In late breaking news Friday, Mayor Ed Murray announced that he has decided to end bikeshare in Seattle. The City had been working toward a temporary shutdown of Pronto in late March until a new system operated by Bewegen could be relaunched. The new bikeshare system was intended to be begin later this summer with all bikes designed with an electric-assist feature to more easily navigate Seattle’s hilly terrain. The number of bikes would have grown from 500 to 1,200 and station numbers doubling to 100 serving new districts and neighborhoods across North, Central, and South Seattle.

Proposed initial service proposal by Bewegen. (City of Seattle)

The city’s bikeshare system had long been plagued by low ridership numbers, in part due to Seattle’s geography, lack of bike and station density, and the discontinuous bike network. Last year, some members on the Seattle City Council had expressed concern about a last-minute push to purchase the Pronto bikeshare network after it was revealed that the non-profit was facing bankruptcy. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Tim Burgess had advocated for terminating the bikeshare entirely. The City Council ultimately purchased Pronto’s assets to save it and placed a proviso on expansion of the bikeshare system requiring that at least five Downtown bike routes be implemented first. A few months before, the City had been pushing to expand bikeshare city-wide, a priority that the Mayor himself championed.

In tandem with terminating bikeshare in Seattle, the Mayor announced that money pegged for the relaunched bikeshare system will be reallocated to other projects, including extension of bike lanes on Fourth Avenue in Downtown, speeding up the Center City bike network process for east-west connections, accelerating 19 Safe Routes-to-School projects, and adding curb ramps at key locations in Pioneer Square for accessibility. A total of $3 million is planned to be budgeted for these projects, but it’s not clear how that money will be moved given the City Council’s approved budget.

In a press statement, the Mayor said, “This shift in funding priorities allows us to make critical bicycle and pedestrian improvements–especially for students walking and biking to school. While I remain optimistic about the future of bike share in Seattle, today we are focusing on a set of existing projects that will help build a safe, world-class bicycle and pedestrian network.”

On the heels of the Mayor’s announcement, some City Councilmembers and safe streets advocates were already lining up to support the decision, including Councilmember Herbold and Blake Trask, Senior Policy Director of Cascade Bicycle Club. “This was absolutely the right call,” Councilmember Herbold said. “With limited public dollars, these resources are better used to develop safe routes to schools for our students. Now is not the time for public investment in a bike share system.” Meanwhile, Trask highlighted the benefit of putting money toward the Downtown bike network: “Cascade Bicycle Club applauds the Mayor for accelerating the downtown bicycle network and connecting key neighborhoods to where people live, work, play, and shop.”

In light of the Mayor’s decision, it’s not clear what future bikeshare has in Seattle now.

Is Bikeshare In Seattle Losing Its Constituency?

Seattle Bikeshare Expansion Could Go Electric

Bike Share Deserves Public Investment

City Council Votes Today On Buying Pronto Bike Share

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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David Dahl

I’m sad to see Pronto go, but even more upset to see this misdirection about planning bike routes downtown.

“money pegged for the relaunched bikeshare system will be reallocated to other projects, including extension of bike lanes on Fourth Avenue in Downtown, speeding up the Center City bike network process for east-west connections”

The money for these downtown bike lane improvements was already approved through Move Seattle, and the planning for them was already done through the Bike Master Plan that was approved by City Council. These much-needed improvements were then delayed because of the mess the Washington State Convention Center is making in downtown Seattle, and then got redirected into the Center City Mobility Plan. The City needs to stop planning these already-planned improvements and actually build them!

tbatts666

No mention of the helmet law here. Which is the obvious reason the bikeshare failed.

Seattle needs helmet freedom now.

Benjamin Cline

As someone who bikes a lot, I’m glad this happened. It seems like wasted money, especially considering the terrain and lack of complete bike infrastructure.

As I understand it, tourists and casual users make up the majority of the revenue brought in by these systems and Seattle just doesn’t have the number of tourist-y attractions in bikable regions to get people to want to use a system like this. That’s why it works in DC and not NYC, for example. DC has a lot of tourist friendly things with flat land and reasonable (short) distances. NYC (and Seattle) don’t.

Doug T

Bike share is actually very popular in NYC. Their system carries a similar amount as our light rail system carries, topping out near 70,000 trips per day this past year. That’s more than 10 million trips per year, which leads the US. http://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/xXpEp/18/

To me, to put it bluntly, it seems like bike share struggles in Seattle not just because of the rain, hills, and helmet law excuses we often hear but because our bicycling community would rather cannibalize what little money it can from the bike share program rather than fight for additional bicycle infrastructure as a unified front with bike share advocates. We let ourselves be divided and we were conquered.

A thriving bike share program would help us lobby for bike infrastructure but instead of long term vision we see rank opportunism to get our hands on a measly $3 million at Pronto’s expense. Didn’t we just pass a $930 million levy to broaden the pot for multimodal transportation upgrades?

Pablo96

Finally, someone wrote some good news about Pronto!