LimeBikes lined up outside the UW Station Credit: SounderBruce

As the colorful dockless bike-shares, which began operating last summer in Seattle, stray past city boundaries, some suburban cities want to come along for the ride.

Bothell was the first suburb to issue permits for bike-share companies after bikes began popping up around town, most likely propelled north by the Burke-Gilman Trail. And now Bellevue is set to launch its own dockless bike-share pilot this May.

The city is starting small, permitting only 400 bikes at the pilot’s launch (roughly one for every 350 residents), and is only allowing e-bikes, which Bellevue says will “make the service accessible to a wider variety of potential users.”

Taking lessons from Seattle, where some dockless bikes are being improperly parked and blocking sidewalks, Bellevue’s pilot establishes bike hubs, using paint and racks, to identify preferred parking areas. Operators will be required to offer incentives, to encourage riders to use the hubs, and disincentives, to keep people from parking the bikes improperly. Geofencing will be used to keep bikes from being left in the middle of parks.

The city is laying out strict guidelines for rebalancing bikes nightly which the city says will “facilitate the convenient provision of bicycles where people want them while maintaining orderly and accessible public space and minimizing impacts to private property.”  

Each night, bike-share companies will be required to move 75% of their fleet into activity centers, which includes downtown, BelRed, Crossroads, Eastgate, Factoria and the Wilburton/Hospital area. Another 10% of bikes must be relocated near bus stops served by a frequent transit network; the rest can remain in neighborhoods. Companies will also be required to move at least 50% of their fleet to bike hubs nightly.

Bellevue’s designated activity hubs Credit: Bellevue

During the weekdays between 6am and 6pm, the bike-share companies will be given two hours to repark improperly-placed bikes after receiving notice. At other times, the companies will have 10 hours.

Local businesses and organizations have thrown support behind the program.

“Bikeshare is a service that will enhance the ability [of] residents and employees to navigate through the downtown area without using their cars to get from place to place… we are excited to see the city finally taking steps to realize this dream,” Su Development, a construction company, wrote to the city.

Bellevue said it would allow bike-share companies to increase the size of their fleets if they are abiding by city requirements, but the city plans on limiting the total number of bikes to 1,200 during the year-long pilot period.

According to a city survey, 55% of respondents said they would use a bike-share, while 24% said they would not. But many, 69%, said they felt somewhat or very unsafe riding a bicycle in downtown Bellevue.

The Council, taking steps to make biking in the city’s downtown safer and more comfortable, recently approved plans for a downtown demonstration bikeway. A north-south bikeway will sit between Northeast 12th and Main streets and could open as early as May.

33 Replies to “Bellevue Eases into Bike-sharing”

  1. Could a trip from downtown Bellevue to downtown Redmond be faster on bikeshare than on the B line? Considering how meandering the B line is, I think it just might, especially with the 520 trail going most of the way, and the bikes electrically assisted.

  2. It will be interesting to see if the Eastside communities’ various police departments enforce the helmet law for people riding these bikes. If they do, can the program survive? Where I work in SODO, I’d say 95% of bike share riders aren’t wearing helmets. Won’t it be the same in Bellevue?

    1. Eastside police departments don’t enforce traffic laws for cars, so if they try to enforce the helmet law, they’d have some ‘splainin’ to do.

      1. Juts remember that the police can pick and choose which LAWS to enforce. They’re just not supposed to discriminate from among those they enforce it upon.

    2. Last time I rode a bicycle, neither helmets or electric bikes existed for bicyclists. I could see opposition if the helmets were bulky or impaired vision.

      My father had built my bike out of parts I’m not sure where he found. Thing I remember most about it was that front 26″ wheel had a balloon tire, and rear wheel same size had a narrow racing tire. Really great for riding full speed into a or other obstacle and not even bend the fame a little.

      Coaster brake, no gear-shift. But the helmets available now seem light enough to be comfortable. And also styled that I’ve never seen a cyclist look unattractive in one, at least that a helmet could do anything about. Fill me in.


      1. I think the issue is that people using bike share usually aren’t carrying a helmet around with them. This is certainly true for spur-of-the-moment users and is probably even true for most casual users… you might argue that serious users who have their own helmet on them at all times most likely have their own bicycle too!

  3. [only 15%] can remain in neighborhoods.

    This seems rather shortsighted. One of the conveniences of bike share is that it’s available wherever. The city seems to be targeting those that would drive away from home and need transportation later.

    1. As much as I support bikeshare, figuring out how they work in suburbia is difficult. For example, I live about a 1/2 mile from Brickyard and several weeks ago a LimeBike showed up in front of my house. And there it has stayed since. Why? Most people here drive. Of those who don’t, most walk to the bus. A few bike.

      But biking saves perhaps a few minutes as compared to walking, so there’s no reason to if you’re just going to the bus. There are other places within a mile to go to, but if someone else took the bike, you might not have a way to get home, and coverage here is spotty, at best.

      What’s the solution? I don’t know. But I understand where Bellevue is coming from.

    2. Doing the math, this means 40 bikes at frequent transit stops (being 271, B line, probably 245 now, etc. I wonder if the 234/235 route pair counts since they combine for frequent service from BTC to Kirkland TC, then diverge, or if they’re technically just two infrequent routes since they have different numbers), 60 bikes in neighborhoods without frequent transit, and 300 in activity centers. That does seem really low to me. I think neighborhoods without frequent transit should get a boost, since that’s where the greatest utility is, especially initially.
      I think mornings should have more bikes in the neighborhoods, while evenings should have an emphasis on frequent transit corridors. I think this would result in more people having bikes when and where they need them.

  4. It sounds like Bellevue is over-regulating. I live in Bothell and while sometimes the bikes are placed inappropriately (or knocked over presumably by anti-bike residents), I’ve also seen them showing up in neighborhoods but moving around day-to-day, showing that people are using them to get places and not being abandoned. I think a policy that caps how many bikes can be in non-central locations and requires a percentage to be in approved hubs, as Bellevue is planning, would reduce this organic evolution of the service.

    1. That was my take on this too. Is every pedal bike that gets ridden into Bellevue from an adjacent city going to be out of compliance? What if somebody decides to start riding bikeshare regularly between home and work. Will the company’s staff have to keep moving the bike every single night?

      While e-bikes are great for hills, there are still a great deal of flat trips that don’t need them. Will the added cost drive away users?

      Geofenced areas is another interesting one. I don’t have a problem with preventing bikes from being parked in the middle of hiking trails, which do not allow bikes. But along paved pathways in the middle of Bellevue downtown park feels a bit over the top. GPS is also not 100% accurate, so it’s important that people who park next to, but not in, such an area, not get penalized.

    2. I’m very much pro-bike and pro-bike share, but if there’s a bike share obnoxiously and illegally parked on a sidewalk or multi-use path, I’ll give it a little hip check so that it tips out of the way.

      1. They don’t roll when they’re locked, and they’re quite heavy. I can’t speak for Reality, but if I were a) annoyed by the placement of the bikes and b) a bit smaller, I might be tempted to take the same approach.

      2. @Dave: I encounter a few bikes every day parked in such a way that they are blocking the through route. If I stopped to move every bike, it would take a non-zero chunk of time out of my day. I’m not so accommodating to a for profit company allowing their customers to abuse a pretty liberal policy on where bikes can be parked.

  5. Another thing is that there’s a provision in the rules saying every bike not moved within 7 days must be moved to an activity center.

    Sounds reasonable enough, except that the tendency of bikes to depends greatly on the weather, and during the 7 days following a bad snowstorm, just about every bike in the system will be unmoved. I’m not sure the city thought this one through.

    1. Well, since this is regulatory rather than criminal in nature, I should think that abnormal conditions would allow a bikeshare company to petition the city for temporary relief (and likely have it granted). However, the tendency in winter would be for bikes to collect in “activity centers”, and conversely be more scattered in the summer months.

  6. It appears as though the strategy here is to provide an option for non-residential ends of trips — like when someone arrives to work via transit. Obviously, someone who bicycles regularly will have their own bicycle and it will almost always be kept at home. The zones seem to be consistent with the current land uses in Bellevue.

    As Bellevue transit mobility will change to light rail in several areas in 2023, I expect a few changes.

    – I could see demand from South Bellevue to Factoria and Eastgate as a service area.

    – I could see demand from the Spring District to cover the BelRed and Overlake concentrations.

    – I could see that Wilburton and Downtown to be focused on the rail stations there. Many of those destinations will be walkable.

    With this in mind, I see a general need to think about a more centralized strategy at a select number of stations — for personal bike storage as well as bicycle rental program management. I see a need to shift from long corridors (focused on avid bicyclists and recreational use) to short trips connecting to light rail. Bike-sharing is a nice market niche but a more comprehensive approach will eventually be needed. Of course, by then the marketplace for bike-sharing should refine itself for a viable long-term profitable business — if that’s possible.

  7. Limiting it to an all electric bike fleet will be an interesting experiment, and I like the idea of designating space for “bike parking boxes”.

    However, the re balancing rules seem a bit overdone. It looks like if you live in easy biking distance from one of the activity centers or a frequent transit stop, most of the bikes would get moved to the activity center over night and good luck getting one within a short walk in the morning. Much easier to move a bike a shorter distance.

    I would make it a rule that the re balancing must be done by proper employees (part time is OK) not gig economy “contractors.”

    Factoria is one of the activity centers, but it seems incredibly hostile to actually ride a bike around there! Hopefully Bellevue intends to do more than just draw lines on a map and call it a bicycle activity center.

  8. In a few short years we’ve moved from, “Are e-bikes good, or even bikes?”, through, “Sure, e-bikes are fine,” and now to, thanks to Bellevue, “Bikes without motors are bad.” This is not a good development. It’s almost enough to make me hope their bike-share efforts fail under the weight of this overregulation.

    I’m actually less worried about limiting bikes outside of “activity centers”. The “neighborhoods” outside of “activity centers” are pretty low-density; I have to imagine a pretty good share of Bellevue’s population, and a lot of trips people would actually want to make by bike, are within them. If concentrating bikes in places like Factoria, Eastgate, and Crossroads means the city is going to work on bike infrastructure in these places… that doesn’t sound too bad!

    1. I agree about limits to activity centers.

      Based on the availability maps in the bikeshare apps, bike density falls off dramatically outside of commercial areas and residential areas <8000 people/mile. Basically all Bellevue residential neighborhoods are less dense than that, so under a free-floating plan the shared bikes would naturally be clustered in the "activity centers" the City identified. A few lonely bikes would be stranded in residential areas, and the City's plan requires that operators return most of them to activity centers overnight.

      Overall, I like these requirements and if any bikeshare operators bite and sign up for Bellevue, then Seattle should move its final permit requirements in this direction.

    2. This gets to the fundamental issue of whether you treat a bikeshare bike parked in a residential neighborhood as an asset to local residents who want to go for a ride, or an eyesore to be removed.

      If you believe it’s the former, there is no reason to require the bikeshare company to move them. If a bike sits there for a month and doesn’t move, that’s the company’s loss. And, as long as the bikeshare companies are willing to pay for the equivalent of coverage oriented bus routes, I say, so be it.

      The actual regulations, on the other hand, look more tailored to appeasing the NIMBY crowd who sees a parked bike as an eyesore, yet a parked car is somehow okay.

      I’m hoping that if the service becomes more popular and people start complaining that their neighborhoods have no bikes in the morning, that these rules might ease a bit.

      1. Yeah, I agree — the regulations are not going to do any good, as the bike-share companies have every incentive they need to put bikes where they’re needed. They just won’t do much harm. It’s like this in Seattle — OK, so this past weekend I ran down the farthest-out loop in Laurelhurst and this one house had about a dozen bikes parked in a neat row in front of its enormous hedge (what would one do behind such a hedge?), but most of the bikes get put where they’re going to be used.

        Within the activity centers… getting the bikes organized in good places seems reasonable. Bellevue isn’t exactly working with an abundance of public pedestrian/bike space. Seattle could have done worse getting out in front of this, but could have done better, too.

  9. From the map, it appears as though South Kirkland P&R is just barely within the city limits of Bellevue. It definitely has frequent transit service, but there really should be a hub there, being so close to so many regional trails.

    Same with Yarrow Point freeway station (which is basically the only point in the city of Clyde Hill where stocking bikeshare bikes makes sense).

      1. Even better. Now, they can have both pedal bikes and power bikes, so long as the pedal bikes stay on the north side of the Bellevue boundary line.

  10. The current pricing of bike share in Seattle is $1 per half hour for conventional bikes and $4 for ebikes. So is this just Bellevue elitism, where they don’t want any cheap bike rides, even in the relatively flat downtown?

    1. I was thinking the same thing. This does have the feel of elitism, and, since this restriction is Bellevue-only, every pedal bike ridden across the city limit will be in violation. This creates an unnecessary burden on the companies’ staff to continuously relocate such bikes to adjacent cities.

      Furthermore, LimeBike’s $30/month subscription offer specifically excludes e-bikes, so anybody who wants to use bikeshare in Bellevue would have no choice except the pay-as-you-go model. This is fine for occasional users, but $2-3 each way, for a round trip between home and work adds up very fast.

    2. I think it’s a bit of that and a bit of… a lot of people seeing a bike with a motor as something they might use, unlike a bike without a motor. It’s totally awesome that e-bikes allow more people to see themselves as people that might ride bikes places! But here it’s led all the way to the idea that pedal power is obsolete and to be shoved aside, again, in favor of motorized vehicles.

      As usual, people love to rationalize their prejudices. In this case they rationalized it in terms of accessibility. I’m not a fan of that for obvious reasons. Of course similar things can be seen in almost any planning or policy document, it seems to be human nature.

      One big question for me is what the actual cost structure and financial sustainability impacts will be. It’s far from proven that the dollar-per-ride price point will work in US cities… to say nothing of US suburbs (even unusual suburbs like Bellevue). At this point I think they’re still burning through investor cash. And I really don’t know whether $4 for an e-bike ride is closer to sustainable than $1 for a conventional ride… or whether that depends on usage. It’s plausible that the electric motor allows them to charge enough to profit… or, on the other hand, that the added cost of driving around all day recharging bikes means they largely lose the efficiency of the “sharing” aspect (where, as usage increases, a greater share of riders leave bikes in places others will use them and rebalancing costs scale sub-linearly).

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