SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


By Dave Kiffer


October 13, 2008
Monday PM

Michael Spence raised a very interesting point on the SITNEWS candidates forum right before the election and I didn't have a chance to answer it, but I would like to do so now.

Mr. Spence asked about plans to improve the sidewalks and make things in safer in Downtown and Newtown.

I have been the executive director for a local non-profit, Historic Ketchikan, for the past decade and since the early 1990s Historic Ketchikan has been addressing just the subject that Mr. Spence expressed concern about.

It was pretty apparent by the early 1990s, that Ketchikan's narrow little sidewalks and crowded streets weren't going to be able to handle the 500,000 in projected visitors we could expect each year. And then the cruise industry exploded and suddenly the projections reached 1 million and the actual numbers topped 800,000. Unfortunately our streets and sidewalks remained the same size.

In 1993 and again in 1995, Historic Ketchikan hired local architects to come up with proposals for (a) widening the sidewalks wherever possible and (b) building curb bulbs at important intersections so visitors (and anyone downtown) wouldn't find themselves being pushed out into the middle of the street while they either waited for the traffic to pass or made up their mind where to go.

Historic Ketchikan also worked with both the city government and the state Department of Transportation to implement these plans. Not surprisingly, it took several years to get much forward movement on it. The sidewalk widening stalled because it usually involved removing some of the parking on the narrow streets and everyone knows that removing parking in Ketchikan is considered political suicide. But the DOT - which controls things on Tongass Avenue - did agree to a pilot curb bulb project on the corner of Mission and Front streets and that was installed in 1998. The DOT also came up more than $100,000 for the city to do a similar curb bulb project at the intersection of Mission and Main streets. Unfortunately in 1999, after initally agreeing to the project, the city, - for a variety of reasons - chose not to implement it and returned the money to the state.

Historic Ketchikan has certainly not given up on that project and recently met with members of the Downtown Steering Committee to see if there is interest in lobbying the city to complete it. Of course, now it will cost more than $100,000 and there will be no state money to pay for it. Meanwhile, the intersection remains one of the most congested ones in town each summer.

Two years ago, the city commissioned a study by a consulting firm for "uplands" pedestrian flow improvements that would make things safer for visitors and residents alike in the Downtown area. Historic Ketchikan was happy to cooperate with the consultant and even passed along some of our earlier work. We were very pleased that two of the highest recommendations on the final report were more "wider sidewalks" and "curb bulbs." We are continueing to encourage the city implement the recommendations of that report because Downtown is just getting more and more crowded each summer.

The issue of wider sidewalks in Newtown is also one that Historic Ketchikan has been very interested in since the city made it clear that port development would head in that direction several years ago. Actually, I have measured the sidewalks in Newtown and there are at least two locations where they only 17 inches wide! Newtown also has numerous locations where telephone poles and fire hydrants sit right in the center of the sidewalks. We have asked the city numerous times to put the utilities underground as they did in the Downtown area years ago. We have heard several different figures for that cost ranging from $750,000 to $5 million. It was a shame that that work couldn't have coincided with one of the numerous state highway projects on Water Street in recent years but it didn't.

Anyway, the good thing is that the state and the city have finally agreed on a project that would widen the sidewalks in the Newtown area between the Shoenbar Bypass and the tunnel. Sadly, as I write this, all the meetings and discussion have run together in my mind and I can't remember how much the sidewalks on either side will be widened. I believe it is two feet on the water side and one foot on the uplands side. Or it might be just the opposite. Honestly, that's probably not enough of an expansion, especially in light of the fact there are no current plans to move telephone polls or the fire hydrants. But, at least it is a start. There is $1 million dollars in the city budget for the sidewalk widening and the city and the DOT are hashing out final details.

In conclusion, Historic Ketchikan continues to lobby the city government and the DOT to do what they can to improve pedestrian flow in the Downtown, Newtown and Old Town areas. Simply building more docks does not help the local economy if the passengers find themselves in a snarled up mess of pedestrians and traffic the minute they try to get off the docks.

We welcome the efforts of anyone else who also would like to see wider sidewalks and better pedestrian flow!

Dave Kiffer
Historic Ketchikan, Inc.Ketchikan, AK


Received October 10, 2008 - Published October 13, 2008


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