Outdoor World

Did Seattle’s mandatory helmet law kill off its bike-share scheme?

Seattle has become the first major US city to shut a public bicycle share programme. Was it the helmet constitution or the absence of cycle paths and the citys notorious hills and rain?


A small-scale group of supporters, writers and a city councilman gathered at the end of last-place month to take Seattles cycle share motorcycles out for one last-place twisting. Mayor Ed Murray had gathered the plug on the Pronto system after two-and-a-half years of low-grade ridership, fiscal disturbances and dwindling political support.

Sitting tall on the clunky, lime green motorcycles, our group of 10 pedalled through downtowns heavy evening traffic jam traffic, picking up a few more mourners on Pronto motorcycles en route.

Im sad to see it croak. I think its disappointing that Seattle will be remembered at the least at the moment for a miscarried bicycle share plan. But I believe itll be getting back, and hopefully comparatively soon, pronounces Mike OBrien, the city councillor who joined the monumental ride.

News of Prontos closure came in January just a few months after heated plan discussions led to a plan to expend$ 5m to amply revamp and expand the system with electric-assist motorcycles. That intention has been scrapped, reaching Seattle the only major city in the United States to shutter a bicycle share plan( other than municipalities with pilot programmes ).

Fundamentally, low-grade ridership killed Pronto. The plan had 500 motorcycles at 54 terminals. In its first year of operations, there were 142, 832 trips or an average of just 0.78 trips per bicycle per period. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the national average for US bike share structures is 1.8 trips per bicycle per period. New York Citys CitiBike system goes roughly 3.8.

If you ask five people why Pronto had such low-grade ridership, youll get as many answers. Some mention Seattles helmet constitution discouraged usage. Others say the system was too spread out and never got the expansion it needed. Some said here today lost its political support both inside and out of city hall. More still anticipate would-be equestrians were discouraged by the absence of bike infrastructure in downtown Seattle or the citys notorious rainwater and hills.

In truth, all those hypothesis are at least partly remedy. It was a series of compounding difficulties that spiralled over era until the mayor had little incentive to battle to keep Pronto alive.

A Pronto docking station before the programme of activities closure last-place month. Photo: Alamy

From the start, preaches are concerns that Seattle was the only bike share plan in the US affected a helmet constitution. King County, where Seattle is set, has a helmet constitution that applies to all equestrians, regardless of age. Prontos solution was first to present free helmets at every station; then render helmets for$ 2 with the purchase of a period pass. Pronto staff collected soiled helmets from income bins and removed and replaced with clean ones.

I dont anticipate the helmets were fundamentally a problem. Parties chose to either usage a helmet or didnt, but it wasnt necessarily a factor in using[ Pronto] or not, conserves Andrew Glass-Hastings, head of transit and mobility at Seattles Department of Transportation.

Few counselors anticipate the helmet constitution alone killed Pronto, but Russell Meddin, co-founder of The Bike-Sharing Blog, is among those who think helmets hurt the spontaneity that does bike share successful. Helmet laws stop the serendipity of using the system, he says.People want gadget. The more convenient a plan is, the more its used.

Mexico City and Tel Aviv both scrapped their helmet laws before launching their successful bicycle share structures. Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia, on the other side, forged onward with their bicycle share programmes despite having helmet the regulations and have suffered from poverty-stricken ridership. Sydney mayor Clover Moore has said she would love to launch a share plan if it werent for Australias helmet constitution .

A Seattle cyclist wearing the mandatory helmet. Photo: Bruce Yuanyue Bi/ Getty Images/ Lonely Planet Image

One of Prontos biggest inaccuracies was its lack of station density. According to Meddin, successful structures need 20 to 28 terminals per square mile. Seattles had closer to 12.

Pronto never got a fair hit to attain, pronounces Blake Trask, plan head for Cascade Bicycle Club advocacy radical. It was meant to grow to fulfill bicycle share best traditions. But that expansion plan for a variety of reasons never did it to fruition.

Other municipalities looked ridership proliferation after expansion. Bostons Hubway started with 61 terminals and 600 motorcycles and had 142,289 trips in its first year. It now has 140 terminals, 1,300 motorcycles and verifies roughly 1.2 million annual trips.

Seattle applied for a $10 m federal Tiger ferry grant to quintuple the number of motorcycles, but did not receive it. The proposed 2017 plan relaunch would have come with 1,200 motorcycles.

Another factor was politics. When it launched in October 2014, Pronto had broad support from city politicians and cycle preaches although, as with any bicycle projection, there were plenty of skeptics as well. That support started to weaken when the city embarked considering taking owned of the Pronto system from the non-profit that started and finagled it for the first year.

In February 2016, as the city council debated whether to acquire the system, Prontos fiscal woes came to ignite. Ridership had fallen short of projections, leaving the system with less charge revenue than planned. On surface of that, the non-profit had stopped trying new sponsorships in 2015 because theyd expected the city to take over sooner than they did. When it came time to vote, Pronto was nearing insolvency and the city needed to expend $1.4 m to acquire it and pay off its debts.

Cascade and Seattle Neighbourhood Greenways organised a big pushing at city hall to singer support for bike share. We wanted to see if we could make it work if we bought it out and expanded on it, pronounces Gordon Padelford, plan head at Seattle Neighbourhood Greenways.

The council eventually voted to acquire Pronto, debt and all. Then just a few months later, SDOT director Scott Kubly was investigated and fined for an ethics misdemeanor over a potential conflict of interest.

Bike share would have been more successful if it integrated better with the citys expanding light rail system. Photo: P Wei/ Getty Images

The final straw arose where reference is become apparent that Seattle was going to have to scrap all Prontos equipment to move forward with its expansion contrives. All the leading proposals from the tender process called for starting fresh with new terminals and motorcycles, and the prevailing attempt from Bewegen called for an all-electric facilitate bicycle share fleet. That emphatically forestalled some of the more fiscally conservative members of the council who felt like we were had. Bad press leads to bad plan leads to bad outcomes and it spiralied, interprets Padelford.

Mayor Murray gave$ 5m in his 2017 plan proposal to fund the system relaunch. Money were given the green light pending city council approval of the final intention from Bewegen in January. But instead of reeling out that plan for a new plan, Murray announced Pronto would shut down, with the funds instead used for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure downtown and for a Safe Routes to School programme.

We are sorry that bike share is not going to happen right off, pronounces Trask. But at the same era, were pleased that the mayor is employing the funds for bicycle and pedestrian jobs. We heard from a lot of managers and members that the lack of a safe bicycle system was a big barrier.

Glass Hastings is also self-confident Seattle will someday have bicycle share again although he would like to see it better integrated with the new light rail, bus mass rapid transit, and streetcars the city is currently constructing. We learned a lot from the Pronto system. What it did well and what some of the helplessness were.

Some cycle experts in the city guess new Chinese private bicycle share firms will set up in the city. Operating on an Uber-like example of implementing first, asking forgiveness eventually, they have been launching without permission in municipalities around the world: BlueGoGo launched in San Francisco lately, while Ofo is headed for Cambridge.

I anticipate one of those structures will come to Seattle and knowledge many of their own problems Pronto experienced, pronounces Padelford. Long term, the action for an expansive electrical bicycle share plan is just going to was better as Seattle continues to grow and get more dense and beings struggle to get around the centre of the city.

Seattle might end up with a new bicycle share plan whether the city wants one or not.

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