This article has been edited with the correct acronym for the biking advocacy group. Biking in Kenai and Soldotna is abbreviated as “BIK&S” and not “BiKS” as previously written. It has also been edited to more accurately represent BIK&S role in the construction of a bike path on Beaver Loop Road. The City of Kenai pursued this construction project independently. Finally, the cities of Kenai and Soldotna receieved their bronze designation from the League of American Bicyclists in December 2018, not September 2018 as originally written.
A local biking advocacy group gave a presentation a the Joint Kenai/Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Wednesday to show how they have been working to make the central peninsula more bike-friendly. Kaitlin Vadla of Biking in Kenai and Soldotna (BIK&S) showcased to chamber members BIK&S accomplishments as well as the big dreams the group has for the future of biking in the Kenai-Soldotna area.
“How do we make Kenai and Soldotna the best places to live, work and play?” Vadla asked at the start of the presentation.
She then made the case that bicycles are an integral part of the answer.
Over the last year, BIK&S has worked with local schools, governments and other nonprofit organizations on several projects and initiatives varying in scope and size. BIK&S helped install two bike fix-it stations in Kenai and Soldotna along the Unity Trail Loop, which give cyclists the tools needed to keep riding in the event of a flat tire or busted seat. They also began hosting repair and maintenance classes for adults as well as bike safety classes for kids. Vadla said registration for those classes tend to fill up quickly.
Thanks to the work of BIK&S, the cities of Soldotna and Kenai both received bronze ratings from the League of American Bicyclists in December. This rating is based on a number of factors, including how much of the road system has a designated bike path, how many businesses have good bike parking and the availability of educational resources. Vadla said that the newly earned bronze rating gives the cities access to funds through the LAB, and it also sets a framework for how BiKS and other community activists can continue to make Kenai and Soldotna even more bike-friendly.
With that in mind, Vadla said that BIK&S has big plans for the future of bicycling on the peninsula, including working with the city of Kenai to create additional bike paths along the major roads. Construction is already slated to start this summer on a separated bike path along Beaver Loop Road. One of the BIK&S activists, Ben Boettger, collaborated with the city on a potential grant that would fund the continuation of this bike path going north from where Beaver Loop Road connects to Bridge Access Road. Adding a bike path to this section of Bridge Access Road would create a complete circuit within the city of Kenai. It would also be a step towards completing the 30-mile Unity Trail Loop, which runs between Kenai and Soldotna but still needs a separated bike path along the enitre length of Bridge Access Road. Vadla added that new signage is needed along the existing trails to improve safety and accessibility for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers.
BIK&S has also collaborated with a local fabricator and high school shop classes to create new aluminum bike racks that business owners can buy to place outside their establishments. Finally, with May being National Bike Month, BIK&S has a number of upcoming events planned, including a bicycling safety event on May 18 at the Soldotna Sports Complex and the 6th annual Mouth to Mouth Wild Run and Ride on May 27. The Mouth to Mouth Wild Run and Ride is hosted by BIK&S and Cook Inletkeeper in partnership with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, the Kenai Watershed Forum, Trout Unlimited and Tsalteshi Trails. All participants are entered into a drawing to win a fat bike as the grand prize.
Vadla said that the origins of BIK&S technically go back to 2017 when Cook Inletkeeper put out a survey asking peninsula residents what they envisioned for their communities. A number of the survey respondents expressed a desire for increased connectivity and more options for active transportation. Going off of these results, Cook Inletkeeper hosted a potluck where people discussed how to make the area more bike friendly. This led to local biking advocates John and Jen Tabor organizing monthly Full Moon Bike Rides. Vadla said that it wasn’t until 2018 that Jen came up with an official name for the group that also worked as a clever acronym, and thus BIK&S was born. The Full Moon Bike Rides are still a staple of the group’s work, and the next one is scheduled for this Friday at noon.
Vadla said that making cities more bike-friendly is beneficial to everyone in the community, because it will in turn make the cities more pedestrian-friendly and more accessible for people who don’t have cars or can’t drive at all. Vadla summarized the ultimate goal of BIK&S:
“For so many decades we’ve asked the question ‘how do we move cars around town? What if we reframed the question and asked, ‘how do we move people around town?’”