecting the city to places people want to go, we can absolutely become a world class bike tourism destination.

ZF: What has surprised, frustrated, and gratified you about being Bike Anchorage's Exec Director?

PS: It's been an amazing opportunity for a newcomer to get instantly plugged into the Anchorage community. I've been on the job for about 6 months now and have gotten to envision the future of Anchorage with countless passionate bike advocates. Not many people from the outside are aware of the thriving bike community in Anchorage, Alaska. Friends from Florida and California are often shocked to hear that thousands of people bike through the winter in Anchorage. It's a supportive, passionate group of people that believe in this city and what it can become. It's really cool to be a part of.

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