Downtown Anchorage is getting a protected bike lane for the summer

a protected bike lane
City crews begin installation of the protected bike lane in downtown Anchorage early Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Kenny Friendly/Municipality of Anchorage)

Most of Anchorage’s iconic Sixth Avenue is a three-lane, one-way road lined with sidewalks on both sides. Pedestrians, city buses and regular cars all use it. Cyclists? Not so much.

“If I’m biking downtown, I don’t bike on Sixth Avenue,” said Emily Weiser, president of the nonprofit Bike Anchorage. “Because it’s way too big, full of traffic and you’re not allowed to bike on sidewalks.”

A temporary experiment this summer aims to make biking downtown safer, and might boost business, too. This week, city workers are converting one of the vehicle lanes of Sixth Avenue into a two-way, protected bike lane in the latest phase of a federally funded transportation research experiment

The nonprofit Weiser leads has been working with state and city transportation officials on the project.

Weiser doesn’t own a car and biking is the main way she gets around. Some downtown routes already have unprotected bike lanes painted on the road, but Weiser said it’s a bad experience. She said she scans for stray rocks or potholes that could throw her into traffic, and for drivers who might rear end her or clip her when they turn right. 

“It’s just a matter of constant vigilance, constantly feeling stressed, honestly,” Weiser said. “It’s pretty scary.”

The new protected bike lane will open with a ribbon cutting on Thursday. Before that, city workers are putting up some vertical dividers on the road to separate out the left lane. They’ll restripe it and add temporary signage to make it a two-way bike lane. 

The west end of the protected bike lane will connect to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, and the east end will cut south on A Street to connect to existing bike paths that feed into the Chester Creek Trail. 

It will only run for about a mile through downtown, and it will be undone in the fall, before it snows. But while the protected bike lane is in place, transportation officials will collect a lot of data to compare before and after conditions, in terms of vehicle, bike, and pedestrian counts and speed. Plus they’ll gather feedback through community councils, businesses and user surveys.

crews work on a protected bike lane
City crews install a barrier that will promote safety for those riding their bikes in the protected bike lane. (Kenny Friendly/Municipality of Anchorage)

This downtown pilot is the city’s second. A phase one protected bike lane experiment was done in a residential area of East Anchorage last September

Anna Bosin is an Alaska Department of Transportation traffic safety engineer working on the project. She said children – including her own daughter – were comfortable and confident riding on the road in that lane last fall. 

“It was really a testament to what the national research is showing on this type of protected bike lane facilities nationwide,” Bosin said. “It really does improve safety and comfort for all users of all abilities and ages.”

Zak Hartman works in the city’s traffic department on Vision Zero, a city initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries for all road users. Here’s one of his takeaways from last fall’s protected bike lane experiment: 

“Extreme speeders going 20-plus mph over the limit on Pine Street went from 1 out of every 60 drivers in the before condition … to 1 out of every 6,000,” he said. “So a pretty compelling data point.”

Besides safety and traffic data, they’re also measuring noise this time around. Past research suggests louder roads are bad for business. 

“It does impact user comfort, and therefore people are less interested in mingling in the area, less interested in maybe window shopping or they’ll avoid certain routes because of noise,” Bosin said.

While there’s a lot of excitement around this bike lane from transportation nerds, Assembly member Meg Zaletel is wary.

“I’m the wet blanket on this thing,” she said at a recent policy committee meeting of AMATS, Anchorage area’s metropolitan transportation planning organization. “So I hope you all prove me wrong. I’m very nervous about the location of this bike lane. We went from Pine and McCarrey to a truck route, essentially. And that is, I think, quite a sweep. And my concern is something will go wrong and we’ll never do it again, because that’s how things go in this town.” 

Bosin, with DOT, told her that the route was carefully picked, and that multiple trucking companies were consulted for feedback that went into the design. 

Right now, she said there’s nothing planned beyond this phase. But if protected bike lanes ever become permanent, they’ll have to figure out winter snow maintenance. 

“That’s the real big question for all agencies really across the state, is plowing,” Bosin said. “So we’re in talks about it. But, you know, right now, I think it’s too early to say. We want to make sure that the summer application is successful before we start jumping to conclusions for winter.”

a street map of downtown Anchorage highlighting a protected bike lane route
This map of downtown Anchorage highlights the route of a temporary, protected bike lane that transportation officials are piloting and studying over the summer of 2024.

Weiser, with Bike Anchorage, said a lot of winter cities have figured it out. She hopes that comes next. 

“It does work, it’s just a matter of demonstrating that locally, and getting our local maintenance staff to figure out what works for them,” she said. 

Eventually, she’d like Anchorage to build out a year-round network of protected bike lanes, and said there’s room for it on some of the city’s overbuilt roads. 

Officials will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new bike lane at 5 p.m. Thursday at Town Square Park, coinciding with the Anchorage Downtown Partnership’s Live After Five free concert series and the City Nerd Nite: Transportation Talk event nearby.

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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