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As reported in 2015, Seattle’s Pronto Bike Share was on the move to the Eastside, thanks to a $5.5 million budget allocation from the Legislature to King County Metro. It was originally slated to move forward by this June, but now it seems to be stuck in the mud.

Pronto’s collapse seems to have slowed State Department of Transportation and King County Metro. The Legislature originally booked the money in the 2015 – 2017 budget cycle but last year amidst drama on Pronto, they deferred all but $500k to future years, according to Scott Gutierrez, a spokesman for King County Metro. And even that $500k isn’t moving fast. King County Metro is planning on spending less than half that much on a feasibility study, and the RFP will be posted sometime in the first quarter of this year.

So what now? How do we get a region-wide bike share back up and running pronto (but without Pronto)?

The first step has to be to go to the King County council and repeal the mandatory helmet law. While the helmet law wouldn’t make a new regional bike share fail, it certainly doesn’t help. This program is coming back at some point, and it would make sense to help it succeed by eliminating this significant barrier.  Bike helmet laws are well meaning, but there’s also evidence that they do more physical harm than good.

Next, it is time to get King County Metro and Seattle DOT together to do a debrief on what went wrong in Seattle. Was it too small? Are Seattle’s notorious hills a deterrent? They should produce a report on what happened and come up with next steps. Hint to that committee — look at previous coverage on what would make a bike share work well.

Next, King County Metro and Seattle should partner to launch a large regional Bike Share program which leverages the $5.5 million for the Eastside with whatever resources Seattle can come up with. And hopefully, lessons learned from Pronto will make the second iteration of Bike Share more successful.

The good news is the Eastside is working to make biking better in general, even if bike share is not happening soon. Bellevue is in the midst of a Pedestrian and Bicycle Implementation Initiative, which is slated to spend $7 million per year on projects to help get around without an engine. Issaquah has a Walk n’ Roll plan, and King County Metro is expanding bike lockers and applying for grants to get better non-motorized access to transit.

Correction 1/31/17:  Per the City of Bellevue, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Implementation Initiative is one of several items that will be funded by last fall’s Proposition 2, which also includes funding for projects to reduce neighborhood congestion, neighborhood safety projects, new sidewalks and trails, technology for safety and traffic management and enhanced maintenance.  Proposition 2 overall will generate around $7m per year over 20 years.  We regret the error.

35 Replies to “King County Metro Moves Slowly on Eastside Bike Share”

  1. Are there any other examples of bike share failing so decisively? I was under the impression that these are fairly successful around the world. What could possibly make Seattle’s case so special?

    1. Seattle’s Central Business District and Capitol Hill, and several heavily bike-oriented neighborhoods, take more vertical pedaling than most cities. Wonder if building codes can encourage freight elevators also suitable for bikes, for buildings with doors on streets at different levels.

      And other mechanical “assists”. As LINK gets built out, system should be ready to carry a lot more bikes. At least one car per train can have an “open floor plan”, with folding aisle facing benches along the walls, and quick-release bike-holders. Good for ever-enlarging luggage too.

      Streetcars can carry a lot more bikes than buses. More potential floor space. And can really pull and push trailers with bike racks. So I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong about bicycles. Like with LINK, we’re really just getting started.


    2. The biggest problem with Pronto was the mismatch between Pronto’s service area and where existing bike demand is strong. An ideal bikeshare would cover the Burke-Gilman from Ballard to Children’s, and “Center City” including Belltown and Uptown. Perhaps treat it as three markets, the BGT, the downtown-Belltown-Uptown lowlands, and the Capitol Hill-First Hill ridge, while allowing trips between them. The new Westlake cycletrack is one such connector, and the future Eastlake cycletrack could be another. A twenty-minute trip between north to central Seattle may be less popular than others, but people do go to mid Eastlake for appointments and to visit people, and Eastlake south of Mercer now has a transit gap due to the deletion of the 66 and 25 and the distance to Fairview and future BRT. Bikeshare could help fill that gap.

    3. Arguably the best biking city in the world, Copenhagen, failed at their first bike share. They did it wrong. They were able to start again after fixing some issues and it is working better this time. Pronto had multiple issues that are documented thoroughly. If we can fix those issues, I still think a bike share can work here.

      1. failed as in they had 2500 public bikes for 18 years kind of failure. the Copenhagen bike share was free to use for unlimited amount of time, no 30 minute limit, only needed a small deposit to get a bike, if you return the bike to a station you got your deposit back. This is exactly how bike share should work, instead we have companies selling us $6000 bikes for bike share, you could get 10 bikes for the price of one bike which you would be lucky to rent for $10 an hour

      2. The Copenhagen OV-fiets style bike share system didn’t really spread to other cities as much as the more modern systems, though they were certainly the inspirations.

        Copenhagen’s newer Gobike system did have a pretty epic crisis (seemingly for many of the same reasons as Pronto – favoring technology over number of stations, not integrating well with transit, poor PR, the “everyone already has bikes canard”, etc.).

        However Copenhagen stuck with it and Gobike is currently doing much better.

        This thread overall is disappointing, however because it largely doesn’t recognize that bike share systems exist around the country and around the world. We didn’t implement our system according to the known best practices (it was supposed to be a much larger system from the start), and then pulled support as soon as it didn’t perform on par with some of the biggest systems in the country.

        As far as a suburban bike share system goes, it looks like the funding wouldn’t allow a bigger system than Pronto was. Along with the helmet law and lower density, I’d expect it to perform worse than Pronto at a given network size. But then you have to think about what the goals are. Plenty of cities do have small bike share systems that don’t have particularly great usage stats. The goals might be to promote active commuting or to support other transit infrastructure as opposed to breaking even financially. To some degree I feel like we’re having an argument over whether bus shelters and benches have been successful and whether they can work in Seattle, how much they should be ad-supported, etc.

    4. We aren’t special. With too little coverage and too little station density you would expect exactly what we got: very few riders.

      As to whether that means “failure” or not depends on how much you want to invest. There are plenty of bike share systems that started out really small, with ridiculously low ridership, just like Pronto. But then the city came along and decided to invest in more stations and just like that, you had a lot more riders. Unfortunately, Pronto was oversold. Like similar Seattle projects, we failed to look at the existing science, and then expected things to magically go well. The big difference is that in this case (unlike streetcars) we bailed on the thing, making it a failure.

  2. Helmet law is King County. Can’t next election take care of it? Doubt it has much of a constituency. Has it ever even been enforced?


    1. Traditionally, bike helmet laws are pushed by the people who sell bike helmets. At least that was who was doing the lobbying in Austin 20 years ago.

      1. Classic old historic ad: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda bike!” My uncle who was an orthopedic surgeon claimed that his trade association was paying for the campaign.

        Could also be the insurance industry. And if national health care gets private-profitized, helmet laws will face a steep uphill fight. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

        Well, your campaign ad can show one of your advocates pedaling madly up Pine, over to Bellevue, falling over the concrete on Melrose or whatever, plummeting into I-5 northbound head first, and dismounting with a sweeping bow at Meydenbauer Center.

        And striding proudly into the State Republican Convention with cranial function barely impaired. Like anyone could tell anyhow.


  3. Seattle doesn’t have any resources to come up with for bike share. We literally just threw the resources we have out the window.

  4. There was no one thing that caused Seattle’s bike share to fail.

    This means that the solution to success is still hidden, and any further attempts are prone to the same extreme risks of failure that Pronto succumbed to as both a private and a public enterprise.

    1. It isn’t hidden, it simply needs a bigger investment. Consider a phone network with a half dozen phones. You are paying the money to build the towers, yet only a handful of calls can be made. The more towers you add, though, the more cost effective the system becomes. Eventually you reach the point where it becomes very cheap per call because so many people are using the system.

      The same is true with bike share, and studies have shown this: Basically they started out too small, and failed to increase the number of stations appropriately. We got exactly what the studies showed we would get — low ridership. Bike share is one of those “Go big or go home” systems. What we need to do to make this work is to simply go big (build lots and lots of stations in the coverage area).

      1. An analogy I’ve been thinking of lately is if you rolled out those bike racks on the front of buses by putting them on 10% of the buses. No one would ever do a bike-bus-bike commute if you had a 9 in 10 chance of not being able to board. Also weren’t bus benches expected to carry advertisements at one point to offset the cost? Now they’re simply a feature of a well-functioning transportation system.

      2. You say lack of investment in more stations was the cause of Pronto’s failure. Others give hilly terrain, mandatory helmet laws, poor station placement, lack of safe cycling routes, less-than-ideal bikes, too-high usage fees, too-short rental times, and plenty of other reasons that differ from yours.

        I still submit that the key to Seattle bike share success remains unknown, and that future projects will likely continue to have high risks of failure regardless of the amount of money thrown into it. It just seems to me that the Pronto experiment gave us a fair amount of insight into how NOT to do it right, but precious little info on how TO do it right.

  5. Eastside bike share always looked speculative. The Eastside just doesn’t much look like a place where bike share has worked in other cities.

    With the Pronto failure, it’s really hard to imagine that it would even be attempted on the Eastside. We have all of the challenges Seattle had, and a few more.

    Meanwhile, this is a pot of money looking for a home. I think bike advocates would do well to find other bike-relevant uses for it. If it stays in the bike share pot, it’s likely to get zeroed out in favor of non-bike uses.

    1. I assume “Eastside” is an umbrella term for downtown Bellevue to the Spring District, downtown Kirkland, downtown Redmond, and central Issaquah.

      1. Central Bellevue is large enough that a pilot project might be feasible. The distance from the transit center to Bellevue Square has always been lamented, and people make a lot of trips in every direction between Main Street and NE 12th Street. With the new 4th Street extension to 120th and assuming a good bike route between downtown and the Spring District, those could support an extended service area, perhaps in a later phase. Because the suburbs have fewer bus streets and frequency than Seattle, it’s not practical to take a bus from one part of downtown Bellevue to another: it’s too much waiting and walking. But it’s precisely the scale where bikeshare could be popular: people going to lunch, doing errands, extending the bus network’s reach. And there’s a lot of affluent tech people who culturally favor biking. And there could be a significant number of people who’d want to take a bus to downtown Bellevue and bike from there, without bringing their own bike from home. In Seattle people ride all over the place and take their own bikes, but in the Eastside there are fewer “places” and longer distances between them, so people may be less inclined to ride in the non-places and take their bikes from home.

      2. Without protected bike lanes on 4th St., I don’t think downtown Bellevue bike share would work. The only way to get away from cars is to use the sidewalks, in which case, you can’t ride faster than a walking pace anyway (because there’s people walking on the sidewalk), in which case, you may as well just walk.

        Honestly, the spot on the eastside where I think bike share has the most potential would be the Microsoft campus, since it’s flat and already has traffic-calmed streets. Google already has a very successful bike share system at its Mountain View campus, and I see no reason why something similar couldn’t work at the MIcrosoft campus, which is about the same size. Of course, such a system would have to be funded by Microsoft itself, since it would not be appropriate for the county or state to spend taxpayer dollars on a bike share that only covers one company’s corporate campus.

      3. Small bike share “islands” in suburban downtowns have historically

        (a) succeeded wildly
        (b) failed embarrassingly

        One notable comparison would be the Bay Area Bike Share, which launched island systems in several suburban downtowns to justify its regional structure and funding. They were massive flops. Now I know we have ideas about Bay Area suburbia, but Bay Area suburbs actually compare favorably to ours in size, density, continuity, and proximity; they also have better bike networks, are flatter, and have better weather.

        The idea that eastside downtowns would be more fertile bike-share territory than Seattle because biking and walking there is more useless generally is the sort of wishful thinking that makes west-coast cities fail at stuff.

      4. Al: so why did some suburban bikeshares succeed and others fail? Which other suburbs have had them besides the Bay Area? Why did the Bay Area ones fail?

      5. @Mike: I was asking a rhetorical multiple-choice question. I am unaware of any systems where small islands in suburban downtowns have been successful.

  6. Repeal the helmet law just so we could, I guess, have a higher chance of getting bikeshare? Sounds like a knee-jerk, poorly thought-out response to Pronto’s demise. One of the nice things about Pronto is that they provide helmets, which, yes, cost Pronto money, but makes it really convenient for people who wouldn’t carry helmets around anyway to just grab one along with the bike and enjoy a safe ride.

    “While the helmet law wouldn’t make a new regional bike share fail…”

    Oh OK so helmets laws aren’t really a problem. Why didn’t the helmet law discussion just stop there?

    1. Helmet law might be a problem. I’d even say it’s probably a problem.

      But the fact that they’d have only enough funding to install as many stations as they did in Seattle, spread across four eastside cities, is definitely a problem — a fatal flaw, even. I don’t know if there’s a possible bike-share plan that could achieve high per-bike-per-day usage on the eastside; if so, it would look like:

      – Install all 50 stations with ~1/4mi. spacing in downtown Bellevue
      – Aggressively convert G.P. lanes and parking to bike lanes until essentially every block of every street has bike lanes
      – Demolish the 405/NE 8th interchange just because it makes me mad every time I see it, and biking should be happy

      If they aren’t willing to do that (they’re not) there’s no point even trying, it’s a guaranteed failure.

      1. The real question is, what’s the point? In Seattle, a bike share makes sense in principle, because there are locations where density, gaps in transit network and heavy car traffic slowing down transit make it so that a bike share can fill in gaps in transportation. It’s pretty easy for me to take a Pronto from my office (Sixth and University) to my barber (at First and Bell). There is literally no other means of transportation between them that would be faster.

        I don’t see that in Bellevue. You’d literally need to have a station at every parking structure in downtown Bellevue to make it work, because there is essentially no easy way to cross streets as a pedestrian that is comfortable or of a short distance. The streets are so wide, the walk lights so short, the bike lanes so few that it just makes no sense at all.

      2. Bellevue has larger and more time-consuming gaps in its transit network so an alternative is more important. I’ve never found it uncomfortable to cross streets in Bellevue. And I don’t buy that they’re wider than downtown Seattle except NE 8th which has grown enormous. Seattle streets look small but many of them are four lanes wide. If they look smaller it’s because they’re one-way, the buildings are taller, and the ground-floor architecture is different. The main difference between Seattle’s streets and Bellevues is Bellevue’s have left-turn lanes and separate left-turn signals, so that’s two more light cycles to wait for and one more lane to walk past.

      3. As we found in Seattle, simply being able to state a reason someone might use bike-share is not enough to ensure success. There’s a formula: a large, contiguous area with station-density and people-density.

        The reason that a bike-share system with good station-density and placement, and a real commitment to build a bike network, might (might) do better in downtown Bellevue than Pronto did in Seattle isn’t because downtown Bellevue is generally a better place to try bike-share (it’s certainly worse). It’s because Pronto never did get station-density and placement right in Seattle, and Seattle never built a bike network downtown. That’s the sliver of hope Bellevue has. But that isn’t the standing plan, and it’s not very likely. The standing plan involving multiple islands is absolutely hopeless.

    2. Helmet laws tend to discourage people from riding bikes. They are especially good at discouraging non-riders from giving bicycles a try. There is an obvious overlap here with the problem of convincing non-bikeshare-riders to try out the bikeshare system.

      1. Alternative facts much there, Mars? I see many people riding bikes without helmets. That there are still people hung up on the helmet law, rather than spending their energy pushing better infrastructure and safety improvements, boggles my mind and shows they don’t really care about the cycling community.

        And good lord, I hate when people reference that “study” (there’s two different ones) that claim that helmet laws “do more physical harm than good”. One claims that helmets do nothing in a collision with a car. Well duh, they aren’t designed to protect you from getting hurt when you’re leveled by a 2 ton chunk of steel. I don’t know what can. Another claims that people are dying, because they don’t want to wear helmets, therefore don’t bike, become overweight and die of a heart attack. No one can seriously claim that overweight people, at risk for heart attacks, would all of a sudden get out of their armchair and hop on a bike, because they aren’t forced to wear a helmet.

      2. @RapidRider: And the more studies that come out, the more ridiculous they’ll all be, right?

        Nobody claims that people would “suddenly” turn their lives around without a helmet law — there are cumulative effects of habits built over a long time. Here’s one example. I heard some studies showed teenagers in Australia were less likely to bike to school after a helmet law was introduced, and some claimed they didn’t want to wear helmets because they messed up their hair. Most people are like teenagers, not always looking out for the common good or even their long-term interests. If biking messes up their hair they’ll bug their parents for a ride to school, and if enough of them do there won’t be a group of friends to ride with, which removes another incentive to ride, and the school area gets more congested with car traffic and less safe to bike and walk in. Some schools are situated such that mass drop-offs just can’t work, and almost nothing will thwart ped/bike access; some are planned so that car access is nearly obligatory for every student; but most are somewhere in the middle, and the culture that forms among parents, students, teachers, and administrators can make a big difference. A lot of the teachers and administrators, who set and enforce rules around school access, are also parents, and everyone has been a student. If more of these people have experience biking and walking they’ll be more likely to set and enforce policies that make biking and walking easier; if more of them have experience dropping off kids and being dropped off they’ll be more likely to set and enforce policies favoring drop-offs.

        Then what happens when these kids go off to college, and into the real world? Do you think people with experience getting around independently on foot and bike might continue to do so as they get older? I sure do.

      3. (A lot of schools in the Seattle area are in that middle area, where widely varying cultures could form. I’ve seen school drop-off traffic jams at schools around here where access was probably dominated by walking and biking shortly after they were built. I’m not claiming helmet laws caused the shift — I would guess helmet laws are not the main cause of the shift away from walking and biking to school in general, in the US — but there probably are places where it’s contributed. I biked a bunch of places growing up, rarely using a helmet, and I ain’t dead. I wasn’t super image-conscious, so a helmet mandate probably wouldn’t have stopped me from riding… in college I had a helmet but wasn’t religious about wearing it. I started wearing a helmet regularly when I moved to the west coast and started doing “roadie”-type rides, and since then my commutes have just always involved much more complicated traffic than I ever encountered where I grew up. By that point I was already pretty committed to using a bike to get around.

        Also, seriously, dude, basically everyone that talks about the helmet law are also out there working for improvements to the bike network. Even the people that want to spend a bunch of time and money on doomed eastside bike-share schemes are also working for other improvements.)

      4. I’ve got to go along with Mars and Al here. Thinking logically, I just don’t see how someone would be _encouraged_ to ride a bike because of helmet laws. I DO see how such laws might tend to _discourage_ bike riding. Regulatory laws generally have such effects.

      5. @Al: When a helmet study comes out that (1) doesn’t rely on a single study of a very specific demographic, (2) that doesn’t rely on hearsay, (3) actually studies other factors that might result in reduced bike usage and doesn’t jump to the correlation-causation fallacy that people don’t like helmets, therefore helmets are the cause and/or (4) use some weird, made up equation that shows that helmet laws are the cause of heart attacks, I’ll believe it. So far, the two or three studies that get passed around have been poorly researched, poorly written and use one or more of the above to steer the results towards the conclusion they were trying to prove from the beginning.

        And believe me, the school drop-off conundrum is not a result of any helmet laws (source: I work on modernizing a lot of urban and suburban schools and taking school open space to expand the currently inadequate drop-offs is an unfortunate trend). It’s a combination of our car-dominated culture, combined with the proliferation of the helicopter parent and sprinkled with the ability for working parents to have a slightly more flexible schedule. Also, growing up in a nearby suburb, with a nice grid and very safe streets, if you stayed away from the arterial, I lived about a mile and a half from my school, which was a private school. Easy biking distance, and while I did bike all the time outside of school, there was a stigma if you rode your bike to school. And we were a working class private school, so it was definitely a “nerd” stigma rather than a “poor” stigma. I can’t say for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that mentality still persists.

        @Crunchy: Kind of like how all those car regulations (seat belts, airbags, etc), motorcycle regulations (helmets), and boat regulations (special license, life vests, etc) discourage people from using those forms of transportation, right? I’ll give you that helmet laws probably discourage people from bicycling, but they are waaaaaaaay down the list of excuses, below weather, lack of daylight for six months, topography, traffic safety, lack of bicycle infrastructure, place to store your bike, etc. And once you get through that list and get to helmet as your final excuse, you were probably never biking to begin with.

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