SDOT Photo (Flickr)
SDOT Photo (Flickr)

Back in 2012 I wrote a skeptical piece about the prospects for Pronto (née Puget Sound Bike Share) in Seattle. I saw our dearth of safe bicycle facilities and rare all-ages helmet law, alongside the traditional complaints of hills and weather, as potentially fatal to the confident spontaneity that drives bikeshare ridership. Though some of my fears proved unfounded – Pronto safety hasn’t been an issue – other even greater problems have depressed ridership and revenue and led to an early crisis and possible demise. Absent a city buyout, Pronto risks shutting down on March 31.

The Sustainability and Transportation Committee will vote tomorrow (Tuesday, 3/1)  on whether to proceed with a $1.4m buyout of the system. The proposal before the Council would purchase Pronto’s privately-held capital assets, namely the remaining 26 stations it doesn’t already own, maintenance and fleet rebalancing equipment, helmet vending equipment, etc. The City would retain the current contract operator (Motivate) for the remainder of 2016, and then restructure the system for relaunch and significant expansion in 2017. The $1.4m would incur no new costs, but rather incur lost opportunity costs by transferring 28% of the $5m already allocated in the City’s budget for bikeshare expansion. Failing to purchase the system would also trigger repayment of a $1.0m FTA grant, so the net outlay here is $400,000, or roughly what King County Metro spends every 2.5 hours. 

If you believe, as I do, that Pronto’s problems lie in its execution rather than any systemic inability for Seattle to embrace bikeshare, then saving it is an essential first step toward building the successful system we know is possible. If you believe in Pronto’s ultimate success, shutting the system down only to inevitably relaunch at a later date at much greater cost would be incredibly foolish. If you agree, please let your committee members (O’Brien, Johnson, Sawant, and Herbold) hear from you today. 

My Top 5 ways to fix Pronto after the jump.

Once saved, we can all begin the sober assessments of Pronto’s shortcomings and work together to fix them. Here are my top 5.

#1. Station Placement

Beyond its obvious recreational value, bikeshare works best as “first/last mile” transit. Yet one of the primary shortcomings of Pronto’s initial rollout has been our collective inability to aggressively site Pronto stations directly adjacent to transit facilities, with not a single Pronto station directly serving Link. Consider: At Westlake, the closest stations are at McGraw Square or at 9th/Pine. At University Street, we lost our only direct Pronto-Link connection due to complaints from the Garden of Remembrance Board. At Pioneer Square, the nearest stations are at City Hall and Occidental Park. At International District, the station is hidden from view on 6th Avenue South at King Street, or nearby at the least-used entrance to King Street Station. At the brand-new UW Station, the expansive station plaza won’t see a station, with Pronto users walking to UW Medical Center instead.

While none of these are terribly long walks, that’s not the point. Bikeshare rewards the lazy and the spontaneous, not the die-hards in the know about the stations’ whereabouts.

In addition to interagency complexities and difficulties negotiating with property owners, the city has made several unforced errors within its own departments. Our inability to place stations on city-owned facilities such as Westlake Park or Seattle Public Library is disappointing to say the least.

Public ownership would remove private contractors as the primary negotiators, and give the city both more authority and greater responsibility for siting stations in closer proximity to transit.

#2. Station Density

Bikeshare networks depend on station density. Best for short point-to-point rides, it is absolutely critical to minimize out-of-direction travel to return a bike. Tom from Seattle Bike Blog has already done some great analysis on station density, and I won’t repeat his good work. Go read it.

But even station density is a crude metric. Imagine two hypothetical networks, each with 16 stations. One is a 4×4 square and the other a 1×16 rectangle. Both networks have a density of 1 station per unit of area, but the 4×4 network is far more useful. Why? Because every station needs to be as near as possible to every other station. Linearity is the enemy of useful bikeshare, and contiguity is its best friend.

Since a circle has the lowest perimeter to area ratio (PAR) of any shape –it’s the most efficient use of contiguous space – one way to comparatively quantify the inefficiency of a bikeshare network is to calculate its PAR.   In the image below, I calculated the area of the current Pronto network (4.38 sq miles), then drew 3 shapes of identical areas: a perfect circle, a perfect street grid, and a contiguous network centered on Westlake Station.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 10.52.48 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.23.57 PM

Looking at the map and chart you’d expect the peripheral UDistrict stations to underperform, and indeed they do, at .3 trips/bike/day, compared to 1 trip/bike/day for the core stations. By contrast, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare has 5 trips/bike/day.

Yet fixing this isn’t easy – the UDistrict stations were written into the system’s founding grants – and the expansion process will raise familiar and difficult transit planning questions. Namely, how do we balance the tensions between system performance, system access, and social justice? SDOT’s current draft expansion map would quintuple the service area to 25 square miles, but it would also double down on linearity. It would serve a network from Northgate to Rainier Beach very loosely aligned with Link, while leaving out bikeable places such as Ballard, Frelard, and Interbay. It would provide affordable and needed transportation in places like the Rainier Valley, but it would also undoubtedly drag down the system’s financial performance and ridership. If we build that system for reasons other than performance, that’s acceptable, but let’s not later hold its inevitable underperformance against it.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.08.18 PM

#3. The Helmet Law

Though controversial within the cycling community and a guarantee of a comment flame war, there is simply no doubting the empirical reality that our rare all-ages helmet law adds a barrier to ridership and drags down performance. Seattle may have its dangers, but if Manhattan can be safe for millions without a helmet law, so can Seattle.

Again, if we value mandatory helmets over spontaneous ridership, that is a value choice we are free to make, but then we similarly must reduce our ridership expectations. Personally, I’ve come to see helmets as a psychological barrier that mark cycling as dangerous sport, and I prefer to work toward a world in which you would no more don special clothing to ride a bike than you would to drive your car.

King County is the only county in Washington with an all-ages helmet law, but you can still encourage their use while not requiring them. I hope we could follow the lead of cities like Dallas, who reduced their helmet law to minors only prior to their bikeshare launch. Doing so would boost ridership and lower Pronto’s overhead without impacting user safety.

#4. Pricing

Car2Go rents by the minute, Zipcar by the hour, but Pronto starts with a day. Pronto’s $8 per day minimum is a large barrier to use, especially for one or two trips, and especially for price-sensitive riders. Yet the annual fee ($85) is also likely too low to adequately recoup costs (my 118 trips so far have cost me $1.44 each). Though Pronto followed many cities’ lead in adopting this pricing structure, adding minute or hour pricing and raising the 30-minute ride threshold would greatly incentivize occasional use. Under the current structure, daily users excessively subsidize annual members.

#5. Safe, Comfortable Bike Facilities

We have an exciting and ambitious Bike Master Plan to add bike routes throughout the city, and we also have a political mandate to build them via Move Seattle. So what’s holding us back from building the Center City Bike Network, or from ensuring quality bike facilities everywhere within Pronto’s service area? Let’s all work together and get on it!

96 Replies to “Save Pronto, Then Make It Work Better as Transit”

  1. The lack of Link integration is staggeringly incompetent.

    A tricky practical question is how to value increasing density in the current service area against expanding the service area. How many new stations in and around UW, etc, before you connect UW to Fremont, or up to Roosevelt, or Westlake, etc?

    1. Fremont is only a 15-minute ride from ULink, so adding stations there (and Wallingford) is effectively adding utility to the UW network. Fremont also works with the SLU docks, which are also about 15 minutes from Fremont. Given the limited size of the expansion, UW doesn’t need new stations so much as it needs more stations nearby. Even 20 new docks scattered around that area would effectively make UW as big as downtown network. It will be interesting to see how the Cap Hill Link station performs relative to the ULink station if the system’s still around when they open.

  2. Zach, I think that’s a 2 year budget cycle, so it’s only half of the 1.4 B,
    but your point is not lost.

  3. Item number 0: Build a network of basically non-awful bike routes in the Pronto service area.

    Unfortunately nobody’s paying attention to Seattle’s repeated delays and broken promises in this, both in planning and implementation, because Pronto launched with a financial plan that made the Seattle Monorail Project look good.

    If you’re going to call your councilmember, ask them to promise that the downtown bike network gets started as soon as possible, and that the “Center City Mobility Plan” it’s waiting on isn’t an excuse to water it down. Then maybe ask about Pronto, if you actually use it, if you have any reason to care, if you actually think bike share defines a great cycling city.

      1. Nope. The greenways are mostly not located in areas with the critical mass of human density necessary for bike-share to be truly useful. That’s the 10,000-foot view.

        For a more detailed perspective: a map of planned and existing greenways and off-street trails in the Central District and Rainier Valley looks really impressive as long as you don’t draw in the hills and commercial centers. If you do it becomes clear that it’s not a network designed to facilitate spontaneous travel by bike. If the routes served the commercial nodes and had reasonable grades maybe this excellent network could make up for the level of density. But they don’t.

    1. Exactly. We’re counting on the same organization that’s systematically failed to build safe, useful bike infrastructure to also have the skill to save a bike share system that requires this infrastructure to succeed?

    2. FYI, to any late-arrivers: Item #5 in the original post, regarding bike infrastructure, was added after my comment. Not necessarily because of it (I’m not trying to claim Zach doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he missed something so obvious) but chronologically after it (this is why I felt it necessary to post a comment that appears to duplicate the article).

      1. Al, somehow an earlier draft was published. I restored the final draft which had a fifth point.

  4. Zach, I may have missed something, but did you mention one big difference between Seattle and New York City? Because every bike ride between Third Avenue and Broadway can only be pedaled in one direction.

    And I haven’t ridden a bike for decades, so I’ve got some doubts about James Street westbound from Harborview, which looks like a concrete ski-jump. Will Pronto bikes fit on the front of our new trolleybuses?

    Or inside the First Hill Streetcars? In Strassburg, Germany (not Strasbourg France) they have streetcars that push trailers full of bike racks. Through the cars have a cogwheel engaging with a toothed strip between the tracks.

    In the DSTT, which Metro controls completely, after seven years’ LINK operation, nobody can get one sign at the bottom of the Nordstrom’s escalator and elevator- presently the first stop for an airport train and therefore the most important signage in the system.

    Too call the mentality pig-stupid or mule stubborn insults two animals. But there is an old, bad habit in the management culture of this city that makes it bad manners to do something easy that works.

    I think there’s a cure that generally works. Have both Chamber of Commerce and the Justice Department bring in complaints of commercial loss and ADA discrimination and just flat make somebody do it.

    And if they don’t- check The Book of drivers’ rules for “Insubordination” and “Gross Misconduct.


    1. One thought I had had to get more people to ride bikes back uphill in Seattle is to incentivize the rider…maybe provide some kind of a return-trip discount on the day price or something to that effect.

      Just a thought.

    2. Will Pronto bikes fit on the front of our new trolleybuses?

      Or inside the First Hill Streetcars?

      I often find the meaning(s) of Mark Dublin’s posts here difficult to pin down, his digressions and allusions impenetrable (this time, I have little difficulty grasping his complaint about signage at Westlake, but I’m at a loss about how that could plausibly relate to the ostensible topic of his comment, how to improve Pronto and Pronto’s hill-related bikeflow challenges). So I may be missing some clever joke here, but why on earth would anyone take a pronto bike on transit? What possible motivation would there be?

      1. Well, as we’ve read, it’s not likely they’ll be a Pronto station at the destination. So a rider may have to lug their Pronto. So in other words, if we see lots of users bringing their pronto aboard a transit vehicle, the system is a failure.

      2. Seriously, thanks, dwj, because I take these recurring problems very seriously. Old habits die hard- until somebody loses patience and kills you.

        One problem? Time and technology. First public writing I did, neither editors nor red pencils were figures of speech.

        Another one? Strong experiences have a file drawer- I mean pdf file- of their own. Like “Acquired Impacted Incompetence”. Different easy problems, like transit signage, same unworkable decisions like Pronto locations.

        Worst? Guilty of above sentence. WWI, Turkish empire, Istanbul Medic One,the Charleston, German railroad, Iraq and ISIS. Add paperback books and half hour layover 62nd and Prentice. Can give you required references, all transit related. Flee.

        Meantime: Note toothed metal track between the rails.


  5. I’ve been a Pronto member for a year and half, and station placement has been a major issue. Nearly every station in the U-district has something wrong with its location. For instance, the stations in the back of the UW Med Center and the UW IMA are located to serve one building and nothing else. The stop at the IMA building requires you to lug the bike up a hill to reach any other station location. The Montlake Triangle Station is positioned so that the most direct route between the station and the Burke-Gilman Trail involves riding up a wheelchair ramp with corners that are too tight to take a bike on. Then, there’s the Children’s Hospital Station, conveniently located so that people living in the apartments across the street are forced to cross Sand Point Way twice (with light cycles running on the order of 3 minutes each), in order to use it.

    Similarly, pricing. An $8 entry point for one ride is ridiculous. Riding Uber or Car2Go for a one-way, one-mile trip costs less than $8. The fact that renting a bike for such a trip costs more than renting a car is ridiculous. Ideally, the cost of a single, one-way trip should simply be the regular transit fare, complete with Orca integration and free bus transfers.

    With regards to the annual pricing, the actual cost is $93, not $85. The $8 difference between the sticker price and actual price is sales tax. To me, charging sales tax on Pronto memberships makes about as much sense as charging sales tax on transit fares. Simply put, it doesn’t.

    That said, all of the above problems are easily fixable, not problems inherent to the concept of bikeshare in Seattle, itself. The idea of just throwing in the towel after just a year and a half, without even waiting for the two new Link stations to open, is just crazy. We need to continue the system and make it better, not just give up.

    1. I agree with every point except the last one. I think the city needs to spend a substantial amount of money for this to work. We need a lot more station density, and a fair amount more coverage. If we just continue with the current setup and hope for the better, it will fail. That will that send the wrong message to the city — that ride share can’t work in this town (because it is too wet or too steep). I would rather the city just abandon this (for now) and then start again in a few years with the understanding that it will take a bigger investment. Just to be clear, by first choice is that we spend the money now — but I don’t want to just keep this alive so that we have a symbolic, non-functional system. To me that is worse than simply letting this fail and trying again in a few years (which is what D. C. did).

      There a lot of things going on that will make bike share more successful in the future. One is increased density. The plan for UW expansion the other day shows an area that would be fantastic for bike share in a few years. Lots of new building on the east side of campus along with lots of growth in the U-District. The central campus is hilly and not that big. But once you cover those other areas, it makes sense to use bike share (especially since there are bike paths connecting the areas and there will be a Link station in the middle). Not only is Link improving transit, but the city is as well, with their various BRT projects. Meanwhile, the city is moving (albeit slowly) with bike pathway improvements. All of this means that if a new bike share system opened in five years, it would be a lot more popular, assuming it had sufficient station density.

      1. I would rather the city just abandon this (for now) and then start again in a few years with the understanding that it will take a bigger investment.

        Why do you think a better system five years from now is more likely under abandonment, rather than city control and incremental improvements? What would motivate the relevant decision-makers to go back to the well after such a spectacular and complete failure?

      2. >> Just to be clear, by first choice is that we spend the money now

        Wasn’t that clear enough?

        Let’s see, how can I say this another way. Here are some choices:

        1) Buy this out and find the money to operate it effectively. This means spending around 10 million.

        2) Let this fail. Blame the failure on a lack of funding (which is quite accurate). In a few years, ask for adequate money (around 10 million) to build a bike share system as part of yet another transportation proposal. Explain that things have changed. The bike and transit infrastructure is much better, and that this time there will be enough station density, and enough station coverage to work. Explain also that this is a city funded, city run system (unlike last time) and that we won’t make the same mistakes as the last organization. Compare our situation to D. C.’s (which is quite similar). Watch yet another transportation project pass, as transportation in general is a very big issue in town, and this certainly wouldn’t drag it down.

        3) Buy this out, but never put money into it. Let it wallow and lose money for a few years, while pressure to end it increases (because it loses money and is not that popular). Watch as people blame our hills or our weather on the failure (“we just aren’t right for bike share”). Watch it get nothing in terms of funding (kept alive, but without the investment that would enable it to thrive) for years and years.

        My first choice is the first one, while the second is better than the third. Go big or go home, as they say.

      3. If we give up on bike share now, it will be very difficult to summon the will to try again in a few years. People will make excuses about hill and weather, and forget that the original system was set up for failure with its preventable poor choices of station locations.

        Even if all we can do is keep the current system hobbling along, there’s always the possibility of finding money to expand it later, but once you shut down, Seattle as a city is basically done with bike share for the next 30 years, at least.

    2. I agree that the cost of a single use is too high. This is a city that already has a lot of bikers who use their own bikes. I commute to work occasionally in the winter and frequently in the summer, sometimes using the bike for auxiliary trips. Given that, I can’t see paying $85 a year for Pronto…most of the time I’m going to use my own bike, but Pronto would be a handy service on the occasion I need to do a short trip on a day I didn’t ride to work. That said…$8 for a single trip is way to much. For that amount I would take a cab or Car2Go. the daily fee might make sense if you were going to use the bike for the whole day, but it seems totally reasonable to add a single trip fee more akin to a metro fare as others have suggested. For $2.50 or $3.00 a trip I would be much more likely to use it. for $8 a day or $85 a year, it’s basically a non-starter for me regardless of how good the network is.

      1. What about a “membership fee”- just enough that Pronto doesn’t lose money mailing out keys to everyone- $20 gets you a membership, including key fob, or even $10, and then it’s charge by minute similar to Car2Go. Then maybe an annual or monthly membership that then includes the free 30 minutes for people who are using it often. With credit for going uphill, because we all know that takes longer.

      2. Note that credit for going uphill, if it actually helps balance the flow of rides, also reduces expenses to ensure that buikes are available at all stations.

      3. I don’t know, $85 a year seems dirt cheap if you use it regularly. Compared to similar forms of public transport (renting cars, transit pass, taxi cabs) it is minimal. Very few people commute by bike in this or any other city. It isn’t about that. It is about taking public transportation to work, then using it for that middle of the day trip or using this as your “last mile” form of transport. If it worked properly — if there were enough stations — it would be bargain (and I would sign up tomorrow).

      4. The Pronto pricing model is basically copying what other cities are doing without really thinking. Other cities which are flat and don’t need to think about things like incentives for taking a bike up a hill.

        In general, I don’t like the idea of paying by the minute (Car2Go style) because it encourages unsafe behavior, such as running red lights. I would have a model where you simply pay by the trip, and have as time as need to complete the trip reasonably and safely, with time charges only kicking if you try to abuse the system by locking up the bike when you’re not actually traveling with it.

    3. One of the bright spots for Pronto’s station locations is 43rd & Brooklyn, which will be very convenient when U-District Station opens. I hope it doesn’t close in an effort to consolidate the service downtown.

      Also, the 30-minute limit has to be raised, if downtown to the U-District or Children’s is to be a typical ride.

      1. Like just about everywhere, the U-District area needs more stations. The lack of stations is really laughable. Coverage extends all the way out to Children’s, and yet there are no stations in the U-Village. That is crazy. Someone who works at Children’s might want to pop over at lunch and pick up something at the QFC, except there are no stations there. That is not a weird anomaly, either — it is that way all over the UW and the U-District. It is as if their coverage was symbolic, and then they wondered why it isn’t popular. It’s not like station density isn’t a big deal, either — if you search for “keys to bike share success”, it comes up as the key item (mostly pointing to the story by NACTO —

        >> Also, the 30-minute limit has to be raised, if downtown to the U-District or Children’s is to be a typical ride.

        No, that is not, nor should it even be considered a typical ride. Children’s to the U-District, certainly. One end of downtown to the other, yes. But UW to downtown is way too far.

      2. When usage starts getting high enough that people riding from U-district to downtown starts to have a non-negligible effect on the system-wide availability of bikes, then a 30-minute time limit is appropriate. Otherwise, you may as well raise the time limit to 45 minutes, simply because there’s just no good reason not to. Even if during peak periods, a 45-minute time limit is too large, you can still have a 45-minute time limit during off-peak periods.

        A 30-minute time limit also serves to penalize people who are doing the system a favor by riding bikes up a hill. U-district to the top of Capitol Hill is about exactly 30 minutes on a Pronto bike. An extra 15 minutes grace would be very nice in avoiding the “stress” factor of trying to race up the hill to make it under the 30-minute cutoff.

  6. Zach,

    By and large I agree with you but I have to take issue with the following comment:

    “Linearity is the enemy of useful bikeshare, and contiguity is its best friend.”

    This “common wisdom” about bikeshare needs to be modified to suit Seattle. There is not a single successful (> 2 rides/bike/day) bikeshare program in any North American city with stations covering topography as steep as Seattle’s. And hills matter! Having thoroughly analyzed the data from the Pronto Data Challenge I can generate any number of graphs to demonstrate how anything above a 2% grade separating two stations completely demolishes the network concept by making all of those interconnections “dowhnill only”. It doesn’t matter what enthusiastic Seattle cyclists want to be true about uphill rides. The data state unequivocally that Pronto users do not ride bikes uphill. If you ask Nicole Freedman she will admit the same.

    So the first assumption of the density theory, “Each station forms a network with all nearby stations.” needs to be modified to say: “Each station forms a network with all nearby stations that are not uphill.” With that clarification, the “perfect circle” centered on the Central Business District and Capitol Hill looks a lot less perfect.

    If we further modify our density theory to include perceived safety it might say: “Each station forms a network with all nearby stations that have a low-traffic, low-speed, low-gradient path between them.”

    I may sound like a broken record with all of the comments I’ve made about this topic but I feel this is supremely important in Seattle and completely ignored by bikeshare promoters.

    I’m a huge fan of bikeshare but unless Pronto starts getting it right in the next station reshuffle, I’m not going renew my founding membership. The system simply has no utility for me as it currently exists.

    Below, I’ve included a comment I made recently over at Seattle Bike Blog, describing a better way to plan station placement in Seattle.


    What if the reason people haven’t embraced Pronto as currently deployed is because some of the fundamental bikeshare hypotheses, while appropriate for other cities, don’t hold in Seattle? I’m particularly talking about the focus on the center city and a grid arrangement.

    I would describe Pronto’s original station placement priorities as follows:

    1) center city
    2) density
    3) grid arrangement
    4) U District
    5) tourist destinations

    11) proximity to light rail or BRT
    12) proximity to low traffic, low speed, low gradient routes
    13) avoid hills

    These priorities would lead to the current arrangement of stations.

    My thought experiment is the following:

    What sort of arrangement of stations would we arrive at if our priorities were as follows:

    1) proximity to low traffic, low speed, low gradient routes
    2) proximity to light rail or BRT
    3) avoid hills
    4) density
    5) tourist destinations
    6) equity
    7) center city

    Gone is the a priori requirement for a grid arrangement and for uphill stations in the U District. (Though some downtown or U District stations will satisfy other priorities.)

    Using this new set of priorities we would proceed as follows:

    1) identify low traffic, low speed, low gradient routes: all the separated bike trails and protected bike lanes at <5% grade
    2) identify where routes intersect light rail and BRT stops
    3) identify where routes are close to live/work density
    4) identify where routes are close to tourist destinations

    This approach recognizes the following realities about Seattle:

    * Seattle is geographically and topographically constrained so that route choice is more important here than in other cities with connected grids of streets. This is especially true for cyclists.
    * Many people don't feel safe biking downtown.
    * We have some of the best urban bike trails in the country — why not use them?

    Given that bikeshare is supposed to appeal to "casual" users, I think this approach would result in a more popular system than the one we currently have.

    1. Good comments,thanks. I didn’t intend the circle or diamond as network proposals, but examples of minimum network sizes that maximize density. I think I broadly agree with your corrections, and can see good arguments for including, say the Westlake Cycle Track and the Elliott Bay Trail to Ballard while excluding areas such as the top of Queen Anne. Perhaps if linear portions of service areas connect to large contiguous swaths (such as Ballard-Fremont-Wallingford-UW), then that makes them likely to perform better. But the current UDistrict network is a functional exclave, and it just doesn’t work.

      1. The lack of U District engagement surprised me as well. But in conversations with Nicole Freedman, she said that this was true nationally: bikeshare adoption at universities has underwhelmed across the board. Perhaps because university types have been bike commuting for years already and have their own bikes and racks. Plus, students may not like opening up their credit cards for something with little perceived value — most campuses are lovely places to WALK and the student lifestyle is not as time-is-money driven as downtown business culture.

        Also, if you look at the grade from the Burke Gilman to 45th you’ll see that it violates the “avoid hills” commandment. And, as someone above has commented, what I’ll call “micro-placement” decisions in and around the U District were terrible.

        I would love to see bikeshare used as an amenity to reward Urban Villages for all the density they have accepted (Yes, I’m talking Ballard, Capitol Hill, Columbia City). These are neighborhoods with connected grids of low-traffic, low-speed, low-gradient streets and where people often make short trips in the car. As opposed to downtown, bikeshare would actually DISPLACE CAR TRIPS in these urban villages. Bike trails would act as bicycle highways to connect urban village bikeshare systems with: 1) transit; 2) other urban villages; 3) downtown.

        This “Urban Villages First” concept is something that goes against everything that bikeshare advocates think they “know”. But it is something that fits in with Seattle’s topograph, Seattle’s politics and Seattle’s existing bicycle infrastructure.

        It makes “Seattle Sense”.

      2. The only reason bike share has failed in the UW is because there aren’t enough stations. Look up the comments and you will find people who have tried to use it, but it failed because there weren’t enough stations. Likewise on the other blogs. These are just anecdotal stories, but they are also from early adopters. This is also well in line with all of the research. You really need way more station density to make this work. It is crazy to think that there isn’t a station at all in the U-Village, let alone the sparsity of stations elsewhere.

      3. Yes, those analyzing the UW performance in terms of students having bikes already should remember that there are also >10,000 employees here. Yes, some of us ride our own bikes to campus (not me). But a much larger number of us us need to attend meetings throughout the day scattered all over campus (me). I so so so desperately want Pronto to be useful for me, so I could get among my various meetings more quickly without having to bring my bike back and forth to school on the bus each day (no, I’m not committed enough to bike to school given the 400-foot hill and my perception of bike safety en route; plus I like to work on the bus). $90 would be a huge bargain for any service that fulfilled this need. But the stations are just way too thin on the ground to be useful for me, even though I really really want to use it. I have no idea how common my story is.

      4. I’m guessing your story is quite common, Steve. Similar stories have popped on this and the main bike blog. The research backs up this idea, too ( The hills are an issue with a lot of campus, but there are is increasing amount of space on campus that is really well suited for bike share because it is close to the Burke Gilman and quite spread out. All Pronto really needs is more stations in the area (both in the campus and in the surrounding areas).

    2. >> There is not a single successful (> 2 rides/bike/day) bikeshare program in any North American city with stations covering topography as steep as Seattle’s

      What city’s as steep as Seattle have bike share, and how successful are they? San Fransisco comes to mind, but their bike share system is obviously primitive. The coverage area is minuscule. I can’t really see how we can draw lessens from other, similar cities, because there are none.

      We do know that moderately steep cities (like Montreal) have been successful with bike share. There are large parts of Seattle that look like Montreal. Montreal has fewer very steep hills, but both have big plateaus or low spots, along with sloping hillsides. For example, the Central Area, Ballard, Pioneer Square/I. D, Belltown or South Lake Union. Bike share works best for short trips, and there are a lot of fairly flat short trips in the city. The funny thing, there are huge parts of the city that are great for biking (fairly flat) — the problem is that they don’t connect to the other areas. I can go from my house, in Pinehurst (between Lake City and Northgate) all the way to the south end of Phinney Ridge without breaking much of a sweat. I just go west over the freeway, then past Aurora and pick up the bike path and head south. Eventually i have to travel the side streets, but there is very little up and down. If I start anywhere on the Burke Gilman, then I have easy access to U-District, Fremont, Ballard and a big swath of land in between. But if I wanted to connect those two areas I would be in for an exhausting, if not steep ride (8th NW is not steep, but it most certainly is tiring). So while no one would want to ride from Fremont to Phinney Ridge, they most certainly would ride all around Phinney Ridge or Fremont. That is what bike share does really well — short trips, combined with public transit (e. g. take the 5 from downtown then bike a few blocks in Greenwood).

      I could see having a coverage area like that, which would mean essentially having holes in your coverage area, where the steep hills are. In many cases it wouldn’t be much of a loss. Half way up Fremont Avenue there isn’t as much as there is on either end. Same with Queen Anne. But other than having a few holes, or maybe stretching the area to maximize the use of the Burke Gilman, I don’t see much of a difference. You still want to cover all of Capitol Hill, First Hill and the rest of the area between I-90 and 520 (east of I-5), even if there are sections that are very hilly.

      1. When I bike commuted and rode around town from 1990 to 2003, I found there were several ways to skirt around hills and get to many areas like you said. The northern U-District to the ferry terminal is just a couple hills (Roosevelt-Eastlake-Valley-Westlake-Stewart), Melrose-Lakeview Blvd skirts Capitol Hill from First Hill to Roanoke, Golden Gardens to Alki is a nice recreational ride, MLK is wide and flat through the valley, etc. The biggest issue for north Seattle is everything goes down to the Ship Canal, and Phinney Ridge is hard to go over. But all over the city I found there are places where you can concentrate all the steepness in one or two blocks, and then it’s flat riding before and after that.

      2. I agree with having some holes in the system- the Fremont example might have a hole bounded by N 36th, N 43rd, 3rd Ave NW, and Linden Ave. It still serves upper Fremont just a bit, and then from there it’s not very steep to get to Phinney Ridge and Greenwood. Great for connections to the E line.

      3. RossB, I think another issue w/ UW and universities in general is the bus service is fantastic around there and all of the students have ORCA passes. There’s almost no time advantage to Pronto *with the current network”. UW has docks at the major bus stops, but what it doesn’t have is a strong network of docks in neighborhoods and other areas, so it’s not actually closing any gaps in transit in the current setup). That’s where a limited expansion plan to Wallingford, Fremont and a bit to the North would help a lot with making the UW network useful.

        Looking beyond what is budgeted for the current expansion, I think Pinehurst is a wonderful candidate for eventual Pronto coverage. It’s just a short ride to Northgate transit center, the Lake City Way express buses and eventually the Roosevelt HCT (and also the Roosevelt Link Station to avoid Northgate). Who wants to suit up to ride a nice personal bike for such a short distance and then lock it up outside all day? I end up “rescuing” my bike all the time when I change plans and take an alternate transit route home. Pronto’s a great fit to connect high capacity transit lines to neighborhoods just beyond the walk zone. We’ll always need local buses, but they often have winding routes and low frequencies. Expansion along RapidRide routes like West Seattle and Aurora would also make a lot of sense as soon as the system gets stabilized.

        One last observation. Hills in Seattle are so steep that if you cover a flat area, then you cover a neighboring flat area separated by a steep climb, the map basically looks like full coverage. Even flat cities end up re-balancing their bike networks due to commute patterns.

        There’s a lot to like in this article. The fundamentals of bike share work in Seattle even though the nonprofit made some missteps.

      4. @Tim — The main problem with the UW (as I said above and lots of people have said) is the lack of stations. Having all those transit riders is exactly what you want. Those are your core customers. Those are the people who will ride Pronto, if anyone does. But you need to have enough stations.

        For example, let’s say someone at Children’s wants to pop on down to the QFC (or some other store) in the U-Village. If they drove into work, they will probably drive. But if they took the bus (and a lot of people do) then bike share would save them about ten minutes. That is why bike share works so well in high transit areas (it is also why we really can’t expect our bike share system to be highly successful unless our transit system is). It is also why it doesn’t work now (e. g. there is no station in U-Village — there should around five).

        As far as Pronto and Pinehurst goes, I could see it working. One of the big challenges is bike routes. There aren’t a lot of quiet sides streets to use. But things are looking up — a good bike path was just added in the area and I think more will be done closer to Northgate (as part of improvements surrounding Link). Much of Lake City could work as well. But even with all of that, I think Ballard/Fremont makes a lot more sense to do well before that area. It is just bound to be more productive.

    3. You’re repeatedly asking the wrong question, and thereby repeatedly getting the wrong answer.

      You’re asking, “What’s the best bike-share system we can build in Seattle?” The right question is, “What could an objectively successful bike-share look like in Seattle?”

      Seattle doesn’t have magical advantages in flat corridors with very narrow bands of very limited density. Every city has corridors like this; they aren’t what drives bike-share success. Seattle only has extra limitations, in its extremely steep hills and limited routes across freeways. Bike share succeeds in the same types of places you see lots of people walking between destinations: nice, big areas with continual density in all directions. Where we have this land use, we must build a complete network of bike routes there. If we don’t we will fail.

      1. We need a complete network of bike routes, but more importantly, we need way more stations. The bike routes in a lot of areas (UW, C. D.) are fine, but the coverage is pathetically low. If we don’t have enough stations, like you said, it will fail.

  7. I fly down (from Federal Way/Seatac) to work in Santa Monica three days a month. That was enough to buy-in to their bike share for four of my trips (using Lyft or the hotel shuttle for the remainder means not renting a car at all.) While I think the weather is a factor, I don’t think helmet laws are. While not required in Santa Monica, it’s rare to see someone riding without. I pack mine in my carry-on and I see lots of others on planes these days with bike helmets strapped to the outside. So I don’t think helmets are a big barrier unless you’re going after the stupid crowd who doesn’t worry about things like gravity, wet pavement or the need to ever potentially make evasive maneuvers, and in Seattle, as a protective covering against the weather.

    I think that hills, weather and station placement are a bigger issue. It’s difficult to make comparisons (SM has 90m to Seattle’s 612k population (10k/mi vs 7k/mi; 8.3 sq mi vs 93 sq mi) but it seems like large parts of Seattle are without bike stations and yes, it needs to be a connector to transit. Those who will make the effort and convenience tradeoffs to use transit will use bikes. (Speaking of density and size, L.A. city will be rolling out its own bikeshare soon.)

    One more thing I like about the Santa Monica implementation is the map and the benefit/penalty to leaving a bike outside a station. Leave a bike wherever you want for a $2 fee. Return a bike to a station for a $1 reward. I like money so I’ve tried to find bikes outside of stations and never have. Either that means the stations are well-placed or the reward is worth it. (Also an unfair comparison with much time on the Santa Monica map and only a little time on the Seattle one and then only on a laptop, it’s easier to see the stations when you zoom out. On Seattle, they get lost in overly large icons in a small viewport.)

    [anything]share is a brilliance I’ve come to appreciate (my own bike hasn’t been ridden in over 10 years since I was able to bike to work when I lived in L.A. and I think, given time, bikeshare in Seattle could be quite successful. Provided it’s visible and feels supported and encouraged. We can get Los Angelenos out of their cars, we can get Seattleites out of their cars – provided there alternatives are where we need them.

  8. Availability of bikes / open docks is still an issue: if I’m using Pronto to get to my destination quickly, the last thing I want to worry about is not having any bikes or open docks to return my bike.

    In terms of the pricing model, NYC is at $149 for the annual pass. Granted it is a much more useful system, but I think Pronto could charge $95-100. There must be some reason why bike-share systems don’t charge single-ride prices, but I can’t understand it.

    If it was up to me, I’d charge:

    $3 single ride (30m)
    $8 day
    $29 week
    $99 year

    1. That sounds about right, but I think I would drop the weekly charge to $20. That could attract the tourists. In town for a week, sign up, and have at it. Chances are you won’t use it that much, but it just sounds like a much better value than $8 a day.

      Bike availability is another reason why station density is important. It stinks if you have to use a different station than the one you planned on using, but not the end of the world if it is just at the end of the block. With Pronto, in many cases the nearest station is the one in which you started.

    2. Having to only return at a dock and only if there’s a space at the dock? That also seems like a limiting factor. At the risk of repeating myself, the Santa Monica system lets you leave a bike anywhere. If it’s within 100 feet of a hub, it counts as “returned to the hub.” Leave it anywhere else and pay $2. Retrieve a bike that’s been left outside of a hub and get $1 for returning it to a hub. I wouldn’t be surprised if they use that data to determine where to place new hubs.

      Theirs is $6/hour, $20/month ($25) and $119/year ($149) for 30 (60) minutes a day of ride time. Special plans for Santa Monica residents and Santa Monica Community College students.

      1. The Santa Monica bike share system works more like Car2Go than Capital Bikeshare. The cool thing about those SoBi bikes is that the locks are built into the bike itself. So you can lock up anywhere there’s a regular bike rack. The bikes have GPS built in like a Car2Go and you unlock the bike using a code entered on the lock located on the rear of the bike.

        One time I spotted a Breeze bike locked up miles outside the Santa Monica service area. Whoever rode it that far would’ve paid $20 for the privilege!

    3. Many other cities have an option for a 3-day pass for something on the order of $12-15. As a visiting traveler, that usually strikes the right balance, especially for trips when I’m only there for half a week.

  9. I was surprised that figures published recently showed as high a Pronto female ridership as they did. As an elder female who has sampled Pronto, I find it easier to walk the last mile (presently UW campus and Capitol Hill/Downtown) than to deal with logistics of helmet, payment, wet seat and re-parking. The longer rain gear I need for walking isn’t as bike friendly as could be so being prepared for one mode kinda rules out the other.

    Basically, to me, Pronto is for people who could walk the mile, but want to get there faster.

    MIT has this cool prototype electric (pedal to charge) autonomous trike that uses bike lanes.

    I’m supporting keeping Pronto going, but think Seattle maybe needs to look a little further into helmet exceptions and maybe the enclosed trike mentioned above to make it work as “transit” not “niche”

    1. I think the city (or state) needs to make an exception for bike share and the helmet law. I don’t know what the law is — I don’t know if everything that has wheels (roller skates, skateboards, etc.) require helmets, but my guess is they don’t. It is only for bicycles. I think bike share bikes are a special kind of bike, in that they are slow, ponderous things, and no one wants to take those things on busy streets (where there is more danger). Plus there is some evidence that accidents — even head injuries — go down if you allow non-helmeted bike share use.

  10. I like the idea, but I totally agree that Pronto needs an overhaul. I used it once and it was such an awkward experience that I haven’t used it again. The prices shocked me, the helmet was awkward and even though I was going down hill, riding down denny without a bike lane was terrifying. I also spent half my trip trying to figure out where the station was once I got to my destination.

    1. # 6 – Those hideously ugly, heavy bikes that are too small and have crappy brakes. The seat needs to be adjustable to fit people that are over six feet tall. My knees were sore from pedaling with bent legs that never came close to straightening out. And my chin got sore from having my knees banging on it. If we are going to have cast iron beasts for bikes, we need to be able to pedal them properly.

      And the brakes were frightening absent on one of the bikes I rode. Gave me such a scare I walked it down the next steep hill.

      And the helmet is too small as I had to demonstrate to a police officer that pulled me over for having it dangling on the handlebars.

      1. This.
        If Pronto is renting out unsafe bikes, what’s the city’s liability when the brakes fail on a hill and the rider gets hurled into traffic? I certainly wouldn’t go anywhere near a bike I didn’t trust or was painful to ride.

      2. Bikes should be the same hardware as other systems in other cities. Innovations, like motors, bags, etc that are developed for these larger markets would be great to have here

  11. Great post and comments, more protected bike lanes, more bike stations at light rail and major bus stops, no helmet law for adults, don’t serve hilly areas, all will work.

    Accept the need for continual subsidy, just like roads and buses.

    1. But if done right with the suggestions you make (I’m in total agreement with those), it might even cover its costs as it has minimal labor costs. Just needs to generate enough usage with its bikes and membership.

  12. Owning a bicycle is a much lower financial commitment than owning a car. A person’s owned bicycle is probably a bucyclist’s preferred vehicle.

    Meanwhile, I see Pronto inserted in places that are in residential-only areas nowhere near a bus stop or even a coffee house.

    What is the target market for Pronto? Is it the right market? Did Pronto get neighborhood input on where to locate, or was it done by looking at a map?

  13. I just can’t fathom the 30-minute limit — for a bike that even now is only in use once per day! It’s not like there’s a rider waiting for that bike to return at another station! Encourage people to use the system — make that a 2-hour limit.

    And do some marketing. Have a table set up at Westlake and other similar gathering places. Have a bike there that people can touch and feel. Show them how the bikes lock and unlock. Hand out maps of all the bike stations — nobody’s going to check out a bike unless they know there’s another station at their destination.

    1. Various locations around Green Lake might would work well for those who enjoy recreational riding and don’t own a bike: outside rhe community center, near the old AquaTheater/Woodland Park, and the north end wading pool area, for example. Those areas are also near bus stops.

    2. When I lived in the northern U-District and attended a church in Greenlake, it was a 25 minute walk or 5 minute bike ride. Those are the kinds of gaps that Pronto could fill, from basically everywhere on 15th from Pacific Street to to 70th. For instance, from U-District Station, somebody would likely take Pronto for an errand on Roosevelt. And they’d also go to Latona and Wallingford if there were a better way to cross the freeway than the current 45th.

      1. There is (a better way to cross the freeway), 40th. It’s a flat ride on the BGT to the trail and Latona. The block to 40th is sort of steep, but has sharrows. North of 40th there’s a bike lane all the way to 45th and sharrows on 42nd to get over to Wallingford or Meridian without the heavy traffic on 40th or 45th.

        Of course, if one is starting for 43rd and U Way this isn’t a good choice. You’re already most of the way to the top of the hill. But from HSS, it’s “Good To Go!”

      2. Pronto would be brilliant for running 5-minute bike rides in that area. The same network that would connect to transit for commuting would allow for these “extended-walk” trips. It’s kind of great at re-connecting each neighborhood to the next one over.

    3. Yeah, maybe, but that is basically just another way of saying we failed. Bike share systems are not meant for long distance travel. They are meant for the opposite. You should be able to get to where you want to go in ten minutes, otherwise you are using it wrong, or in our case, the system is designed wrong. Thirty minutes is pretty standard, but 45 minutes is the limit in New York.

      Anyway, while this is a nice idea, let’s keep in mind that bike share isn’t new. We aren’t a special snowflake. It is pretty clear that to be successful, you need way more stations than we have. More stations per mile, more riders per day. Right now we are just one data point that follows the rule, and is not an exception.

      1. Right, Ross. The people talking about riding Pronto between the U District and Downtown/Capitol Hill or extending the 30 minute limit are completely missing the point of bike share systems.

        Bike share is best for short, spontaneous neighborhood trips or completing “the last mile” between a transit station and their destination. There was an analysis on this blog comparing bikeability of Seattle vs Portland. The conclusion was particularly relevant to Pronto in that it’s fairly difficult to get between Seattle neighborhoods on bicycle but bicycling within many neighborhoods is actually doable. This is where Link and RapidRide comes in. You can extend the reach of these higher quality transit investments using bike share.

      2. It could be human powered on-demand fast shuttle between UW Link Station and Montlake Freeway Station, or between West Seattle watertaxi terminal and Alki Beach or UW Link Station and University Village. Infact UW Link Station and the Burke Gilman could be its savior, yet I’ve heard nothing about optimizing/relocating existing Pronto stations for ULink or in light of Pronto’s troubles… why? It would cost almost nothing to do so.

  14. The bicycle share system in Minneapolis-St. Paul called Nice Ride [so Minnesota!] rents on 30-minute increments, or in 60-minute increments to “members.” We could learn a LOT from their system.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s really flat there, but they have awful weather and high ridership. Check it out at

      1. Nice Ride started smaller (slightly bigger than Pronto). It expanded with a combination of private and public funds. It didn’t target recreational trails, but rather trips to work. So if we were to take a lesson from them, we’d continue expanding for five more years.

        BTW, It looks like Nice Ride got 100K rides in 2010 with 65 stations. We got 144K I think with about 50 stations.

  15. “At Westlake, the closest stations are at McGraw Square or at 9th/Pine”

    There’s a pronto station on 2nd & Pine and a DSTT entrance/exit for Westlake station on 3rd & Pine.

  16. If Pronto were to work for me…

    a) It would have to have a service area through SoDo down to the end of Boeing Field
    b) It would have to be linked to the light rail spine through Seattle.

    Otherwise, it’s only a photography target to me. There’s my two cents bro.

    1. This. First Ave S has a terrible last mile problem. Lots of companies have private shuttles from King Street to their offices on 1st past the stadiums.

  17. Someone please explain where the money came from and where it went. I’m assuming this $1M FTA grant is in addition to the $1.4M loan from Key Bank. What other money has been dumped into this system. I linked in another post to $300k the City has already shelled out for operations in just a couple of months. So nice job with the creative math but it’s a whole lot more expensive for the City than just $400k.

    What assets does Pronto have besides the bikes? IIRC there are 500 bikes. Even if the system average is .3 trips per bike a day that’s over 50,000 people using it a year. Yet the only number I’ve seen quoted was 15,000 for the first year; that’s less than .1 trips per bike or put another way, a bike gets used about once every two weeks.

    For just the start-up costs of this system you could buy about 10,000 bikes, paint them pink and just leave them in various places for people to use. With the operational costs you could keep adding 500 bikes a month to replace those lost stolen or broken. I was told Berkley did this many years ago (placed pink, or maybe they were yellow, beaters around campus) and it seemed to work just fine.

    The City seems to have more money than sense and will likely take on this white elephant. But why would anyone pay $1.4M just because that’s the amount of incurred debt? That’s just not the way you do business. The company is bankrupt. You offer the lender slightly more than the value of the assets they would receive in a bankruptcy sale. And who signed on the dotted line for this $1M FTA grant. If the grant was to the City of Seattle and that money was used to fund Proto then the City should be entitled to 40% of Pronto’s assets. So really the price for Key Bank to write off the loan should be only 60% of whatever the company would go for broken up at auction. OTOH, I doubt Key Bank would be as foolish as to give away $1.4M in basically an unsecured loan. What’s the “rest of the story”.

    1. >> What assets does Pronto have besides the bikes?

      I don’t know, maybe the trucks? Are the stations themselves considered an asset? They are if you want to start up a bike share system in Seattle, but they really aren’t of much value to anyone else (so I guess that makes them a non-liquid asset). I’m just speculating — there is a much more in depth financial analysis going on over at Seattle Bike Blog (Tom might be able to answer your questions).

      1. Seattle Bike Blog a look at the financials: With Pronto in the red, city outlines takeover and expansion plan

        the city already owns 28 of the stations, which were purchased using a Federal grant – Seattle Bike Blog

        “It seems that we are going to be writing a big check,” said City Councilmember Rob Johnson. “It’s just a matter of whether that check is to buy the assets of Pronto or to the federal government.” – City Living Seattle

        So, unless the City drastically overpaid (who pocketed the money?) it should be able to sell the property acquired and repay the $1M grant. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the people pushing to spend other peoples money and reality.

        Of course the burning question is why on earth would anyone buy stations instead of leasing space. And for the City it’s hard to believe that there isn’t already sufficient public ROW to put stations; taking a few parking spots comes to mind. Isn’t the idea to have lots of small stations covering as much area as possible? This either a boondoggle of epic proportion or there is a lot of graft involved that’s yet to surface.

        The financial statement on Seattle Bike Blog shows operator contract expense as $1,281,600 for a year or $107k per month. That’s $213 per bike that covers 56 miles. Yep, $4/mi not even counting the capital depreciation and other expenses. Debt service is $24k/mo. Pronto overhead is shown as $189,391 which seems to be the two employees with salaries of $75k and $45k. The 2016 column zeros this out so they are counting city employees time as free. User Revenue is $588,338 so even without debt service this is a l-o-n-g way from break even. I go back to the idea of just buying a container full of ugly Chinese bikes every month and dropping them off around the city.

        Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien stated, “I fundamentally believe that bike share is one of the multi-modal tools that cities need to have to be successful.” – City Living Seattle

        That is just flat out demonstrably wrong. The number of successful cities without a bike share program far and away out numbers the handful that do. It’s pretty clear Councilmember O’Brien has his heart set on this folly no matter what the cost.

      2. I think this city, like a lot of cities, should have bike share; but I agree, that statement is silly. Not that many people use bike share. The good news it isn’t that expensive. It is basically like paying for a reasonably successful bus run. It doesn’t carry huge numbers of people, but it isn’t very expensive either.

        Here are a few examples:

        New York — 34,000 a day
        Washington D. C. — 5,700 a day
        Boston — 3,000 a day
        Montreal — 9,000 a day
        Chicago — 9,000 a day

        So basically, other than New York, it is about the same as one of our (better) buses. But again, the cost isn’t that much. Somewhere around 5 to 10 million, which makes it competitive with similar improvements in transit. The more you put into it, the more cost effective (per user) it becomes. I’m sure you reach a saturation point, but I know of no situation where that has happened.

      3. Keeping a stupid system alive just because it would be harder to implement a similar stupid system in the future doesn’t make sense. The number of trips may rival an iffy bus route (<400/day) but the trip length is nothing close.

        The gorilla size problem is cost. Outlay is about as much per month per bike as a serviceable utility bike costs. Forget the 30 minute limit and all the expensive amenities and just provide a bunch of bikes. You pay your $2-4 and you get to keep it for the day; you know, ride it to work and know that it's right outside your door for the trip back to the bus/train. Really, these bikes are getting used less than once a day so why not just let someone have it? Forget the $200k/yr with vending machine helmets. You can buy a cheap helmet for <$20. They weigh less than a fart so I hardly see carrying one around as a major obstacle for someone that is a year round bike rider in Seattle. It is about the bike!

  18. “…I prefer to work toward a world in which you would no more don special clothing to ride a bike than you would to drive your car.”

    Amen! I recently bought a car and requested a seatbelt-less car, to knock a few hundred dollars off the sticker price. Turns out the GOVERNMENT makes me have seatbelts in my new car! Talk about a nanny state! I bet if they eliminated seatbelt requirements in cars, it would save people unnecessary financial and physical burdens and a lot more people would choose to drive, instead of bike, walk or bus.

    Did I get that right?

    1. Yeah, except the studies show that seat belts save lives, and (at least one study) says the opposite about requiring helmets for bike share. Long story short — more bike share means more bikers means fewer bike accidents. The ratio of head injury to other injury went up, but the overall number of accidents went down so much that fewer head injuries occurred (

      1. There is nothing inherently dangerous about cycling a bike around downtown Seattle — at least anything that a cyclist can control.

        Multi-ton steel vehicles that travel at 80 miles per hour, however, have far more INHERENT risks, namely, that they travel at the humanly-unnatural speed of 80 miles per hour and so any small mistake can cause immediate death.

        Contrary to belief, there is no danger of imminent death (which somehow can miraculously be cured by wearing a helmet) when simply riding a bicycle.

      2. While I didn’t get much of a chance to read the article thoroughly, at least it seems like she hits on the points that most other anti-helmet articles miss: why?

        From what I’ve personally witnessed, it’s the building of infrastructure, not laxing of helmet laws, that lowers injury rates (head or otherwise).

  19. I use Pronto on a decently regular basis (once a month? Something like that) downtown between Pioneer Square and Westlake when I have to go between the two districts. I find that 2nd Ave’s cycletrack works really well for using Pronto, especially combined with the lack of hills.

    There are a few things about the experience that irritate me every time.

    First, not 100% of the bike locks on at least one of the Pronto stations are functioning. I often have to go down the line of bikes trying to get it to release one.
    Second, the helmet thing can be annoying, though the helmet bag does make a handy seat cover for those rainy days.
    Third, renting the bike is an arduous purchase flow with having to put in the key, then the credit card, always having to select a given “product,” pay for the helmet, remember the helmet box PIN, etc. Better would be to incorporate one of the ideas from this post (change to a more precisely metered rental time option) and combine with turning the bike key into a value store.

    Then it would be possible to walk up to a bike lock, use the key to unlock the bike, use the key to open the helmet bin, the value of the helmet charge gets taken off automatically. The full fare for the bike rental is calculated and deducted when I put the bike away. I can imagine it charging $1.00 for a 30-minute period, perhaps with a max charge of $8.00 for the 24-hour period.

    Key takeaway for me is that when the infrastructure is in place and the route is flat, then the bike share scenario is awesome, so focus on making sure the system is oriented first to those areas. Then make sure the user experience is very smooth regardless.

    The city should definitely save Pronto and fix it.

    1. If you really are using Pronto once a month, at $8/day, then you should invest in the annual pass. You’ll get your own fob and a helmet. Not only would you save the transaction time for doing each ride separately, you’d probably find other excuses to use it. I found, for instance, that the Children’s Hospital station is walking distance to my dentist. So after leaving the dentist, I hop on a Pronto, ride across campus and end up at the southwesternmost station on Campus Drive (looking at the UW part as being separate from the rest of the network), where I am in position to take a bus home.

      Fun fact: every bike at the Children’s station was set for the lowest seat position. At the downtown stations I typically use (everyday), about half are at the highest station. It would be interesting to see the demographic breakdowns of the users of the various stations. I’m guessing a lot of women use the Children’s one.

      1. They stopped the free-helmet-with-membership thing around a year ago.

  20. Thank you for speaking up regarding the insane nanny-state helmet law, and recognizing that somehow major cities from all around the world manage to do JUST FINE without requiring helmets for riders.

    Look, I get that they’re important and I know most cyclists will wear one no matter what the law says — but the REQUIREMENT to wear a helmet immediately places barriers and restrictions on cycling, ones that I think the “cycling advocacy” community generally brushes off.

    People have dozens of reasons for not wanting to wear a helmet — nice haircuts, they look stupid, shared helmets are disgusting and gross, you look less like a person and more like an object to a driver — but I’m sure we can join the rest of the civilized world and let people make those decisions on their own. While disliking helmets for whatever reason might look insane to the seasoned bike rider or the hardcore cycling political advocate — Pronto is not built for seasoned bike riders and hardcore cycling political advocates. It’s built for people who don’t want to mess up their hair.

    I know some of you will think this is totally ridiculous, and I understand your thoughts, but this is by far my biggest priority in cycling improvements for Seattle — and if anybody can point me to resources where I can dedicate my resources and time, I will work tirelessly to see that this stupid law is repealed. This is not a difficult thing to change, it just requires political bravery and some push.

  21. Here is the petition:
    There is nothing in there that specifically mentions bike share, so I put that in the comments.

    There is a fairly strong consensus amongst the biking community (which place utmost importance on safety) that the helmet law (at least for bike share) should be eliminated. Here is an example: (scroll down to “Ditch the helmet law”).

  22. I’m going to call attention to another problem with the Pronto system that hasn’t been mentioned yet – the inability to carry anything during a trip. Other bike share systems have baskets mounted on the handlebars that are at least able to carry a little bit basic stuff. Even Houston was able to get this part right. With Pronto, however, the bikes are completely unusable without a backpack if you have anything with you that doesn’t fit in your pockets.

    I know they tried to set up their bikes to allow you tie stuff down with a bungee cord, but the bungee setup just doesn’t work.

  23. Helmet laws do discourage bicycle ridership. The bicycle ridership of unprepared, risk-taking, and impulsive cyclists. Come on. You don’t have to be anti-safety to be pro-cyclist. Especially considering dangerous streets where cyclists get hit all the time (almost entirely unavoidable by the cyclists themselves). If a cyclist (no matter how good they are) gets slammed by an idiot driver and falls sideways on his head, he had darn well better be wearing a helmet. Why not allow not having a life vest on boats in King County while we are at it?

  24. One of the key things about bike share is leveraging bike infrastructure investments with transit investments. There are parts of trips where transit makes the most sense and other parts of the same trip where a bike makes the most sense, it allows you to use the best tool for the part of the trip where it works best.

    They could do so much now with the existing stations to make the system better, like actually placing bikeshare stations downtown along the bike routes (why are there two stations on Union???… a one way downhill that doesn’t cross I-5? what good is the one outside cityhall when its surrounded by steep streets and a traffic clogged 4th avenue with no/abysmal bike lane?)

    And to echo everyone, the Pronto zone needs much, much better bike infrastructure for it to be usable.

  25. The lack of success of bikeshare in Seattle is much like ciclovias, apparently we cant get that right here either. Sunday Parkways is a big deal in Portland (and other cities like even LA). Like 30,000-40,000 people show up in Portland for the event. LA gets almost 100,000. Here in Seattle there are only two a year and are called Summer Parkways. I went to one last year in Ballard and literally there couldn’t have been more than 10 participants on the entire 7+ mile route. The volunteers and staff vastly outnumbered the participants, it was embarrassing, its hard to justify closing streets to cars for an event when there isn’t a single bike on the route in sight. Why do bike things that work very well in other cities not work here?

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