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Mayor Murray cancels bike share expansion, will shut down Pronto March 31

IMG_6535Mayor Ed Murray has scrapped his bike share expansion plan, ending the city’s efforts to create a new public e-assist bike system to replace the doomed Pronto system set to shut down March 31.

This officially ends a frustrating era for bike sharing in Seattle, making the city one of very few in the world where a modern public bike system has failed.

Some of the $5 million currently allocated for bike share expansion will go to decommissioning the current Pronto system and in case the city needs to pay back any grant money. In the meantime, the city will try to sell the equipment, which still functions very well, to recoup costs.

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About $3 million of the funds will go to Safe Routes to School and other 2017 biking and walking projects in the downtown area, including bike lanes on 4th Ave, planning for bike lanes on Pike and/or Pine, and accessible curb cuts in Pioneer Square.

Mayor Murray scrapped the bike share expansion plan before it ever went in front the City Council for approval. In an election year, perhaps the Mayor didn’t want this hanging over his campaign. But now he has a failure on his hands, which may not be much better.

“While I remain optimistic about the future of bike share in Seattle,” Murray said in a press release (see in full below), “today we are focusing on a set of existing projects that will help build a safe, world-class bicycle and pedestrian network.”

Rather than rehash how we got here (read up in this previous post), I’ll just reiterate that it didn’t need to fail like this. The idea of a system of public bikes that anyone can use to expand access to express transit service and fill gaps in the existing transportation system is still sound. Increasing people’s access to a working bicycle (one of the major barriers to cycling) is still a very worthy goal.

Pronto was a small start to create such a system that was never expanded to the size needed to succeed. The city’s efforts to buy and expand it were fumbled and lost. By the time expansion talks started in earnest, the public narrative about bike share was that it was a failure. Without an engaged constituency fighting for the system (people had already shown up to City Council twice to save it), it fizzled out politically.

While Mayor Murray was out front and visible when the system launched in October 2014, his leadership was nowhere to be seen when times got tough and hard decisions needed to be made. As the city’s executive for the launch and death of this system, the buck stops with him.

It is also poor timing for Seattle to abandon bike share right as Vancouver and Portland are launching their systems. Where once Seattle was the only large Pacific Northwest city with bike share, it will now be the only one without it.

It’s hard to write this post since it’s a major failure of something this blog has advocated in favor of heavily for many years. I believed in Pronto, and now I fear the well may be poisoned for bike share. I hope I’m wrong.

In the meantime, prepare to go back to praying for an open bike rack space on that express bus you’re waiting for. And stop looking forward to the day you can just hop on a public bike to head over to Fremont or the Central District.

We should all give a shout out to the staff on the ground at Pronto, who have done a great job rebalancing bikes and maintaining the equipment these past few years. Thank you.

So get out there and ride Pronto while you still can. Thank a Pronto worker if you see one. And if you know anyone looking to buy hundreds of used bicycle helmets, put them in touch with City Hall.

Below is the full press release, which frames the shutdown as a win for biking and walking funds (as though Seattle can’t have safe streets and public bikes to ride on them at the same time). The release is complete with cheers from Cascade Bicycle Club and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways:

Today, Mayor Ed Murray announced over $3 million in funding for Safe Routes to School, as well as other bicycle and pedestrian improvements throughout the city. These projects will grow Seattle’s bicycle and pedestrian network as we continue to lay the foundation for a multimodal transportation system that reflects our growth and our values. The funding for these new projects is derived from funding previously allocated to the 2017 re-launch of the city’s bike share program. It will instead be invested in safety improvement projects and expanding the city’s bicycle and pedestrian network. Pronto, the city’s current bike share service will end March 31.

“This shift in funding priorities allows us to make critical bicycle and pedestrian improvements—especially for students walking and biking to school,” said Mayor Murray. “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.”

The funding will go to the following projects:

Adding pedestrian safety improvements, including traffic calming and crosswalk improvements at 19 schools through the Safe Routes to School Program.
Completing a missing link of the 4th Avenue bicycle lane and extension to Vine Street.
Accelerating design and outreach for the east/west connections in the Center City bicycle network.
Improving accessibility in Pioneer Square by adding curb ramps at key locations.

These projects are scheduled to begin in 2017.

“Cascade Bicycle Club applauds the Mayor for accelerating the downtown bicycle network and connecting key neighborhoods to where people live, work, play, and shop,” said Blake Trask, Senior Policy Director, Cascade Bicycle Club. “These new safety improvements around targeted schools will amplify the bike and walk education that Cascade provides in every Seattle Public elementary school.”

“I’m thrilled Mayor Murray has renewed his commitment to safer routes to school! Any investment in safe routes is a good investment in our children’s health and in Seattle’s future,” said Cathy Tuttle, Executive Director, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. “Mayor Murray’s targeted spending on a downtown bicycle network is also a bold statement that Seattle values safe streets for all people, whether they choose to get around by walking, riding a bike, or in a vehicle. Great choices for a healthy Seattle, Mr. Mayor!”

UPDATE: Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who has opposed bike share, took a victory lap in a press release of her own:

“This was absolutely the right call. 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.

“I’m glad to see these funds are proposed toward implementing the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans, and School Safety projects, in line with my proposal last year to re-direct $4 million in funding away from expansion of the Pronto system toward these existing needs. I regularly hear from constituents about school crossing safety, most recently regarding Genesee Hill Elementary.

“During last year’s budget cycle, I sponsored a budget action the Council adopted to remove $900,000 in funding for operation of the Pronto system in 2017 and 2018, to preserve funding for these existing needs.”

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97 responses to “Mayor Murray cancels bike share expansion, will shut down Pronto March 31”

  1. William

    At least our Mayor can lay claim to doing one sensible thing. Bravo!

  2. Josh

    Is the Mayor simply recognizing that the Council would not have approved the Pronto expansion in the current climate? If he saw the writing on Council chamber walls and knew Pronto was going to die, is Cascade correct to cheer the Mayor repurposing the funds before Council allocated them elsewhere?

    You can’t pretend this one decision kills Pronto — it may be the coup de grace, but Pronto was already mortally wounded by the history of mistakes, misleading reports to Council, and of course the helmet law, plus the legal difficulties of an e-bike fleet that would be illegal on bridge sidewalks and nonmotorized facilities.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Bingo. I was wondering the same thing.

      1. Tim F

        I agree there may have been at least one more hitch that would have fed into the ongoing Pronto malaise narrative. The planned size and budget didn’t leave much room for error. Maybe it was helmets, tuning the electric drive properly, sponsorship, e-bike on trails laws, or a schedule slip. Seattle has tried to do all things with this system. It was to be the best system, newest technology, most equity, lots of neighborhoods, high ridership, low investment, first helmet system and as a result it met our expectations on none of them. That’s not to say there’s any fundamental obstacle to bike share working in Seattle. Just if we want to keep the helmets, it will have lower ridership and cost more. Or if we want equity, we’ll need more stations or have lower ridership. If ridership at low cost is the goal, some other things have to give. If not relaunching in 2017 is what’s needed to have a large well-funded system by say 2020, maybe that’s what has to give.

    2. Wells

      Maybe AV tech an onboard computer could keep speeds low where pedestrians and road obstacles and parked cars everywhere, sidestreet traffic, changing lanes, maybe the electric motor could decelerate for safety. Handlebars always. Bicycling wouldn’t be bicycling without steering.

      The streetcar ‘connector’ should curbside 1st Ave stops where bus stops double their utility. The Left-lane Median stations idea sprang from a mind that some people question, or rather don’t get questions answered. Parking Garage suburbs everywhere, all cars out on the roads, fighting for space.
      I feel sorry for Seattle and I did my best to inform.
      Knowitall so-called progressives staring at I-phones all day.

    3. If Seattle is serious about making its bike share program a success, they should consider changing the laws to allow low-powered e-bikes where regular bicycles are allowed. Enact a regulation that limits the top speed of such e-bikes to, say, 25 km/h. They should also repeal the mandatory helmet law. Having to take a helmet out from a bin, opening the plastic container, adjusting the straps and finally putting it on – that’s a major hassle, especially if you simply need a short and quick ride.

      1. Josh

        That change would require action from the Legislature, not just the City. State law bans e-bikes on sidewalks state-wide, and on any path/trail closed to motorized vehicles.

  3. Mark h

    Career politicians only care about reelection. Always.

  4. Merlin

    Trump would have outlawed it anyway.

  5. Jeff Dubrule

    So, how much scratch are we talking about? Last I saw was $300k/yr, which seems like peanuts. Is that it?

  6. Damon

    Maybe the lesson learned from this (true or not) will be that bike share is incompatible with Seattle’s helmet laws. Maybe this failure will drum up some political will to get those laws changed next time a bike share plan comes around.

    1. Alex

      “will be that bike share is incompatible with Seattle’s helmet laws. ”

      And hills let’s not pretend that wasn’t a huge factor …

      I’m not even to get into the people running it…

      1. Tm

        Alex I’m curious about what you have to say about the people who run pronto. Do you know any of them? Have you ever talked to anyone with any knowledge about running a bike share?

    2. Hills wouldn’t be an issue if Pronto had employed e-bikes, as it should have done from the start.

    3. RossB

      Or maybe it was because we completely ignored the available science and implemented a system without enough coverage and without sufficient station density. Nah, that couldn’t be it — that would make us like every other city. We are a special snowflake, so it must be something else.

      1. Pronto has a pretty good number of stations downtown and in Capitol Hill. The major showstoppers are hills.

      2. Virchow

        Agreed. It is not dead due to the never-enforced helmet law. It is dead because the bike share was set up in a small area absent bike friendly road infrastructure or pleasant rides. It was poorly designed. The hill problem is real as well for the majority of would-be riders who don’t want bike riding to be their identity trope. Lastly it was on thin political ice and was caught fudging. Honestly at this point it’s probably politically better for the bike community not to have this albatross arounds it’s neck anymore. In 5-10 years we can come back with a fully integrated plan.

      3. RossB

        @daihard — While hills are a problem, it really isn’t that hilly on greater Capitol Hill/Central Area. From the Capitol Hill Station over to Seattle U, for example, there are no major hills. But there is only one station south of Pine and east of the freeway. One.

        NACTO recommends stations be no more than a thousand feet apart. It was rare in Pronto for them to be that close together. So a very tiny, fractured service area along with station density way below what they recommend means we got what the experts would expect: low ridership.

  7. Patty Lyman

    I for one will really miss pronto. I use it as part of a multi modal system to get around Seattle. For example, recently I took the Baimbridge island ferry to Seattle, grabbed the Pronto bike on First and Marion, biked up to Capitol Hill for an appointment at Group Health, and then grabbed another pronto bike and biked down to Broadway, Where I caught the light rail to the university. I then took pronto to university bookstore and bought some computer equipment. I then took pronto bike back to the University light rail station and got off at Pioneer Sq. All of this was faster than driving a car.

    1. Alex

      Well for the money we spent per rider we could have just bought you nice a bike…

      1. asdf2

        It’s not as simple as just buying a bike. The purpose of bike share is to allow you to hop on a bike, whenever you’re in the service area, regardless of how you got there. It creates flexibility, in that you can choose how you’re going to make each trip segment individually based on the real-time schedule, weather, etc., without needing to lug a bike around everywhere you go, just to have that option available.

        At the same time, the high cost of the membership is sadly, not something that can be ignored. The root of the problem is that the price is simply too high for occasional users. Over the lifetime of the system, I spent almost as much in membership fees as what it would have cost to summon an Uber for every Pronto trip I ended up taking.

    2. Patty Lyman

      Pronto allowed me not to worry about my bike being stolen in downtown Seattle.
      I see that bike thefts are up in Seattle. Also, I can almost never take my bike on light rail because it is too crowded. Having Pronto on each end allowed me to get to places quickly. I probably won’t use light rail up to the University now as much since I won’t have a bike to use to go the the book store or University Village.

      I thank the Pronto team for trying to make it work.

      1. Alkibkr

        Maybe one could get a junker bike and keep it locked at the UW Link Station to use when needed. Does anyone check to see if a bike has overstayed it’s welcome there? I had been waiting a long time for UW Link station to open and then using bike share to attend concerts at Meany Hall.

      2. Eli

        You may already know you can typically buy a very reasonable used folding bike for less than 2 years Pronto membership cost on Craigslist.

        I take mine on light rail all the time and have never had issues personally.

      3. asdf2

        I have a folding bike, but, it still takes up a lot of space, even when folded, and is somewhat of a nuisance to fold and unfold. I’ll use it for long distance trips on Amtrak, but it’s not ideal for a quick hop to downtown.

  8. Eli

    Good riddance. I’m sorry that the city bungled a good idea so badly, but it admittedly isn’t too much of a surprise these days.

    Personally, I do hope the well is poisoned for as long as it takes for useful infrastructure to be built, so we don’t waste more money on another preventable fiasco.

    My guess is, though, even in 5 years, I’ll need to just buy a second home in PDX or VAC to enjoy biking around my own city.

    1. RossB

      So you admit that the city bungled the whole thing, but you hope the well is poisoned? How does that make any sense?

      People ride bike share in cities with way less in the way of bike infrastructure. They do so because the bike share system was implemented the right way — with lots of stations. Even within the areas that have good bike paths, this was done poorly. For example, Children’s (Hospital) has recently managed to get very high transit numbers for their employees. Imagine if someone wanted to head on over to U-Village at lunch time. It is a very easy and safe ride — perfect for bike share. But there is only one station, and it is on the far end of the mall. By the time the rider got there, biking really didn’t save much time. So the person who has some errands they can satisfy at the mall won’t ride bike share — they will simply drive in that day.

      That is a failure, and typical of the system. Here is the thing — everyone benefits when people ride bike share. It is no different than any other form of transit. You take cars off the road. Bike share also makes it safer to bike. There should be dozens and dozens of people cruising around between First and Capitol Hill (especially since we have a subway station in one, but not the other). But that hasn’t happened, because Pronto has so few bike stations in the area. It is just easier to walk.

      Of course we need better bike infrastructure, but failing to support a bike share system (that gets a lot of people to ride bikes) is not a good thing.

      1. Pablo96

        Sorry RossB, this is where you dead wrong: Pronto was always a political “Cart before the Horse (or in Seattle’s case: Jackass)” and there are far, far more important bike/ped projects related to walking and biking safety that need to be addressed before pissing taxpayer money away on underutilized toys. This city needs to get cars off streets and expand bike and pedestrian infrastructure, but more importantly, we need voters to stop picking the pretty snowflake for their vote when in fact, we need people in office who are pragmatic, recognize that financially, we have limited resources due to the ever present demand to pacify $$$$ unions and their free health benefits. Therefore, with limited funds, is Pronto even practical or make sense? Hardly.

      2. RossB

        Bike share isn’t expensive. It works in many, many cities. Holy cow, we are spending billions and billions to send trains to likes of Ash Way and Fife, but we can’t afford 3 million for bike share? That is ridiculous. Bike share takes cars off the road. Of course it does. How often have you heard “I like to take transit, but I need to [do something with my car] today”. Well that is what bike share is for! Take the bus in the morning, ride the bike share to the store/dentist/barber/restaurant at noon.

        Hell, for many, it is simply part of their regular commute. Take our train — which has way too few stops — and then take the bike. Look how many places are just right for a train and a bike, just from the one Capitol Hill station: Seattle U, Group Health, Swedish First Hill or Swedish Cherry Hill. In the case of the last one, you would have to take two buses, or walk over a mile just to get there. People don’t do that — they just drive.

        Oh, but I get it. I’m sure with all the extra cash we’ll get a lot of shiny new sharrows. Wonderful.

    2. Conrad

      If Bertha didn’t poison the well, what would?

  9. vg

    Well I hope everyone enjoys their kickbacks. Especially the guy who went to Vancouver, iirc.

  10. Curi

    Yeah, I’m in the good riddance camp. I think there’s no choice but to cut off the dead limb and move on.

  11. Pablo96

    Bravo! And don’t let the kick-stand kick you in the ass on the way out!

  12. ronp

    I am sad it did not work — thank you Pronto staff for your efforts. I am hopeful that if we keep fighting for more protected bike lanes, a Portland like bike share that is not so tied to stations will eventually succeed. There is a ton of progress on e-bike share technology too. Some interesting Chinese efforts as well – http://fortune.com/2017/01/04/mobike-series-d/ .

    More protected bike lanes, better and wider sidewalks, and integration with transit will really help. More bike friendly transit oriented housing will help too. I think it will work out eventually.

  13. asdf2

    Hopefully, the biking infrastructure will eventually get built. But, the Pronto money is only a drop in the bucket compared to what’s need to actually build out the bicycle master plan.

    In the process, by simply giving up, rather than attempting to improve the system or design a better one, we have politically poisoned the well so that, for the foreseeable future, any kind of bike share in Seattle is going to be politically untouchable. That’s because, over time, people will forget why Pronto failed, but remember that it failed, and assume that any future launch of a bike share system in Seattle, station-tied or not, electric or not, will fail too.

    1. RossB

      You are probably right, because we have such a provincial, “we are a special snowflake” attitude in this town. Just reading some of the comments here proves it — and this is the bike blog (wander over to The Seattle Times comments for more). These are the people that bother to read the article and comment, yet person after person has no idea of what bike share is for, or have
      their own theory as to why bike share failed here (we are too hilly/rainy/helmeted for this to work). Yeah, right — we are top 25 in bike *commuting* which is way more dependent on hills and rain than bike sharing is.

      We didn’t start bike share. Neither did Portland. It has been around for quite some time, and some of the systems work better than others. There is plenty of research on what works and what doesn’t (http://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/NACTO_Walkable-Station-Spacing-Is-Key-For-Bike-Share_Sc.pdf). Here is a key sentence from that report:

      Conversely, a low density system, with only a few stations within a walkable distance, will see lower ridership.

      Guess what type of system we built? Yep, low density. Really, if you plot us on a chart (density on one axis, and ridership on the other) we are pretty much where you would expect us to be.

  14. Jef Jaisun, Ravenna Springs Transportation Safety Chair

    I met with the Alta Bike Share rep before this system was launched. I made recommendations that would have enhanced the system and its usage. What I got back was an arrogant, we-know-what’s-best-for-you attitude and a plowing ahead with all the inherent drawbacks. Far as I’m concerned, this epic fail deserved exactly what it got, less $1.4 million, and conflict-of-interest Kubly should be sent packing.

  15. Pablo96

    Tim Burgess for Mayor!

    1. William

      Certainly fits the mold. Absolutely no executive experience.

  16. Breadbaker

    Yesterday, I took Link to UW Station, hopped on a Pronto to Children’s Hospital (straight shot up the Burke-Gilman), dropped it off, walked down the street a block and was sitting in my dentist’s chair 15 minutes early for my appointment. Next time, instead of just hopping on a bike, I’ll have to walk about two blocks from the station to wait for a bus that comes once every half hour and is sometimes half an hour late and instead of it taking me half an hour, I’ll probably have to figure on an hour and a half so I’m not late for my appointment.

    Pronto had its problems, but where there were actual journeys that it fit with, it fit with them well. The point of a bike share is to bridge gaps in the rest of the transportation system for those of us for whom taking a bike everywhere doesn’t work.

    1. Eli

      Except, of course, what percentage of trips in Seattle actually have this caliber of multi-modal integration?

      Had Seattle first first built out enough quality infrastructure to enable your story to be one that is the rule — rather than the exception that proves the rule — Pronto might still exist.

      I was looking at getting a membership (it was nearly free through work), and I couldn’t construct a single trip I could make on it. It would basically have to start and end on the 1 mile downtown protected bike lane, or on the Burke Gilman.

      Otherwise, Pronto is relegated to a tool for the 3% or so of “strong and confident” bikers — that’s not a viable market on which to build an affordable city-funded service.

    2. Pablo96

      Breadbaker, you’re the Pronto 1%, congrats!

    3. RossB

      @Eli — Except, of course, what percentage of trips in Seattle actually have this caliber of multi-modal integration?

      Plenty. The problem is that Pronto didn’t have enough stations. This isn’t my theory, by the way — this is what the research says: http://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/NACTO_Walkable-Station-Spacing-Is-Key-For-Bike-Share_Sc.pdf

      Do you really think that all the other cities have great bike infrastructure, but we don’t? A trip from Capitol to First Hill, for example, is pretty typical for a bike share system. You have a light rail line that serves one area but not the other. You have some bike paths, but you also just have a lot of people. This means that cars aren’t going that fast, and getting around on bike is a very reasonable thing to do. The hills aren’t bad between there, but there is some sloping. If you squint, it could be Montreal. But only a handful of people ride Pronto to First Hill because there is only one station. One! Holy cow, in the Seattle U campus there should be at least a dozen, but there is only one. There is nothing by Virginia Mason, Swedish (either campus) or Harborview. There is only one station east of I-5, and south of Pine. That is terrible — it is no wonder it failed.

      I’m glad that Breadbaker was able to take advantage of one of the few places where it actually worked, but in that exact neighborhood, it has failed. Take the bus to Children’s Hospital (lots of people do) and try to run an errand at the U-Village. Maybe pick up something for dinner. Sorry, forget about it. Despite being well within the service area, it just isn’t worth it. You might as well walk.

      It wasn’t our hills, lack of bike paths or silly helmet law that lead to lower ridership. It was just as the research would predict — it was our lack of stations.

      1. @Ross – Do you honestly think that with more Pronto stations downtown and in Capitol Hill, more people would ride up the hills in the current, heavy Pronto bike? The bike share in Kobe doesn’t have nearly as many stations as Pronto does in the core business area.

      2. d.p.

        Downtown, Belltown, and a small portion of Capitol Hill were about the only places where Pronto approached a useful station density. And even there, Pronto hewed toward the sparser end of best-practice standards. In a healthy, busy bike-share, it would not be uncommon to find some central stations either empty or full as users readily come and go. It is thus important that other docks be available an easy walk away.

        I cannot find an online map of Kobe’s system, but I would be very surprised if each of them were 8-10 minutes walk from the nearest alternative, which was the the case with Pronto even downtown. At this sparsity, bikeshare sacrifices its chief selling point: the spontaneity advantage. Its time advantage over walking, taking the bus, or calling a Lyft starts to dwindle.

        Downtown Pronto stations were also quite illogically sited: hard to spot, out-of-riding-direction from major intersections, destinations, or transit transfer points, askew from primary travel desire paths.

        Of course, the downtown/Belltown/West Capitol Hill density issue pales in comparison to the areas nomically within the Pronto coverage area, but with near-zero useful station coverage: the single isolate near Seattle U, the Key Arena dock representing all of Lower Queen Anne, the Eastlake and Children’s outposts. You can draw a gigantic circle in the middle of South Lake Union and find no Pronto docks within it.

        And as botched as Pronto was within the coverage area, the coverage area itself was too small, oblong, and arbitrary to be of much use to enough people, enough of the time. The long-term expansion plans weren’t much better.

        The answer to your question is that, yes, Pronto botched the application of coverage and density at all levels of magnification, and that broad usefulness can succeed if you stop thinking of the program as living or dying by its conquest of one heralded slope.

      3. Eli

        Every other city I’ve visited with successful bike share (NYC, Chicago, etc) built out a network of all ages bike infrastructure prior to building bike share.

        We had the hubris to believe we didn’t need to.

        I’m sure there’s lots of factors, but I think it’s pretty naive to rule out infrastructure.

        Dr. Jennifer Dill studied, in city after city in the US and Canada, the types of infrastructure people are willing to ride bikes on. In general, Seattle’s infrastructure could lead to a theoretical maximum of ~4-12% of the population even considering using riding a Pronto bike.

        Then, yeah, when you factor in hills, weak network coverage, etc – you have a transportation product designed for a handful of existing bike riders, who can’t collectively cover the operating costs.

        I do hope now SDOT can focus on their core job of delivering safe streets, and create the space for a future useful bike share system. Unfortunately their track record doesn’t leave me with much confidence there, either.

      4. Tim F

        The one time I used bike share in DC, I didn’t actually see a single protected bike lane. It was mostly standard bike lanes and relatively calm neighborhood streets. It worked for me because there were stations everywhere. As far as more stations on Cap Hill (Seattle), it would certainly drive more ridership within Cap Hill even if people don’t make the climb. Cap Hill (DC) has other barriers where I did not see a lot of bike share use. It’s not like every trip works great in successful bike share cities, just that relatively few make sense with low density and small networks.

        The great thing about a good bike share map in Seattle is if you fill out all the flat trips and ignore trips with a steep climb…the map basically looks the same. I’d make a similar argument for a transit-oriented bike share map. Put docks at all the Link and RapidRide stops and docks in the surrounding neighborhood destinations to support those. That map also looks pretty much the same as simply covering the whole city.

      5. d.p.

        Yeah, basically what Tim F said.

        The bikeshares in Montreal, DC, Boston and the like debuted successfully when there was significantly less fully-rendered all-ages infrastructure than there is today. If anything, the increased visibility of a critical mass of casual cyclists and the participatory civic identity that successful programs helped to reinforce have served to speed up the installation of protected infrastructure in those cities.

        But it would be inaccurate to suggest that infallible infrastructure networks are approaching completion in those successful bikeshare cities today. Said cities have benefited from methodically pursuing piecemeal improvements in service of long-term network aims; this is as it should be. If you wait until you’ve achieved full Copenhagen before you encourage the masses to get on bicycles, you’ll be waiting forever.

        Remember as well that bike-share works best when it mostly serves spontaneous, utilitarian trips of moderate length. Such trips will not (and should not) travel significantly out-of-direction in search of the highest-level bike infrastructure yet constructed. Most trips will intuit an easy route that balances directness and avoidance of very steep slopes, and involve a mix of bike lanes on major streets and low-stress travel along any non-segregated urban street where the geometry keeps auto speeds low. Really, any street other than a multi-lane auto sewer will do. The high-visibility, low-center-of-gravity nature of the bikeshare’s upright bikes are instrumental in making this palatable to — and perfectly safe for — even the most occasional bike riders.

        What worries me in these discussions is the prevalence of prescriptions and pronouncements that diverge even further from the established bikeshare ideal than even Pronto’s own botched implementation. Insisting that bikes should be available on a multi-hour recreational-excursion basis. Discounting the well-understood deterrent effect of the threat of punitive helmet-law enforcement. It needs to be understood that the plural of fixation is not data.

        I strongly suspect that Cascade’s troubling endorsement of dismantling Pronto stems from an ideologically-driven pursuit of a world in which all people bike everywhere by default, and that the point of bikeshare — relief from the burden of dragging around any sort of personal vehicle — thus eludes the organization entirely.

      6. RossB

        I strongly suspect that Cascade’s troubling endorsement of dismantling Pronto stems from an ideologically-driven pursuit of a world in which all people bike everywhere by default, and that the point of bikeshare — relief from the burden of dragging around any sort of personal vehicle — thus eludes the organization entirely.

        Good point. For me, personally, the problem isn’t bike infrastructure. I own two bikes, but don’t use them much. Without a doubt, if it was easier to get from Pinehurst to Bitter Lake, I would bike more. But not much more because I just don’t go over there much. I spend my time in Lake City and Fremont. I don’t think I’ll ever bike to either location, just because there are two many hills in the way. On the other hand, I would definitely use bike share in those areas. In the case of Lake City, I would continue to walk down the hill, then I would bike around the neighborhood. In the case of Fremont, instead of driving, I would take a bus to the U-District, and then ride from there to Fremont.

        That is what makes bike share work. It works with other modes of transport. But it only works well if you have a bunch of stations everywhere.

      7. Breadbaker

        RossB, my bike share experience in New York is instructive. I could bike cross-town (which any other mode than walking takes place at a speed less than walking) faster than any way to get anywhere. I could take the subway downtown from a place where the subway went pretty much straight and when my return route would have required multiple transfers (going to a different place than I’d started), I could bike uptown faster than any other mode of transportation. And there was a station pretty close to everywhere I wanted to go (with some exceptions in part because there were numerous stations downtown at evening rush hour with no bikes at all). I was there four days and used Citibikes about 20 times.

  17. Todd

    It’s about time. Every time my fellow bikers talk about how awesome this program is — I laugh. They should have canned it long ago.

  18. Kevin in Ballard

    RIP Pronto

  19. So what if a bike-share proposal comes around in another five years, the horizon of our bike network implementation plans? We still won’t have the network we need according to current plans, helmets or no, motors or no, great station placement and density or no. Seattle is a tough city for this with key transportation corridors stretched out between the hills and jammed with destinations, highways, transit routes, and bike routes. Building a bike network that has to be in such close proximity to the last hundred years of infrastructure for mass-motorization takes a lot of work: politics, planning, plotting, and physically building it all, and we’ve hardly started. With so many critical chokepoints every setback and compromise hurts. In a lot of cities you have routing choices; here, streets as close as Dearborn, King, Jackson, and Yesler can’t substitute for eachother (*). We have a decent ratio of bike-lane miles to arterial miles for an American city, and a decent cycling mode-share for an American city, but our terrain makes it harder to form those lane-miles into even a basic network, while also demanding a much better network than just a basic one to achieve a broad adoption of cycling (as opposed to the deep commitment of today’s riders). And without broad adoption there’s just no constituency for bike-share.

    1. RossB

      Sorry, I don’t buy into that theory. We may be a special snowflake, but until we build a proper system that actually follows the best practices of the industry, I don’t see why we should assume that bike share can’t work here.

      Pronto had very few stations and they were spread out. As a result, standard research would predict low ridership. I’m sure if you plotted our system on a graph (station density on one end, ridership on the other) we would not be an outlier.

      You are absolutely right — we do have a lot of challenging areas. That is why I don’t ride my bike as much as I used to. But that is much more likely to be a problem with bike commuting than it is bike share trips. Bike commuting typically covers miles and miles — bike share doesn’t.

      Just look at typical trip — arguably an ideal trip — for bike share, which is Capitol Hill to First Hill. Get off the train, and head south, on what is a fairly level plateau. You can ride on Broadway (cycle track) or cut over to side streets. These are not big, broad, fast, suburban arterials. Pedestrians outnumber drivers in the area, and the drivers know it. Biking in the area is not strange, and folks who are driving take care, and don’t drive like lunatics. So bike share should do really well here. Except there are no stations! There is only one station east of I-5 and south of Pine.

      If anything, our dysfunctional transit system should lead to very high bike share usage. With most subway systems, if you wanted to get from the UW to First Hill you would just take the train and walk a block or two. But because we chose to build a transit system with way too few stops, getting around to other areas requires something like bike share (or extreme patience). The entire greater Central Area (which I would call everything in Seattle with an “East” in the address) is well suited for bike share. In a few years there will be a light rail station at Judkins Park. From there you could just head north on 25th (a quiet street) and next thing you know, you are at Jackson or Yesler. It is not just train to bike, either, but bus to bike. Pretty soon a bus is going to move very quickly and frequently (every six minutes, all day long) on Madison. What if you want to get to 24th and Union or 24th and Cherry. You can catch a different bus, but wouldn’t it be really nice if you could just hop on a bike, instead of waiting.

      The same is true along the Burke Gilman. Biking within lower Fremont makes a lot of sense. Getting from one end of Fremont to the other just doesn’t work with transit, while it takes a long time to walk. But it also makes sense from a transit standpoint. The fastest way from the UW to Fremont is by bike (even a slow one). It is also remarkably safe (the Burke Gilman is great). This is a bit long for bike share, but given those advantages, it still makes sense. There are also places along the way that are growing (the southern end of Wallingford Avenue, for example). But not only does this make sense in its own right, but it makes sense for longer multi-modal trips. If I want to take a bus from my house in Pinehurst (just about midway between Lake City and Northgate) to Fremont, I start by heading towards the UW. Then I wait a very long time for the next bus (the 31/32). Again, this would be ideal for bike share. The same is true for a trip from Capitol Hill to Fremont. Head north, then ride a bike west. By extension, the same can be said for areas around there (the greater Central Area to Fremont).

      While those aren’t typical bike share type trips (something like Ballard to Fremont would be typical) they still work really well given our transit system.

      Sure, without a doubt there will be places where bike share won’t work as well as it should (because of a lack of infrastructure) but there are plenty of places where it would better than you would normally expect (along the Burke Gilman, for example). In general there are plenty of places where it would work well: Central Area, Ballard, Fremont, the UW — even Northgate and Lake City (I would ride it in all those places). For now, I would trust the research and focus on having adequate station density and coverage. Don’t build anything unless you can add enough stations. Do it right, or forget about it (hopefully we do it right).

      1. Central Area, Ballard, Fremont, UW, Northgate, and Lake City. Do bike-share systems made of small islands tend to succeed or fail?

        Considering the low population- and destination-density between these islands, it would be ridiculous to blanket Seattle from the Central District to Northgate with bike-share stations. The best practices of the industry have mostly been followed in places that suit them: big, contiguous, dense places. What works in one city is not guaranteed to work in another — otherwise VTA would have achieved Muni’s popularity in the office parks of San José.

        So forget Northgate and Lake City for a second. I’m not convinced the Burke-Gilman plan would achieve good per-bike-per-day usage, but it would have had a better chance than what was done, which everyone should have known was futile. Anyway, we didn’t have the funding to do anything more north of the canal, so forget all that. And if we took all those stations and put them in the core greater-downtown area, it still wouldn’t have been enough stations to get us into that best-practices range.

        Building a bike-share system that could plausibly work just in that area (the only big contiguously dense area we have) would have taken a bigger investment than we were willing to risk. A larger system would necessarily cover fewer people and destinations as a proportion of the outlay — but if we suggest a larger outlay, concentrated in that one little area, we have even more political problems (going north of the Ship Canal at all was, in a sense, a response to political problems, as it was necessary to secure the support of big north-of-the-canal institutions).

  20. Another failure for Ed Murray. Time for this guy to go. Pronto.

  21. […] Seattle to abandon bike share right as Vancouver and Portland are launching their systems,” the Seattle Bike Blog writes. “Where once Seattle was the only large Pacific Northwest city with bike share, it will now […]

  22. Dave F

    I’m furious at Mayor Murray. I rode pronto to and from work yesterday – I planned my daily commute around it, and even chose my apartment because it’s near a pronto station. As commenters have mentioned above, this will be cited as proof that “bike share can’t work in Seattle” even though the reality is that the city did a terrible job of implementing and supporting the program. Now to kill it without public input? A shame.

    This is a mayor who does not care, at all, about cyclists. He has built almost zero infrastructure in the last three years, except for a 2nd Ave bike lane that was planned by his predecessor. I’m voting no next time.

    *I also can’t believe CBC is releasing statements to applaud the end of bike share. That’s ridiculous!

    1. Conrad

      The 2nd are bike lane is usually closed by construction. The city is supposed to be spending money on bike and pedestrian improvements anyway- so it seems odd that CBC is applauding the move. I don’t understand either.

    2. William

      “Now to kill it without public input?” – Do you live in a bubble? Do you really think that public input would be anything other than a resounding no? The city’s incompetent handling of bike share has done more to harm the public perception of the need for cycling infrastructure, than anybody in the pro-car anti-liberal lobby could dream of. I am not a big fan of the CBC, but even they can see that.

  23. JBob

    Sorry to hear this. Bike share is a great concept, especially the idea that you can combine a transit leg with a walking leg with an Uber leg with a biking leg. Seems like a pretty common sense way of getting around a congested city when your day gets more complicated than a round trip to work and back. As far as Pronto, I have to say that the lack of locks and the inadequate-for-hills gearing and brakes were issues that kept me from using it more and that someone should have figured out and fixed a long time ago. The larger issue may well be a pronounced lack of vision and leadership in the Mayor’s office when it comes to actually implementing green and progressive transportation choices.

  24. Alkibkr

    A tragic failure in light of Seattle’s sub-standard public transportation system and routinely gridlocked streets. Lack of infrastructure? You could ride them on the the sidewalks, try that with Uber. The low gear was perfectly adequate for most hills. This experiment started with one third of the bare minimum coverage to be very successful, and station placement was hampered by constraints apparently, or the few stations we did have would have been placed in more popular destinations. Message to world: Seattle not bike-friendly.

  25. Alkibkr

    I bet if you put all 50 Pronto stations on UW Campus and the U district to include University Village Shopping Center it would be a rousing success. Let UW operate it.

    1. Dardanelles

      I wash just about to say this! +1
      or UW could partner with Children’s, which has shown an interest in getting employees to cycle, and use it as their last mile to light rail solution.

      1. William

        Since ridership has been particularly low in the U District, this sounds like a perfect plan. The UW will of course need to have money to run the system but I am sure that this can be obtained from a new student fee without too many complaints.

    2. Eli

      My guess is if you just put them around Amazon in SLU it would be a rousing success.

    3. I still believe Pronto would have been more successful in and around the downtown area if they’d had e-bikes and no mandatory helmet law. I personally believe there are enough stations in that particular area.

  26. sb

    I too will miss Kozmo. Oh, wait.

  27. Frank

    For me, how I evaluate this is all about context.

    If it came from a mayor who had been a staunch supporter of cycling, someone who had kept his or her promises to build out cycling infrastructure, I’d evaluate it differently. If such a mayor said, “This is a step back, but by doing so, we can buy ourselves time to build a true network of protected cycle lanes, change our unscientific helmet law, properly evaluate e-assist bikes, and relaunch a sharing service down the road that we can all believe in,” then I’d be for it.

    Instead, it comes from a mayor who has repeatedly shown he just doesn’t care about bikes. I mean, at all. Remember when he tearfully stood up at Sher Kung’s memorial and said, “I am so sorry we did not act faster and sooner”? 28 months later, what do we have? Move Seattle passed with a strong cycling component, and with strong support from cyclists, and then just months later, SDOT slashed projects, the planned bike lanes and greenways for 2016 by 35 percent, and then failing to deliver half of even that reduced number by the end of the year. Murray’s response? That we should await the Center City Mobility Plan, due imminently. And now? It’s the ONE Center City Plan, and what was supposed to be done in one year is now projected to take five—and SDOT and Murray are positioning that as a win.

    So Mayor Murray has zero credibility in my book when it comes to cycling. And I think it’s time for the cyclists of Seattle to start talking about supporting someone else. Seriously. Because Murray has given us no reason to believe he will ever support bikes, and every reason to believe he won’t.

    1. William

      It is not that the Mayor doesn’t care, it is just that he doesn’t have the executive skills that are necessary to be an effective big city mayor.

    2. I still wonder why he appointed someone as competent as Nicole Freedman to manage the bike share program and let her go in a year without letting her do any effective work.

    3. RossB

      Meanwhile, he — and mostly just he — is still pushing the idiotic streetcar.

      1. The idea of trams itself isn’t idiotic. There are a lot of cities where they operate successfully. If the tram system isn’t working in Seattle, it must be the application/implementation.

  28. RDPence

    My observation was that most Pronto riders were young affluent white males. I never noticed any real effort to expand beyond that limited demographic. Pronto won’t be missed.

  29. JD

    Get rid of the helmet law before next attempt.

    That alone will make the biggest difference.

  30. […] Poor location. Comments at Seattle Times and Seattle Bike Blog note the poor location of some of the 50 bike-share docking stations. Also, some cite that 50 […]

  31. Dave

    I don’t live in Seattle but find myself there on a bike a couple of times a year. Never mind the whining about helmet laws, there are other reasons to consider your lovely city a dumb place to have done bike share, especially downtown–traffic volume, hills, streetcar tracks,
    rotten road surfaces that would make a pro racer who’s ridden Belgian cobbles feel right at home. I’m what some people like to call the “competent and confident” kind of cyclist–40+ years of adult cycling, a little racing, a lot of touring and commuting, enough brevets so that my mental health is questionable, and my antennae are extended all the way in Seattle. I cannot even imagine what it could feel like for an occasional cyclist to ride in your downtown. Sounds like Mayor Murray did the absolutely right thing.

    1. d.p.

      In my experience, self-declared “competent and confident” cyclists are among the *least* likely to understand bikeshare, because they imagine every situation at 20mph and with their helmeted crania and horizontal spines pointed like arrows at the ground in front of them.

      Bikesharing is casual and safe. Yes, even helmetless. Yes, even in Seattle.

  32. Matthew Snyder

    We’ve spent, what, the better part of a year debating why Pronto was failing, and now has failed. Lots of us seem really attached to our personal theories: helmets, rain, hills, crappy bikes, station density, station locations, no infrastructure, no locks, bad service area, bad pricing…

    Do we have actual data on this? I would hope that Pronto itself tried to figure out what was keeping usage so low. Surveys of tourists visiting Seattle, or of residents who were not Pronto members? Estimates of demand at different price points? I know they tried to outsource some of their analytics in the form of a contest, that was data from people who were using the service, not people who were NOT using the service. Hopefully they have some internal numbers based on their own market research. Can we get this released? It should be public data at this point, right? Seems like it would be instructive to use data, rather than personal opinions about e-bikes or hills, if we’re going to learn anything from this saga.

    1. d.p.

      I agree that it would help immensely to have Pronto-specific post-mortem data to help avoid repeating the same mistakes the next go-around.

      However, given the existence of literally hundreds of bikeshare programs that follow an established service model in dissimilar cities spanning the globe, and given the availability of aggregate data (e.g. from NACTO) delineating the best-practice applications of that model, it proves perfectly legitimate to presume the validity of “theories” that note Pronto’s most glaring departures from the established model. That means: the service area not broadly useful enough to garner sufficient annual “buy-in” from the citizenry or to prove compelling to short-term visitors; the station density and placement that offered weak “coverage” even within the service area; the helmets.

      It is equally legitimate to dismiss the pet “theories” of those who would advocate an even sharper departure from the established model that works so well in such a variety of cities. Those that insist the short-term check-outs and all-inclusive day/week/month/year pricing model (both intrinsic to the model) were Pronto’s problem should be especially discounted.

      You are right, however, that surveys of the objectively-inconsequential minority that were able to find Pronto useful is about the least helpful data imaginable. For every person able to Pronto’s implementation work for them, there were (statistically) a dozen who would have participated in bikeshare in another city but whom Pronto abjectly failed.

  33. Logan

    Pronto is by far my fastest option to get to and from work. Now I get to spend an extra 30 minutes commuting every day. Thanks, Ed. Can’t wait to vote you out!

  34. asdf2

    I used to use Pronto primarily for going 1.5 miles down the Burke-Gilman trail from Blakely/25th to the UW Link Station. It’s exactly the type of first/last mile trip that the system is designed for, and it works well. The ride was a very reliable 8 minutes each way, with zero wait time, compared to the #372 bus, which was a minimum of 8 minutes riding (more if the bus is crowded and lots of people are getting off or on at every stop), plus wait time (the bus ran once every 15 minutes), plus the walk time from Stevens Way down to the actual station.

    Of course, I didn’t start doing this until the UW Link Station opened last march, by which time, public opinion had already declared Pronto a failure, and no reasonable amount of new ridership would have would have been capable of changing that. It also didn’t help that there wasn’t a Pronto station right next to the light rail station for several more months, by which point, the decision that Pronto was a failure and it was time to give up was even more deeply entrenched.

    Currently, I’ve switched these trips mostly to jogging, which, while slower than biking, is still (usually) faster than riding the bus, and avoids the need to carry locks around or worry about my bike getting stolen. Jogging also has the advantage that, unlike cycling, it doesn’t require a helmet. In the winter, it’s also nice being able to add or remove layers of clothing without needing to completely stop.

    Denser station placement in the Pronto area would have helped a lot in increasing the number of trips where it made sense, as would a better pricing scheme. And, the pricing scheme was a huge use deterrent, with the commitment too high to make it cost-effective for occasional users. I, personally, held my nose and paid it, but at the end of the day, my Pronto membership fee divided by the number of miles ridden came out to be $2.08/mile for the first year and $0.94/mile for the second year. That’s more than the cost of operating a private motor vehicle, and only marginally cheaper than driving a Car2Go (albeit, without the hassles of parking). In the first year, I basically could have ridden Uber for every single Pronto trip I ended up taking, and still come out ahead.

    Besides deterring occasional users from trying the system, the pricing scheme made the use of Pronto effectively impossible for group travel – if every person in the group is not a member, nobody in the group can use it without splitting the group (at least not without paying daily membership fees for every non-member in the group, which would be very expensive, and also very time-consuming punching buttons at the kiosk). So, practically, Pronto was only usable for trips being made alone. If Pronto were launched with a Car2Go-style pricing model, but cheaper (say, $0.10/minute, with a cap of $30/month), it would have done a lot better.

    1. Clark in Vancouver

      Does the UW station have a secure bike room? If it did this would mean that people living near the Burke Gilman Trail could bike to UW station and lock their bike in the room knowing that it’s safe and take the train for the rest of their commute.

  35. Bob Hall

    Blech, I think the silver lining of this whole this is that we get to stop hearing about Pronto!

    How many hours of meetings, debates about helmets, debates about station locations, blog posts, comment sections, and ethics violations went into this? Somebody mentioned data: you know what piece of data I’d be interested in? The ratio of time spent talking about bike share to the total cumulative time people actually spent *riding* a Pronto bike. A good guess is probably 2:1.

    1. Eli

      Well, yes, you’ve caught on the main benefit of Pronto: providing SDOT and the City with an ongoing distraction from the the fact that they’re botching the bike plan implementation.

  36. Spark

    I never understood how the city that doesn’t have a continuous bike lane between the 2 largest urban centers (Downtown and U-district via eastlake) expected a system for casual riding to succeed. The dedicated 365 day riders have a bike and know the routes. The casual riders may know where they want to go but they need a dedicated bike lane to get there. This city is a joke made up of a hundred isolated bike lanes unconnected to each other. Even the Burke Gilman, our sole grade separated PBL, doesn’t connect all the way through to the end. Build the protected infrastructure and bike share will arrive by itself by way of demand.

  37. Ben

    Mayor should have made the announcement in a bicycle helmet.

    To show how idiotic compulsory helmet laws are.

  38. […] bike advocates applauded the funding for safes streets, but scrapping Pronto has Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog wondering if “the well may be poisoned for bike share” in the […]

  39. Stunning. Based on results from other cities, all they had to do was drop the helmet law and revenue would have increased. In other cities these systems are bringing in enough to cover most of the operating costs.

    In other words, people would rather believe in helmets than have more money. Frustrating that humans form beliefs instead of opinions, but that seems to be the way it is.

  40. Lulea

    I suspected this might happen. That is why I didn’t renew my membership in October. I figured I would wait until they put the new system in and confirm they were committed before forking out the money. I first rode bike share in Denver during a conference. The density of stations there were much higher and also near attractions. I took one from downtown to the zoo and then one to a shopping area in addition to my conference communting.

  41. Here’s a tweet from Janette Sadik-Khan, a former commissioner of NYC Department of Transportation, on the death of Pronto.

    “NYC has no helmet law, 38 million bike share trips & 0 deaths.
    Seattle has a helmet law & 1 dead bike share system.”


  42. […] It was in fact an expensive system to run, with a lot of people using bikes to go downhill, so the bike share system would then have to cart the bikes back up. Not exactly a level playing field. It needed an investment in expansion and new equipment, but that’s not going to happen. Now that the plug has been pulled, Tom writes: […]

  43. Mark

    Thank Dog it’s gone. Put the money into real bike infra. This thing was horrible. Horrible….Horrible…

  44. citizen

    While Pronto’s heart was in the right place, it really ignored the demands of biking in Seattle. Seeing the Pronto station at the top of Olive and Denny, while laughable to anyone who has biked up those hills, personified the out-of-touch way the program was executed. Large, heavy bikes with few gears were stationed in areas where even athletic cyclists would struggle to ride them and tourists/beginners were often scared to do so. Pronto left out key biking neighborhoods (Fremont and Ballard), along trails where non bike owners actually like to bike, and chose to center around downtown/capitol hill where traffic is heavy and many non-bikers can just walk.
    When my bike was in the shop for a week over the summer, I considered using Pronto to get to work. There was not a Pronto station near where I work (Fremont), so unfortunatally this was not a possibility. Instead I used an app called Spinlister where I rented a bike from a local mechanic for roughly the cost per day of a Pronto. Not only did this bike handle Seattle’s hills, rain, traffic, ect. much better, it also gave me the freedom to go wherever I wanted without returning it to a station and the rented bike was well maintained.
    No real political agenda here, but I hope the money from selling the bike-share bikes goes towards building a better infrastructure so people can enjoy cycling up our hills in safe, well maintained bike lanes. Maybe once our cycling infrastructure improves, a viable business will launch a bike share with lightweight, durable bikes geared appropriately for the hills they are stationed on.

  45. Such a shame. It appears as though the same successful strategies that worked in other cities weren’t implemented here and other factors were to blame for the failure.

  46. […] trend. Seattle’s publicly funded station-based system called Pronto, though an extreme example, shut down after just two-and-a-half years of operation due to underwhelming […]

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