Bicycling advocates are organizing for more bike-friendly improvements, education and social events in the Kenai and Soldotna region.
A new group is working with the Kenai and Soldotna parks and recreation departments to build public bike repair stations, and with other local governments, businesses and nonprofits on cycling events, education programs and infrastructure changes. Member Matt Pyhala said the group recently decided on the name BIK&S, pronounced “bikes,” for “Biking in Kenai & Soldotna.”
Though the central Kenai Peninsula has long had an active bicycling culture, the local landscape is a mixed bag for cycling commuters, depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going.
“There certainly wonderful parts of Soldotna that are really great to bike on and have nice wide lanes, and there are other places where you’re terrified,” said bicycle advocate Kaitlin Vadla. “I’ve been in cities and I’ve biked everywhere. And I’m really afraid in Soldotna because we don’t have well-marked lanes in a lot of main drives, which aren’t great places to bike anyway. And some of the time there’s absolutely no shoulder at all, like on Funny River Road.”
Vadla — who helped bring the group together in her job as an organizer for the conservation nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper — is among the BIK&S members working to include cycling priorities in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s comprehensive plan, a state-required document meant to inform funding, planning and land use.
The borough is presently revising the 2005 plan. The update’s current draft, released in December 2017, includes an objective to “develop pathways to connect communities with each other and with nearby trails.”
One step toward this objective, which Vadla said BIK&S pushed to include in the plan, is making separated bike and pedestrian paths a standard for new road construction. Another is re-establishing a Borough Trails Commission (a group that existed in the late 1990s, but was defunded) to update a borough-wide trails plan created in December 1998.
Alaska has three cities — Juneau, Anchorage and Sitka — that have earned “Bike Friendly Community” designations from the nationwide advocacy group League of American Bicyclists, which ranks cities that have applied for the designation by criteria including the ratio of bicycle trail mileage to total road mileage, the presence of bicycling advocate groups, and bicycle education in schools. Cycling advocate Jen Tabor plans to send in applications for Kenai and Soldotna in August.
Tabor said she began an application for Soldotna about five years ago, when she was on a cycling and pedestrian task force established under then-Mayor Peter Micciche.
“I’m the volunteer who was working on it before, so I picked it up again and volunteered to work on it again with all the members of the community,” Tabor said.
Tabor is also leading a cycling education program, the Tsalteshi Sprockets — a kid’s summer mountain biking course at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna. The group will have its first lesson June 12, and Tabor said about 45 kids are signed up to participate.
The first physical result of the group’s work might appear soon in Kenai’s Beaver Creek Park, where the Kenai Parks and Recreation Department is planning to install a red-painted bike repair station for cyclists riding the Unity Trail between Kenai and Soldotna. Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said his department plans to install the station — built by Kenai Central High School welding students — in the next few weeks. It consists of a work stand for hanging a bike frame, an attached tire pump, and basic tools such as tire levers and wrenches attached with cables.
Frates said he hopes the station will be the first of many that could be built by students, Eagle Scout candidates, or others looking for community service projects. Pyhala said BIK&S hasn’t worked out a list of other spots where they would like repair stations, but said there would ideally be several along the Unity Trail, at least one near Tsalteshi Trails, and a few others around the two towns.
“We’re kind of hoping to get the chambers of commerce involved, where businesses can have a repair station outside their storefront or somewhere on their property,” Pyhala said.
Pyhala encouraged bicyclists to continue organizing for common-interest projects.
“A lot comes down to letting people in charge of forming policy know what the wish list is, what are the things that would be important to the bicycling community,” Pyhala said. “I think for the most part they’re interested in finding out, listening and helping, but if there isn’t anyone there to inform and advocate for it, it won’t happen.”
The group is planning their next meeting at Kenai River Brewing Company on June 25.