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Taking Seattle’s Pronto-replacing e-bike for a test ride

Councilmember Rob Johnson takes the Bewegen bike for a test ride
Councilmember Rob Johnson takes the Bewegen bike for a test ride

The Bewegen e-assist bike share bike is heavy, boxy and clumsy, but you can climb James Street from 2nd to 5th without even trying.

I was hoping my recent test ride of the Bewegen e-assist bike would help me make up my mind about the philosophical differences between the top two bike share expansion proposals, but I’m basically still in the same spot. Sure, an e-assist bike can climb James St, but is that better than having more stations in more places? Maybe.

The bikes did turn heads. After easily cruising up James, I was walking the bike along the sidewalk on 5th in front of City Hall and a woman stopped me and asked how I got up the hill so easily. She thought I was some kind of endurance athlete.

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“It has a motor,” I told her, and her eyes lit up. She bikes to work sometimes, but these last couple blocks of hill really make it hard to get to her office. The idea of being able to check out a public bike that could cruise up the hill without a huge effort clearly had her interested.

If the city chooses to go forward with the Bewegen proposal (an action that would also require City Council approval), they will be betting that there are many more people like her who aren’t interested in biking up the hill to work on a Pronto or even their own personal bikes. And the fact that I spontaneously ran into someone exactly in line with their intended market during my short trip around the block was a good sign, even if it’s not a scientific survey.

Compared to a Pronto bike, the Bewegen is very heavy and clumsy. It’s hard to turn around in place, and the steering feels a bit twitchy. Your posture when riding is so laid back that Pronto feels like a racing bike by comparison. But that may not be a bad change.

The bikes we were testing has the power boosted essentially as high as it goes, and it was probably too high for regular use. After about a half pedal, the bike would really take off like you got a big push or kick from behind. They can adjust the power levels so it gives a big boost when needed (a big hill) but less when you don’t (cruising slowly on a flat or in a crowded area). One tricky spot I noticed is when you are starting from a stop on a steep uphill. It can be hard to get going enough that the motor kicks in (there is no shifter, so you can’t just throw it into the lowest gear to get going). But there may also be a technical solution to this.

The city plans on doing lots of real-world testing to get the power balance right. This will be a vital detail. The worst thing would be for someone to be surprised by the boost and run into someone in front of them.

There’s also the pesky issue that e-assist bikes are not technically legal on Washington State sidewalks. The problem is that the law does not currently differentiate between high-power e-bikes that are more like scooters and the e-assist bikes that simply give riders a boost while pedaling. It will take state action to change this law, so the city is working on ways for the system to work within current laws.

E-assist or more stations?

This remains the $5 million question. So to recap, let’s compare the pros for the top two expansion proposals:

E-assist (100 stations) – Bewegen (SDOT’s choice)

  • Can go up steep hills without issue. Much of the central service area is very hilly.
  • Could appeal to new users who aren’t interested in biking up any hills.
  • Could make bike share more useful for more trips, increasing the number of rides in addition to the number of users.
  • Could help with system rebalancing. Today, some people take Pronto downhill, then walk or bus uphill. Crews drive bikes back up the hill in a van.
  • Could help people with mobility challenges use the system. There are many reasons someone may not be physically able to bike up a hill, but maybe they will be able to ride an e-assist bike.

Pedal bikes (160 stations) – Motivate (2nd place bid)

  • More stations means more homes and destinations within the service area will be short walk from a bike.
  • More stations also means the service area would be wider, maybe even reaching Ballard and providing better coverage in Rainier Valley.
  • Because the bikes are tracked by GPS and don’t need to be charged, they can be parked anywhere within the service area. This makes the system much more flexible (Bewegen also has the technology to do this, but the need to charge makes it more important that bikes return to a dock)
  • Stations are easier and cheaper to place and move since they don’t need to be plugged into the power grid.
  • The bikes are lighter and more nimble.

And, of course, there’s a very different option: Kill Pronto and don’t expand it. I believe this would be a mistake and that bike share can thrive in Seattle. But this option is going to have proponents, too. There’s already a proposal in the Council budget, which appears to have the support of at least Councilmembers Herbold and Burgess, to kill Pronto at the end of 2016.

The city wants to experiment by becoming the first major US city with an all e-assist bike share system. It could go very well and set a new standard. Or it could not. That’s what makes it an experiment. In general, I support the city being bold and trying new ideas. What do you think?

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58 responses to “Taking Seattle’s Pronto-replacing e-bike for a test ride”

  1. Andres Salomon

    Can we not equip Motivate bikes with e-assist? It would be nice to have a large number of stations, and then try out e-assist. If it works, start getting more e-assist bikes (and stations).

    I’m insanely jealous of Portland’s BikeTown system. The location of stations and lack of stations has been my biggest issue with Pronto, and Motivate could fix that.

  2. Eli

    I’m curious how bike advocates can help support killing Seattle’s ill-conceived Pronto experiment — and putting the money and SDOT staff time into actually delivering the safe streets needed to make bike share relevant in Seattle in the first place.

    It’s not like Cascade is going to come out and help people organize.

  3. Glad you finally ran into the same kind of people that I talk with all the time – those who would love to ride e-bikes in Seattle. I’ve been saying for quite some time that a bike share system based on e-bikes would be a great one for a hilly city like Seattle. In my opinion, having e-bikes would be more appealing to the general public than having more stations. Think about tourists. They would use Pronto as long as they have stations nearby major tourist attractions, but they’d sure think twice if they have to pedal up James St to get to Cap Hill.

  4. Tim F

    The decision is difficult in that you’ll have significantly more possible 15-minute trips with an e-bike, and you can probably get somewhat farther in that 15 minutes. So a 100-dock electric network can almost certainly cover more area with similar performance vs. non-electric. It’s probably not 50% more, but I’m guessing it could get as many rides as a 120- to 130- bike network and probably cover about that amount of area as well.

    The decision is also somewhat easy in that the bike share network should keep expanding and both of these options represent a significant expansion. Even 100 non-electric docks should be enough to get some actual momentum. Also a few years down the road, we’ll likely be expanding it again (as bike share networks tend to do – see Minneapolis, DC, NYC, the Bay Area, Chicago, etc. etc.) As that happens we’ll still be running into more hills in the coverage area. While a properly large and dense network would work anyway, it will be that much more useful with e-bikes. So we’d likely switch to electric equipment at some point no matter what.

    I wouldn’t have argued for an all-electric network vs. expanding quickly with the existing equipment, but similarly I wouldn’t push for a slightly larger network (in 2018 if it’s a protracted Seattle process) vs. expanding quickly in 2017.

  5. What about maintenance and reliability? How long can these bikes go without a charge? Also, how long will the batteries last? Battery technology has improved but if these bikes are used regularly and the batteries are sometimes completely drained then they will need to be replaced. And who is on the hook for that expense, the city or the operator?

  6. Peri Hartman

    My vote: go for Motivate: more stations.

    We have plenty of reasonably flat areas.
    Ballard-Freemont-South Lake Union.
    Top of Cap Hill, First Hill.
    Top of Beacon Hill.
    MLK Way, Rainier Valley.
    Sanpoint-U Village-Montlake.
    And more…

    Let’s pick some of these areas and pepper them with stations. If it doesn’t work, nothing will.

  7. JLB

    Why not add the new stations to the existing Pronto stations? I see no reason Pronto can not be kept. The stations and bikes are paid for and have existing coverage. The ebikes can be put in different strategic locations such as light rail stations and top of gravity wells. I would put them at libraries, shopping centers, and grocery stores. Put baskets on them that can hold two grocery bags.

    1. I like that idea. The new e-bike stations could certainly complement the existing Pronto stations instead of replacing them.

  8. Steven

    Both of these proposal will not create demand for bike share. We have incredibly poor bike infrastructure and the chances of getting injured while cycling to work in this city is just too scary. Right now, we don’t need more bike stations or more e-bikes, we need protected bike lanes that are along routes that everyday commuters actually use. I live in Capitol Hill and work in Pioneer Square and all of the protected bike lanes are extremely out of the way and don’t even provide complete service to downtown. I’d rather invest the any money we have in bike share to go to protected bike lanes instead.

    1. RossB

      Bike share isn’t for biking to work. Your other points are decent ones (we could use more bike infrastructure) but are we really that far behind other cities (that have very successful systems)?

      When I look at Pronto, I see a mess. I see way too few stations. All the science on the subject says that this is the key. Not bike lanes, not lack of hills, but station density. Here is a typical example: Let’s say I work at Seattle Central (Community) College, but need to visit a colleague at the Seattle U Loyola building. This is about a half mile walk on Broadway. With bike share, I could save five minutes each way (easy). At least I could, if the stations were convenient. They aren’t. There are no stations on Broadway south of Denny. If I really want to use Pronto, then I probably save myself a block of walking, while dealing with locking and unlocking the bike (and that is assuming there are bikes in the first station, and room in the second). It just isn’t worth it. This is precisely the type of trip that bike share is designed to serve — short and urban. This isn’t a very contrived example, I actually picked a spot that is very close to the one station in the Seattle U area. But why is there only one station in one of the most urban areas in the city? It is really kind of crazy how few there are around there — south of Pine and east of the I-5 there is only one station. That’s nuts.

      Nor is it much better elsewhere. Let’s say you work at Children’s and want to go to the QFC in the U-Village. This time there is a station close to where you work and a bike path the whole way. But the other station is at the other end of the mall. Again, it just isn’t worth it.

      These are the areas that actually have coverage. A bike trip from Swedish Cherry Hill to Group Health would make a lot of sense with bike share. Taking a bus takes forever because we don’t have a decent transit grid in that area. But there aren’t any bikes south of the one I mentioned in Seattle U. So not only are there too few, but overall coverage is terrible. Adjacent, relatively flat and easy bike routes lack coverage. These aren’t the hinterlands. These are areas that literally have the word “Central” in them (Central Area or Central District, depending on preference).

      Lack of bike lanes may be a problem, but it isn’t what is holding back bike share. Lack of stations is.

      1. Kirk

        Bike share can be for biking to work. I know at least a dozen people that live downtown and use bike share to get to work. They don’t have to maintain a bike or worry about it getting stolen.

        I would be highly surprised if the state repeals the law banning motor vehicles from using the sidewalks.

      2. Steven

        If I had to jump off my high horse on infrastructure, I would say that the failure of ride share it due a whole host of factors, of which the main ones are network density and having safer streets. My main concern with just going the density route is that you need to encourage a segment of riders who have never experienced riding in traffic before. I agree with you on the data around having high density increases ridership, but survey after survey and poll after poll has found again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle. So ultimately, we’ll need both infrastructure and density if we want ride share to have any success in this city.

      3. Kirk,

        Hope this will stop you from calling e-bikes “motor vehicles.”

        In conformance with legislation adopted by the U.S. Congress defining this category of electric-power bicycle (15 U.S.C. 2085(b)), CPSC rules stipulate that low speed electric bicycles[53] (to include two- and three-wheel vehicles) are exempt from classification as motor vehicles providing they have fully operable pedals, an electric motor of less than 750W (1 hp), and a top motor-powered speed of less than 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) when operated by a rider weighing 170 pounds.

        One could continue to argue that *certain* electric bikes are classified as motor vehicles, but I’d assume 99.9 percent of the e-bikes we see in Seattle are not.

      4. gl

        RCW 46.04.071

        “Bicycle” means every device propelled solely by human power upon which a person or persons may ride, having two tandem wheels either of which is sixteen inches or more in diameter, or three wheels, any one of which is more than twenty inches in diameter.

        RCW 46.04.320

        “Motor vehicle” means every vehicle that is self-propelled and every vehicle that is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails. “Motor vehicle” includes a neighborhood electric vehicle as defined in RCW 46.04.357. “Motor vehicle” includes a medium-speed electric vehicle as defined in RCW 46.04.295. An electric personal assistive mobility device is not considered a motor vehicle. A power wheelchair is not considered a motor vehicle. A golf cart is not considered a motor vehicle, except for the purposes of chapter 46.61 RCW.

        Certainly a throttle-controlled “bike” is a motor vehicle under Washington law as it is self-propelled regardless of speed. An e-assist “bike” may or may or not be a motor vehicle but it is certainly not a “bicycle” as it is not propelled “solely” by human power.

        As a regular bike rider who appreciates the dangers of riding in traffic or on trails, whether posed by me to other users or posed to me by drivers and other cyclists and trail users, I seriously question the wisdom of placing less-experienced riders on bikes which readily reach 20 mph. If I ride 15 or 20 mph it is because I’ve spent enough time on my bike to be able to ride that fast,and have correspondingly learned the necessary bike handling skills, and of course, the wisdom of whether that is a safe speed based on the conditions. Someone who is only capable of riding at 10 mph will never have had the opportunity to learn what is necessary to now ride at 16, or 18 or 21 mph. Its like taking a novice skier and sticking her on a black-diamond run, sure she knows how to ski but not under those conditions.

      5. gl,

        Throttle-controlled “bikes” are to be considered “scooters,” therefore motor vehicles. The regulations I quoted clearly state that an e-bike must have “fully operational pedals” to not be classified as one. I agree the governed top speed should be lower than 20 MPH. In the Netherlands, e-bikes must be limited to 25 km/h (15.5 MPH) to be allowed on bike paths. But that’s a different argument.

      6. gl

        Mopeds have fully operational pedals, for that matter I can stick fully-operational pedals on a motorcycle but its still a motor vehicle. The regulation you cite has no bearing on how Washington defines “motor vehicle” or “bicycle.” The question is whether it is self-propelled, if the answer is yes Washington says its is a motor vehicle for purposes of its “Rules of the Road.” And as a such it cannot be operated in either a bike lane or on a multi-use path.

      7. gl,

        You said yourself that “An e-assist ‘bike’ may or may or not be a motor vehicle but it is certainly not a ‘bicycle’ as it is not propelled “solely” by human power.” I’m not interested in arguing whether or not e-bikes are “bicycles” in a purist fashion. I just think it’s silly to consider the e-bikes with pedals and limited power assist “motor vehicles” as some people insist here. If Washington State or Seattle consider all types of e-bikes “motor vehicles,” I’d like to see the clear reference to it in their vehicle code.

        I’d also like to know why we aren’t required to have a motorcycle license to operate a pedalled e-bike if it _is_ classified as a motor vehicle.

      8. gl

        Whether its “silly” or not is not really the point. State law is what it is. Lobby to change it, urge the attorney general to issue opinion on the question, or wait for it to be resolved in a court case involving an e-bike in a bike lane. But insisting the law doesn’t really mean what it says merely because a federal agency promulgated a regulation that has no effect on state traffic codes which suggests these aren’t motor vehicles is not particularly useful.

        My view that are not “bicycles” is not of my own making or based on some insistence on the purity of cycling. Again the statute defines what is or is not a bicycle. The statute, not me, says that to be a bicycle the vehicle must be propelled “solely” by human power.

        On the question of why you’re not required to have vehicle license I’d keep quiet, because I think the statutes may suggest you are required to license the vehicle.

        Now, I’d like to assume the city’s attorneys have or will address these questions before turning these things loose on city streets and the Burke. But I would have assumed their lawyers would have bothered read a bit of law prior to enacting an ordinance allowing city workers to look through folks’ garbage and to fine folks for not composting/recycling. There’s actually a fairly prominent Washington Supreme Court case from the 80s that said they couldn’t do that. So my faith in their legal department is shaky at best.

    2. gl,

      Which state law even suggests electric-assist bikes are in fact motor vehicles? On the contrary, this one seems to say otherwise.


      (2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a moped may not be operated on a bicycle path or trail, bikeway, equestrian trail, or hiking or recreational trail.
      (5) Subsections (1), (2), and (4) of this section do not apply to electric-assisted bicycles. Electric-assisted bicycles and motorized foot scooters may have access to highways, other than limited access highways, of the state to the same extent as bicycles.

      This means outside the Seattle city limit, e-bikes are in fact allowed on bike paths.

      Also, WA Department of Licensing doesn’t say anything about requiring a license to operate an e-bike. It does have a section about mopeds, which makes me assume there’s no license requirement for e-bikes.

      1. bidab

        Not to mention RCW 46.04.169, which defines “Electric-assisted bicycle” as a bicycle, with language consistent with the federal standard.

        That e-bikes are banned from sidewalks and conventional bikes are not is the sole difference between them, as far as Washington state law is concerned.

      2. Josh

        “This means outside the Seattle city limit, e-bikes are in fact allowed on bike paths.”

        But not in King County, which prohibits them on all the regional trails it manages, such as BGT, Interurban, Green River, etc.

        KCC 7.12.295 (E) No motorized vehicles shall be allowed on King County trails. For the purposes of this section “motorized vehicles” means any form of transportation powered by an internal combustion or electric motor. This includes but is not limited to automobiles, golf carts, mopeds, motor scooters, and motorcycles. This section shall not apply to wheelchairs powered by electric motors, or authorized maintenance, police or emergency vehicles.

        Many smaller cities likewise prohibit any motorized use of trails and paths.

        There’s a good summary of electric-assist bike laws from the State Patrol’s Vehicle Classification office at

        Unfortunately, I don’t know of anyone who maintains a state-wide list of which cities prohibit “motorized vehicles” from their trails and paths, so you’d have to check city by city to see where they’re legal on trails. Only the sidewalk ban is uniform state-wide.

      3. Josh

        Note that state law specifically allows local jurisdictions to prohibit electric-assist bikes on paths and trails:

        “Subject to subsection (6) of this section, electric-assisted bicycles and motorized foot scooters may be operated on a multipurpose trail or bicycle lane, but local jurisdictions may restrict or otherwise limit the access of electric-assisted bicycles and motorized foot scooters, and state agencies may regulate the use of motorized foot scooters on facilities and properties under their jurisdiction and control.”

        Finer points: “motorized vehicle” and “motor vehicle” aren’t the same thing, legally speaking. An e-assist bike is “motorized” but is not regulated as a “motor vehicle.” The State Patrol summarizes various vehicle classifications at
        if you want to learn the finer points of a moped vs. motor-driven cycle vs. “motor vehicles”.

      4. bidab

        Whoa, Josh, does that mean that e-bikes are allowed on the UW-maintained portions of the BGT, but not anywhere else on the trail?

      5. Josh

        One further complication for Seattle’s attorneys to address: are electric-assist bikes allowed on cycletracks such as the new Westlake path?

        State law is clear that e-bikes are allowed in bike *lanes*, but a bike lane is legally defined as part of a street.

        State law is also clear that e-bikes are prohibited on multi-use paths and trails where local authorities prohibit motorized vehicles.

        But the Westlake cycletrack is not multi-use, it’s a vehicular facility open only to one class of vehicles, bicycles. Pedestrians are supposed to use the adjacent sidewalk. The Westlake path is closed to “motor vehicles” (cars and trucks) but is it open to “motorized vehicles” (e-assist bicycles)?

        SDOT signage on Broadway calls that cycletrack a “path” rather than a lane of the street. On the other hand, the Broadway path is marked as being open to motor vehicles in many locations (sharrows on the path, explicitly indicating a shared facility.)

        I think it’s safe to say SDOT and the city attorney could really use a holistic review and consistent rules….

      6. Kirk

        An ebike is a vehicle with a motor. Really, motorized bicycles have been around a long, long time. I would love to have one of the old Puch or Honda bikes with fully operational pedals and a gasoline engine. The fact that the motive power is now electric doesn’t change anything.
        As far as limited speeds for ebikes, dealers and users routinely bypass those with throttles. A guy I work with last week bought an “e-assist” bike. The dealer promptly upsold my friend to a bypass throttle and the bike goes 30 MPH.
        Ebikes are great for a lot of users, but they should be kept to bike lanes and streets, as the laws currently are. I rode the Westlake trail this morning. It is so skinny in places. I would sure hate to have to share that with someone going 30 MPH, or even 20 MPH on an ebike. Ebikes travelling in opposite directions and routinely passing most other trail users will have closing speeds of 40 – 60 (even up to 80) MPH. And those bikes are heavy. I would hate to have a collision with one of those.

      7. Josh

        King County says e-bikes are prohibited on its parts of the BGT.

        Seattle doesn’t appear to have a consistent position on its portions of the BGT — signage and code would indicate e-bikes are prohibited based on state law, but SPD doesn’t enforce that, SDOT appears to support e-bike use on trails, and at least one City Council member rides an e-bike on BGT. So, it may be illegal, but there’s zero risk of enforcement if you ride responsibly. (But if you do get in a collision, regardless of whose fault it is, the other party’s lawyers might try to push liability onto an e-bike operator who was breaking the law just by being there.)

        I don’t honestly know what UW says about the BGT. Many UW rules are in the WAC, might be worth searching there for trail use regulations?

      8. Josh

        One further thought on the UW-maintained parts of BGT — UW appears not to know, or not to care, what state law allows in the way of signage for trail crossings, so I don’t know if they know or care about e-bike laws, either.

        (UW has used “yield here for pedestrians within crosswalk” signs, MUTCD R1-6, for streets crossing the BGT, but those signs are not legal in Washington. Washington is a “stop” state, not a “yield” state, so the legal sign would be MUTCD R1-6a, “STOP here for pedestrians within crosswalk”.

        They also ignore MUTCD and WSDOT safety standards for bollards at road crossings.

        Those may seem nitpicky, but if they can’t make their designs legal, I wouldn’t expect them to have any better grasp on the finer points of the law for users, either.)

  9. Jean

    Spend those bike share $$ millions on more and safer infrastructure for present thousands of local riders. Tourists can rent privately. E bikes might put many unskilled riders on powerful bikes. Dangerous. And the maintenance – ye gads!!!!

    1. RossB

      Bike share isn’t for tourists. It is for people who want to go a fairly short distance where public transit isn’t worth it, but walking is a pain. It is for people who take public transit to work, or live in an urban area and want to get to a nearby urban area. Seattle U. to Seattle Central (Community) College; Swedish First Hill to Swedish Cherry Hill; Swedish Cherry Hill to Group Health; Outlander Brewery to Fremont Brewery; RealNetworks to Uwajimiya. These are all places that make sense for bike share. They are very similar to places around the country where bike share works really well. But none of those trips make sense with our bike share system, because unlike other cities, we don’t have enough stations.

      1. Steven

        I could be mistaken but only one of those routes actually has a protected bike lane. Seattle U. to Seattle Central via Broadway, which also has Pronto Stations at both locations. I’m not sure where Outlander is, but Fremont Brewery is near the Burke Gilman so that could be one too. Even if you have stations in all of the areas you mentioned, you still need people to feel confident that they can ride a bike safely on those streets. Riding during wet weather or during peak traffic hours still feels incredibly dangerous. The people who are willing to ride bicycles in this city are the ones who enjoy the thrill of weaving through car traffic or are die-hard bike advocates. If you want Ride Share to be successful you need to expand membership beyond these people and that requires an investment in infrastructure first.

      2. Andres Salomon

        Bike share works in plenty of places that lack infrastructure. TONS of US cities have bike share at this point, and bike infrastructure throughout the US is still terrible. People just ride on the sidewalk.

        Obviously that’s less-than-ideal, but successful bike share doesn’t rely on safe bike infrastructure. Safe bike infrastructure will greatly increase the number of bike share users, though.

        Station density = requirement
        Safe bike infrastructure = enhancement*

        Bike share is meant to be a faster alternative to walking, not a long-distance 20mph commute option.

        * It’s an enhancement for bike share. For non-bike share riders (ie, regular bike riders), it’s a critical life-saving requirement. I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t build safe bike infrastructure.

  10. scott t

    can you blend both? mor emotor suff downtown and more lightweight regular bikes around the university, flatter areas etc?

    1. Tim F

      People ride the bikes from station to station, so it might add complexity to re-balancing to try to keep a mix of bikes distributed. You might just end with e-bikes “floating” to the top of Capitol Hill and the other bikes “sinking” downhill.

      Baltimore just launched a mixed electric/not system with Bewegen, so it can be done.
      Seattle should probably keep an eye on that system. It will also be about 50 stations, so it almost certainly won’t have the ridership that Portland’s larger system has.

      1. Andres Salomon

        One of the nice features of Portland’s system is that they have the ability to encourage people to move bikes for them through a credit system. They generally use it to incentivize moving bikes from random racks to proper docks, but we could use it to get people to move bikes uphill or something.

      2. Jean

        What’s the altitude variations of Baltimore?

  11. Steven Lorenza

    Please stop this shiny object insanity and just build protected bike lanes.

    1. Lisa Choi

      Or just focus on fixing the potholes on the current streets.

    2. EO


      Why are bike advocates behind this? They’re electric bikes! Motorized vehicles!
      This is equivalent to the streetcar-insanity of the bike world. Might look pretty, you think you’re urban, but it’s useless/deadly to the real cyclists in this city.

      1. No, they’re not motorized vehicles.

        In conformance with legislation adopted by the U.S. Congress defining this category of electric-power bicycle (15 U.S.C. 2085(b)), CPSC rules stipulate that low speed electric bicycles[53] (to include two- and three-wheel vehicles) are exempt from classification as motor vehicles providing they have fully operable pedals, an electric motor of less than 750W (1 hp), and a top motor-powered speed of less than 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) when operated by a rider weighing 170 pounds.

      2. Josh

        Note that the widely-cited Federal regulation applies to consumer product regulations, not vehicle codes.

        No Federal agency may regulate the manufacture and sale of e-assist bikes as motor vehicles, but states may continue to classify them however they like.

        For example, New York City prohibits the use of e-bikes on public property entirely, they’re not legal to *ride* on the street, in bike lanes, on sidewalks, or on paths. It’s legal to sell them, buy them, and own them, just not to ride them on city streets or paths.

  12. Jonathan Callahan

    From the comments, there seems to be disagreement about “who or what bikeshare is for”.

    Before the city decides anything I would like the Dept. of Transportation to come up with pretty precise answers to the following two questions:

    1) Who is the intended target audience for bikeshare?
    2) What problem is bikeshare trying to solve?

    If I ran the zoo I would pick:

    1) Who: 20-50 year old residents or visitors to designated urban villages with excellent casual biking infrastructure — low grade, low speed, low traffic (e.g. Ballard, Capitol Hill, Columbia City, Fremont, UW)
    2) What problem: 0.5-2.0 mile trips within the neighborhood especially including transit points

    I’m sure there will be a variety of opinions on the who and what but it behooves the city to clearly identify these before proceeding. No successful business makes decisions with identifying the who and what first.

    1. Jean

      Great questions 1. And 2. Can city answer honestly is the real question. We are a first class. It’s without bike share. Let tourists take our ferries which are unique transportation or rent privately. Do any cities even “break even” on this bike share financial outlay? Lots of more needed charitable ventures our city could do.

    2. stardent

      These are pertinent questions. If you are going to be bicycling here in the winter you need to have appropriate rain gear. If you are a casual short-distance (<2 miles, say) bicyclist chances are you either don't have rain gear or couldn't be bothered to carry it along. Any bike share program in Seattle is doomed to fail. It's a vanity project. Spend the money more usefully elsewhere.

  13. Lisa Choi

    Question on the e assist bikes. Are they to be considered bikes for streets or sidewalks?

    I can see the number of accidents happening for both.

    1. bidab

      State law considers them bicycles in every respect except that they can’t ride on sidewalks. I think the general public hasn’t figured out yet what to do with them. But if we had better implementation and enforcement of safe traffic speeds, e-bikes could probably just ride in general purpose lanes.

  14. bidab

    Why should the law differentiate between throttle-controlled e-bikes and pedal-assist e-bikes? Especially where sidewalk riding is concerned?

    If we actually had safe, ubiquitous bicycle infrastructure in Seattle, we’d prohibit all types of bicycles from sidewalks, electric or not, like most other cities have.

    1. Peri Hartman

      Here’s a reason. With pedal assist, you still have to pedal. With a throttle, you essentially have a scooter. I think the distinction makes sense. If you want to bike, then you need to have a bicycle and pedal during the normal circumstances.

      If you just want to use the bike facilities but don’t want to pedal, then I think that is unnecessarily reducing safety and increasing congestion for those who need to use the facilities. Why not let small scooters and motorcycles use the bike lanes if going 15mph or less? Why not let cars use the bike lanes as long as they are going 15mph or less? Where do you draw the line?

      And, where do you draw the line?

      1. bidab

        Sure, but Tom is talking about sidewalks, not bike lanes. Pedal assist bikes can be subject to lurching and sudden acceleration at low speed, depending on the quality of the sensor. So even if they’re truer to the concept of a conventional bicycle, I don’t see them being safe enough on a sidewalk to warrant an exemption from the statute.

        But then, wth is an e-bike user supposed to do going up Denny or over the Fremont or Montlake bridges, where the roadways are unsafe? We don’t have any winners until we slow car speeds and build bicycle infrastructure to serve transportational, rather than recreational, needs.

  15. ODB

    According to

    “An electronic display showed the bike reaching about 19 mph on flat ground without much effort at the pedals. Kyle Rowe, who is managing bike share for SDOT after the departure of Nicole Freedman, said the electric assist tops out at 20 mph.”

    Those speeds are pretty much incompatible with most of the new bike infrastructure SDOT is building these days, which prioritizes skinny protected facilities that are designed for low speeds and make it very hard to pass slower riders. What kind of riders does SDOT want to accommodate? Is it better to have this kind of bike mixing with cars or pedestrians? (As a relatively fast non-motorized bike commuter, I find the new style of infrastructure to be on a spectrum from frustrating to unusable/unsafe.)

  16. Brendan

    Well here’s some new information from the Seattle Times:

    “The bikes are tracked by GPS and have a lock that would allow them to be secured away from their docks, Rowe said.”

    “The bikes also have technology that would allow them to be unlocked by phone or anything with an RFID chip, like a fob or credit card.”

    “He said integrating ORCA commuter cards into the new system would be key to its success. That’s something Pronto’s leaders long sought but never achieved.

    So, you can park it anywhere, and it works with ORCA. I was pretty negative about the e-bikes, but I think with those two changes this could be a winner.

    If you can leave them anywhere, then I think station density matters a lot less. They could be used more like a cheaper car2go, where you look up the nearest bike on your phone.

    1. Andres Salomon

      “The bikes are tracked by GPS and have a lock that would allow them to be secured away from their docks, Rowe said.”
      “If you can leave them anywhere, then I think station density matters a lot less.”

      Hold on a second. I think Rowe is saying that you can *park* them anywhere, not that you can *dock* them anywhere. You can lock up the bike to run into the store, but you still have to find a dock to return it to when you’re done.

      At least, that’s how I’m reading it. I’d love to be wrong!

      1. I read like Andres did. It’s still a huge advantage that the Bewegen bike comes with a lock and can be parked away from the station. It will allow you to keep the bike while running some quick errands, which means the number of stations isn’t as significant a factor as when you return the bike to a station every time you leave it.

      2. Joyce

        I’d guess you’re right, i.e. park, not dock. Somehow the bike battery has to get recharged (connected to an electric source). Otherwise there’d be a bunch of bikes ‘anywhere’ with dead batteries. I’m guessing they have to be docked at the end of the trip so the can be recharged.

      3. Andres Salomon

        Alright, I actually talked w/ Rowe today to clear this up. The system HAS the capability for free-floating docking. You CAN dock them anywhere within a service zone.

        However, SDOT has not yet decided if they will enable that feature. There are some usability questions that need to be answered before they make that decision. They don’t want people to be confused by lack of stations, where to find a bike, why they got charged an extra $2 to park at a non-dock, or even how much to charge (Portland’s system charges $2, iirc).

  17. I’ve been a Pronto member from day one. I want the system expanded. It should ring Lake Union and extend to Ballard. Electric-assist bikes seem like a disaster waiting to happen…harder to ride, harder to maintain and more expensive. Stick with the regular bikes and expand, expand, expand.

  18. scott t

    I have ridden a 16 bosch equipped ebike. a power gonzo regular bike reider often goes to fast for congested bike lane the battery assist stops at 20 mph. speed limit the bike paths and deal out punishmenbt accordingly for negligence. I find that the e-assist realy only takes the edge off casual cycling. as for sidewalks, only aloow them on sidwalks where street travel (narrow bridges for instance) would be particularly unsafe and add additional sidewalk signage until proper bike structure has been built.

  19. Van Wolf

    As much as I like the idea, I must admit if given my druthers I’d rather have Trondheim Lifts throughout the city rather than e-bikes. Mostly because the lifts would work with the current Pronto bike-share, and literally everyone else’s bike, but also because, I feel, e-bikes still emphasize speed instead of ease, and frankly I’m heartily sick of the speed culture. The e-bikes are assistance for those who can afford it, but a lift would be something that people of all abilities and economic backgrounds can use. Just my two cents.

  20. […] also puts more pressure on SDOT and bid-winner Bewegen to get a strong bike share expansion plan together in time for a 2017 launch if they hope to avoid too much downtime for existing system […]

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