Well, it was worth a shot.
The Feds did not pick Seattle’s TIGER grant proposal for funding the Northgate bike/walk bridge and a “massive” Pronto Cycle Share expansion, SDOT confirmed today.
The news comes one day after Senator Patty Murray announced a $15 million TIGER grant for Tacoma LINK and $10 million to construct a new ferry terminal in Mukilteo. The Seattle grant proposal was conspicuously missing from Murray’s announcement.
The Seattle proposal requested $25 million in Federal funds to help fill the $15 million funding gap in the Northgate bike/walk bridge project and to improve connectivity to transit by investing $10 million in a dramatically expanded bike share system. The city would match this with $5 million of its own, while Pronto’s private operator Motivate would pitch in $3 million.
Since the application, the state passed a transportation funding package that includes $10 million for the Northgate bridge project. UPDATE: The Move Seattle Levy also includes funding for the Northgate bridge, so with the TIGER grant out it’s that much more important to pass Seattle’s Prop 1.
But the city was still hoping at least for partial grant funding to help expand Pronto’s reach. Today, only 14 percent of Seattle residents live within an easy walk of a station. Under the expansion plan, 62 percent of residents would live within reach.
With the TIGER grant out of the picture for at least a year, the city still intends to move forward with an expansion. Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed 2016 budget includes $5 million for expanding Pronto. If that funding is approved by the City Council, the path forward really hinges on whether the city focuses on expanding the station area or on electric bike technology.
“Do we want to have a larger expansion with non-electric bikes, or a smaller expansion with electric bikes?” said SDOT Director Scott Kubly during a recent conversation about the city’s bike share plans.
But the Pronto funding is not a sure thing. Outgoing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Chair of the Transportation Committee, got in touch recently to test the waters for moving that money to fund Bike Master Plan projects instead of Pronto (there’s no official proposal yet). The Seattle Times Editorial Board made a similar argument recently.
Right now, Pronto’s service area is small (see the yellow area in the map above). It lacks stations in areas with high bike demand (like Fremont) and areas with lower income residents who have poor access to express transit service. The system does not serve many major express bus stops, and the soon-to-open UW and Capitol Hill light rail Stations are incredible opportunities to become central hubs of the bike share system.
Pronto’s existing system feels more like a pilot project than a fully-functional transportation system. And that’s OK. This is phase 1. We expected this. There is demand for an expanded system (as you can see from all the #ProntosGoneWild parked outside Fremont Brewing or on Alki), and that’s a sign of success. But we need to expand the system to keep up with the users, and that requires investment.
Do we grow slowly as the original business model suggested? Or do we revise the plan and expand more boldly with more of a focus on access for everyone? Or do we experiment with e-bike technology to expand the usefulness of a smaller system? Do we revise the pay structure to better integrate the bikes with transit? These are all good questions.
But leaving it as it is risks the system stalling out. And that’s not good for anyone.