The central peninsula’s reputation for biking is beginning to garner some national recognition. The cities of Kenai and Soldotna were recognized with bronze-level award from the League of American Bicyclists in its Bicycle Friendly America Program.
Matt Pyhala is part of the Bike in Kenai and Soldotna (BIK&S) group and one of several volunteers responsible for getting the recognition. He says when they submitted information to the league, they were just hoping for feedback on how to improve the biking scene locally.
“We were applying and hoping they could give us some good feedback and we could start working on that low-hanging fruit to get up to a level where we had a designation. So the fact that we got the bronze level, we were ecstatic.”
He says they had to retrieve some pretty detailed information from both communities, including road miles and how many of those miles have dedicated bike lanes, in addition to listing other infrastructure items, like the 25-mile Unity Trail between Kenai and Soldotna and the bike maintenance stations that were installed this year by both cities.
“But it goes back to things like, where are places that people can lock their bike up? It’s hard to imagine, but there are a lot of cities where there aren’t bike racks, so people are locking up to light posts and road signs. This is definitely a start, and we hope to add on to what we have for infrastructure and biking opportunities in the community," Pyhala said.
As a recreational activity, biking is steadily gaining in popularity around the Peninsula. As a means of transportation, though, it still takes a hardy soul to brave the traffic, weather and piecemeal trail network to make every day commuting by bike a reality. But Pyhala says recognition like the area has received from the League of American Bicyclists could set it apart if local groups are seeking grant funding for related projects.
“It might be something where, if there was another community that was vying for the same grant or some pot of money that doesn’t have this designation, maybe it makes us look a little bit better so we’re more competitive.”
The overarching goal of BIK*S is to simply advocate for and encourage more riding among all residents. This award serves as a good foundation for that effort.
“We have a lot of bikers in the community, but making it friendly enough for bikers so that people that aren’t just attracted to biking inherently might give it a thought and try it out. And (for) younger people, people without drivers licenses, having safe pathways and the connectedness of having bike-friendly routes around town is important," Pyhala said.
If you would like to connect with BIK&S, their next group ride is coming up on December 22nd in Soldotna.
Kenai and Soldotna join Juneau, Anchorage and Sitka as the only communities in the state to have been recognized by League of American Bicyclists.