Friday, June 3, 2011

The Office and Biking in Anchorage

Biking in Anchorage is...different. Coming from Minneapolis, I come from relative comfort and luxury in terms of biking. There are bike lanes, people generally look-out for you, and I am seldom on a road with more than two lanes of traffic in one direction. This is in significant contrast to what I'm seeing here in Anchor-town.

From my first impressions, I've found that Anchorage has three road/path typologies for bike-mode transportation: main arterials (like Northern Lights Blvd and Minnesota Dr shown above), residential streets and paths. Oddly, I've found little middle-ground.

For the most direct route, there is a macro-grid of these 3- 4- and 5-lane behemoths that are clearly designed for motor-vehicles only. I can bike them, but they are fast, inhospitable, barren, riddled with pot-holes, and the monster-truck drivers are no-doubt taking aim at the back of my head while I frantically peddle to keep up with traffic and maintain a 360-degree awareness.

Just off of each of these are the residential streets. These are typically 30-40' curb-to-curb, with no striping and lines with housing. They are quiet, pleasant and slow, but disorienting, as they twist about through 50's, 60's and 70's-type development. The oddity here is the afore-mentioned lack of a middle-weight roadway between these veritable highways and the quiet residential streets. To me this is a clear example of how development whose bulk was done with the automobile in-mind manifests. While this city is fairly spread-out, it is pretty efficient to get from A to B in a car quickly, and I've so-far heard no talk of rush-hour hang-ups.

Beyond that, Anchorage does have an extensive system of trails that weave through the city. Once I get to know these, it will no-doubt be much easier to navigate by bike. Most of them are shared-use paths, but everyone on them are generally friendly. Additionally, with a slower speed, and a more relaxed psyche, there is more time to soak up the non-stop daylight and views of the Front Range.

Moving on, I had a chance to meet my boss for the first time today, and I am excited to get to work for the National Parks Service. The building is all shiny glass and concrete on the outside, with locked bike parking 'round the back. The inside has an impressive lobby with an elevator that then gives way to 5 floors of typical office space.

My station is a triple-wide cube, shared with two other interns (architectural engineering and civil engineering). We have a instant coffee station, a break-room fridge that hasn't seen a cleaning in a while and Hawaiian T-shirt Casual Fridays. The staff are all very nice, but the fluorescent lighting and the views of the parking structure across the street are exactly the kind of hell I imagined as a rebellious teenager. This might be the kind of stuff that inspires the writers of Office Space.

However, all things considered there is no way I have a right to complain. The guy I work for has been a landscape architect for over 20 years with the NPS, and it sounds like I'll have a fair mix of administrative work, designing, and exposure to the transportation planning that happens in the NPS AK headquarters. In addition, I'm headed to Denali NP in a couple weeks to tag-along with a meeting with some highway engineering/construction types that are scoping the DENA park highway/road (DENA being some odd acronym for the Denali National Park; apparently there are tons of FLA's in the NPS (Four-Letter Acronyms)).

So that was today. Biking as my life depended on it, dropping in on casual friday to finally meet my boss, run some errands (trying to find a pool for lap-swim) and, of course, keeping all of you up-to-date.


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