In October 1999, Jason Redmond predicted nobody would want to vandalize a single-speed bicycle left for public use. How wrong he was.
Originated when he was a senior at Soldotna High School, the public bicycle system was Redmond's government project, something all students at SoHi and Skyview must do to graduate. Two years later, it has been ridden into the ground through vandalism, theft and neglect.
He put out 20 bikes, all painted bright yellow, in bike racks around Soldotna. The intent was to allow people to ride a bike for free from one place to another, leaving them at a bike rack near their destination for the next person to use. It was patterned after systems in the Lower 48.
It didn't work out too well.
"The whole project was based on the community taking care of it," Redmond said. "It was a trust thing. I provided them for use, and if they were misused, then they weren't taking care of them."
The bike racks originally were put in at eight Soldotna businesses, including 4 D Carpet One.
"I thought it was a great idea," said Dan Mortenson of 4 D. "People were using them, but it seems they disappeared from here and wound up downtown and were never brought back. Who would steal a bright yellow bicycle?"
Though the city of Soldotna gave Redmond a $500 mini grant, and the Soldotna Police Department supplied 10 bikes from its inventory of unclaimed property, the project was never under the purview of the city.
"Our involvement was we got stuck with them when they weren't followed through on," Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker said.
"Some projects go on, some don't," said council member Jane Stein. "That's life. This won't affect mini grants.
"Coming from being a teacher, I think it was worth it. Students have to come before us, write their proposals and prove them to us," she added. "(Redmond) got the community behind him, and it worked for a while."
She said other people are still using the bike racks for their personal bicycles. Boedeker agreed that was the one lasting benefit of the free ride project.
But in the end, Boedeker said, the city would find the bikes in parks or in back alleys torn up.
"I think people tried to do BMX type stuff with them. Their wheels were bent, and they were abused," he said. "When we found the last one, it looked like it got rolled over by a truck."
"We maintained them for a little while, but it wasn't cost-effective at all," said Public Works Director Steve Bonebrake. "People just did not pay a whole lot of respect to them. We'd fix them, and people would intentionally wreck them, slash their tires."
Boedeker agreed with Mortenson the idea was a good one.
"But it didn't pan out too well. Part of the problem is the student was supposed to find somebody to take care of them after he left," Boedeker added.
Redmond said his plan was that future government classes would pick up where he left off upon leaving for college.
"It was commonly known that I was going to leave for college," he said. "It worked until I went to school."
Boedeker said there was public interest in using the bikes. Some people called city hall and asked if city employees could move the bikes to racks near their homes.
"I told them that just wasn't going to work," Boedeker said.
Redmond said despite the destruction and theft of the bikes, the project was still worth his time and effort, and government class projects are still valuable.
"A lot of these kids never have a reason to get involved," he said. "Bridges, the Salvation Army, the food bank, they all take a lot of effort and time. They aren't things that just happen, and a lot of high schoolers don't appreciate how much time goes into things.
"If I had to sum everything up, I would say the bike project was a good idea, and I wish it had worked better. But it didn't."
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