Capital Bike Share, also operated by Motivate, offers a model for Seattle bike share, with 3000 bikes and x stations serving Washington, D.C. region including Arlington, VA, Alexandria, VA, and Montgomery County, MD.

The City of Seattle 2016 Proposed Budget allocates significant funding to support the expansion of the city’s bike share stations and fleet, serving a much greater geographic area, if approved. Of the $5.1 billion Proposed Budget, $5 million is dedicated to fund the expansion of Pronto bike share with the potential to leverage an additional $10 million through federal grants.

Operated by Motivate, Pronto launched in Seattle in October 2014 and presently has 500 bikes with 7 speeds across 54 stations located in Seattle’s densest areas including Downtown, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union and the University District. The City’s former budget recognized the value of extending the coverage of bike share, allocating $50,000 of General Fund money for a feasibility study for expansion into the southeast of Seattle. Although the former budget also included plans to expand bike share into the Central District in 2015, this has been delayed. The proposed budget, coupled with the federal grant application, supports additional stations and bikes, composed of an electric bicycle fleet for the entire system, establishing a strong commitment to elevating the complementary role of bike share to other modes as part of Seattle’s transportation network.

Transportation is listed as a priority of the Proposed Budget, with population and job growth having presented immense challenges for commuters. With the pending expiration of the Bridging the Gap transportation levy causing some concern for Seattle Department of Transportation funding streams, the expansion of bike share in the proposed budget is notable. The draft budget couples the bike share proposals with investments in a diversity of modes, this includes:

  • Enhancing transit services through implementation of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1;
  • Extending the Broadway Streetcar;
  • Improving South Lake Union to expand the RapidRide C and D lines; and
  • Additional pavement-to-parks projects.

The budget also provides funding for work currently under contract for the Elliott Bay Seawall Replacement and the Pike/Pine Renaissance Project. Software upgrades, additional operating hours for the traffic management center, enhancement to right of way management and enforcement processes, and the replacement of aging pay stations also feature in the proposed budget. The proposed budget is just one component of the funding required to realize the City’s intentions for bike share.

The $5 million for bike share expansion in the proposed budget is intended as a match for a potential $10 million Federal Transit Authority (FTA) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, for which the City recently submitted an application. The City of Seattle’s TIGER grant application requests a total of $25 million to be matched by $29.5 million in local and private investments in order to complete the Northgate Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge$10 million of this is dedicated to support the city-wide electric bike share scheme. In the application, the City indicates it will provide $5.125 million for bike purchase, and will contribute $75,000 with the potential $10 million TIGER funding for system expansion. The Proposed Capital Improvement Program 2016-2021 outlines that the level of expansion of Pronto will depend on final funding, particularly if the TIGER grant is awarded.

The City’s grant application builds a convincing case for the anticipated community benefits for the substantial investment in Pronto. The funding would result in a 400% increase of bike share, creating 250 stations with 2,500 bikes. The additional stations will serve a larger geographic area, as shown on the map below, expanding from 5 square miles to 42 square miles and increasing the reach from 14% of the population to 62%. Stations, incorporating bike docks, information kiosks, solar systems and helmet-dispensing units, will be located along major transit corridors, tourist and high pedestrian activity areas. While stations will densify throughout core service areas, they will also be located to serve areas with a higher percentage of vulnerable populations and neighborhoods in need of better connections and access to transit, jobs and educational facilities.

The City considers bike share access and availability, as important for addressing barriers to the uptake of active transportation. Bike share offers users a convenient way to cycle, offering the freedom to move throughout parts of the city in a more direct way than other modes presently provide, creating the likelihood of reduced travel times for some users. These factors may encourage greater uptake of cycling with the flow on benefit of improved physical and mental health. Scott Kubly, director of Seattle Department of Transportation indicated that the City is currently liaising with the board of Pronto for the city to take over management of the contract. The City is currently working with Motivate to develop a contract to minimize exposure for any losses, with Kubly stating that a financial analysis by SDOT suggests that the model is sustainable, but that a larger network is warranted for bike share’s success   

City of Seattle Northgate Non-Motorized Access to Transit and Education
A map included in City of Seattle’s TIGER grant application showing the bikeshare service area, before and after expansion, in addition to Seattle’s most vulnerable populations. Most vulnerable population areas exhibit a disproportionately high percentage of people of color, aged under 18 or over 65, with disabilities, without daily access to a car, and earnings below 200% of poverty level (defined by the U.S. Census Bureau). Source: City of Seattle (2015) Northgate Non-Motorized Access to Transit and Education

The fleet will be upgraded to include electric bikes intended to assist riders manage Seattle’s topography and facilitate longer distance rides. Electric bikes are hoped to make riding comfortable for a greater diversity of people with respect to age and abilities by reducing the challenges presented by the city’s many steep hills. This is likely to encourage people who may be deterred by Seattle’s topography to incorporate sustainable active transport and exercise on their journey. It is anticipated that electric bikes will increase catchment areas, as they decrease the average bike share ride by 4.5 minutes. According to the application, Seattle intends to launch the electric bikes in 2016 and will be the only electric bike sharing system of a significant scale (over 100 bikes) in the United States. 

Data from bike share systems in other cities suggests users save in the realm of $750 – $850 on annual transportation costs. The grant proposal includes an initiative to extend these savings for individuals with a household income of 200% or less than the Federal poverty level to ensure more equitable uptake by city residents by providing discounts in a similar manner to the Orca Lift program. In addition, the bike share expansion is anticipated to generate 35 to 40 new permanent full time equivalent jobs to assist with operation and maintenance.

In the Northgate area, bike share is anticipated to enhance the number of jobs within a 10 minute ride of frequent transit as well as improve access for students at North Seattle College to transit. In this area, the expansion will increase the catchment of people with access to bike share from 88,678 to 392,625 and increase the catchment to frequent transit by 342%. In the city’s southeast, bikeshare is expected to provide access to educational and employment opportunities in historically under-represented communities by improving first and last mile connections. With Washington State dedicating $5.5 million to bike share development for Seattle’s neighboring cities of Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, and Issaquah in the 2015 budget released mid-year, there is immense potential for these localized benefits to be broadened through the development of a Puget Sound regional system.

Capital Bike Share DC
Capital Bike Share, also operated by Motivate, is cited by SDOT director Scott Kubly as a model for Seattle bike share, with 3000 bikes and 350 stations serving the Washington, D.C. region extending to surrounding jurisdictions of Arlington, VA, Alexandria, VA, and Montgomery County, MD. Photo by Sarah Oberklaid.

The inclusion of funding for increasing the capacity and coverage of bike share is extremely promising. If approved in the final budget, the investment in bike share will assist in addressing gaps in the existing transit network, and create an extensive active transport system for visitors and residents to move around the entirety of the city.

Council’s budget review process includes public hearings at 5.30pm on October 6 and October 20 at City Hall, with Council to seek adoption of the final budget on November 23. Budget documents are available to the public at the CBO offices, at the Seattle Public Library, and online at 

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Article Author

Sarah is an urban planner and artist from Melbourne Australia, currently living in Seattle. She has contributed to diverse long-term projects addressing housing, transportation, community facilities, heritage and public spaces with extensive consultation with communities and other stakeholders. Her articles for The Urbanist focus on her passion for the design of sustainable, inviting and inclusive places, drawing on her research and experiences around the world.