More bike racks coming to Kenai and Soldotna
A group of local biking advocates is placing a second batch of aluminum bike racks around town.
The racks will add to the 20 the group has already placed in Kenai and Soldotna at Kenai River Brewing, the Soldotna Public Library and Soldotna Professional pharmacy, to name a few spots, with the goal of making biking a safer and easier way to get around on the sprawling central Kenai Peninsula.
Jacob Nabholz, himself a biker, is cutting and assembling the racks this round. He worked with local nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper, which is sponsoring the project, to brainstorm a list of local storefronts that could use racks out front.
“So I took that list and I went around and talked to, I think, over 70 different businesses about whether they were interested in having some bike racks," Nabholz said.
Out of those businesses, he said a few were interested, including the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and Red Run. Now, he’s looking for more.
The bike rack idea started in 2018, when a group of local cyclists met and got the gears turning on a plan to make the area safer for bikes.
That group would later become Biking in Kenai & Soldotna, or “BIK&S." And it submitted both the cities of Kenai and Soldotna to become designated Bicycle Friendly Communities through the League of American Bicyclists.
Kaitlin Vadla was part of that group at the outset. She said the application involved a thorough inventory of how the cities were already supporting cyclists.
“And basically what it does is it takes you through this pretty robust application process, evaluating everything that’s in place — or not — in your community," she said. "And it gives you a roadmap for how to improve.”
That process also gave the cities ratings. Both Kenai and Soldotna were rated bronze.
“And what that means is we’re doing pretty good but we could do better," she said.
In Alaska, Juneau is also a bronze-rated Bicycle Friendly Community. Anchorage and Sitka are both rated silver.
One of the easier-to-implement ideas the League of American Bicyclists had for the group was to install functional bike racks in Kenai and Soldotna. The group enlisted a local welder to create the inserts and students from Kenai Central High School to do the laser cutting.
Nabholz was one of those students. He said the inserts, which have the group’s logo, are cut with a CNC machine and framed by arcs of rolled aluminum tubes, which hold the bikes upright.
There are two types of racks — one that can hold two bikes and another that can hold six.
“I think that just trying to have more usability of the bike racks, so you can fit more bikes so more people feel they can get out and ride bicycles around when the weather is nice — I think that was the goal," he said.
And Nabholz said putting those racks in different spots all around town is important to show bikers they can use their two wheels to get around.
The racks aren’t the only way the BIK&S group has tried to encourage local cyclists.
Vadla said the League of American Bicyclists told the group having signature biking events — including local races like Mouth to Mouth — is important, too. That’s something that helped the cities get the bike-friendly designation the first time around.
Biker education is another goal. Nabholz has grant funding to place several racks at local schools. That’s on top of a bike safety curriculum at the schools in Kenai and a youth mountain bike program — Sprockets —through Tsalteshi Trails.
The City of Kenai is also working to connect an unfinished section of the paved Unity Trail, which connects Kenai and Soldotna.
It’s all in the name of getting more bikers out on the road.
Vadla said she thinks more people are biking now than before. She works with Cook Inletkeeper at the Community Action Studio on the Kenai Spur, which has its own bike rack out front.
“It’s a community action studio, so you get a lot of community members in and out. And, summertime especially, there’s lots of biking," she said. "It gets a lot of use.”
If you’re interested in hosting a rack you can get in touch with Cook Inletkeeper, or call Jacob Nabholz with Nabholz Fabrication at 907-953-5795.
Vadla also said the advocacy group, BIK&S, is always open to new members. You can find them on Facebook.