This week’s Stranger describes the struggles of Puget Sound Bike Share as it prepares to launch in 2014. Unlike Citibike in New York, or similar schemes in numerous other cities, PSBS has thus far failed to attract the private capital that its funding plan depends upon to launch with coverage of the core service area. From the Stranger:
“We’ve seen a lot of initial excitement with little follow-through,” says Holly Houser, director of PSBS, who’s been in talks with the region’s largest companies to sponsor the program since last fall. While Seattle Children’s Hospital has stepped in with a $500,000 donation, Houser says that companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Vulcan, Alaska Airlines, Capitol One, BECU, Cambia (Blue Cross/Blue Shield), and Microsoft have declined to sponsor PSBS… “It’s been really frustrating—especially dealing with Amazon,” adds Houser, because South Lake Union is destined to get bike-share stations around the Amazon campus regardless of the rest of the city. “It’s going to serve their employees,” Houser says, “but so far, they’re not willing to support it.”
First, I have to question the wisdom of publicly criticizing any potential major sponsor for choosing not to donate, and I fear this may make other potential sponsors wary of working with PSBS. (As an aside, I’d expect a fundraiser to know that Amazon has a history of complete disinterest in civic and charitable causes, and not to be surprised by this response.)
Second, what would a lack of a title sponsor mean for Phase 1? It’s not pretty.
The initial rollout would be reduced from 50 stations and 500 bikes to 30 stations and 290 bikes. Downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, Pioneer Square, the the International District wouldn’t get any bikes, but because of the strings attached to $1.75m in grant funding, PSBS would instead launch only in SLU, Eastlake, the U-District, and part of Laurelhurst (Children’s Hospital):
The City of Seattle has been awarded a $1 million federal grant from the Puget Sound Regional Council to fund bike and helmet stations in South Lake Union and north downtown. Combined with a $750,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation, Puget Sound Bike Share and its partners at the City of Seattle and King County Metro have now secured $1.75 million in grant funds to fund approximately 30 stations.
STB has previously argued that the introduction of bikeshare Downtown should follow good infrastructure, not the other way around, but this fallback plan would be even worse. It would put bikes in one of our least bikeable neighborhoods (SLU) during its most intense period of construction, along the Eastlake corridor, which lacks any comfortable bicycle route between Fairview and Harvard, and out past the UW to the car-oriented area around UVillage and Children’s (perhaps due to Children’s $500k contribution toward’s helmets).
What’s striking is this corridor’s nearly useless linearity. For a mobility solution best optimized for first and last-mile travel with a high density of destinations in all directions, I’m concerned that this initial configuration has the makings of an expensive flop. It could undermine local support for the concept of bike share, which, done right and accompanied by good infrastructure, could be a boon for the city. Again, Cienna Madrid:
Eliminating 21 bike-share stations (and 210 bikes) from the densest neighborhoods—Capitol Hill, Belltown, Pioneer Square, and downtown—would effectively downgrade a useful commuting tool to a barely useful novelty for University District and South Lake Union employees.
So we’d be faced with a rollout that misses most of Seattle’s best bike infrastructure, ignores its densest and most bike-friendly neighborhoods, avoids a bike-unfriendly but still essential CBD, uniquely requires helmets for all users, and will depend upon new corporate sponsorship or new grants in order to expand into an essential area that should have been included at launch. Seattle is indeed a special snowflake.