Seattle touting success of private bikeshare pilot

Sep 19, 2017, 4:15 PM | Updated: 4:42 pm
A Limebike parked on top of Seattle's Fremont Troll. (SDOT)

After nearly two months in operation, use of Seattle’s bikeshare system ranks second in the nation after New York.

That’s according to the Seattle Department of Transportation which recently released new data on the use of the private bikeshares currently being tested in town. SDOT reports that New York’s bikeshare system has about 3.6 rides on each bike, per day. Seattle has 2.2 after two months in operation. Boston and Washington D.C. have 2.1.

RELATED: Private bikeshares are looking to expand to the Eastside

Seattle’s private bikeshare pilot launched in the middle of July. Spin and Limebike have phased in their bikes since then. Bikeshare company ofo has also joined the pilot since then. Today, the city estimates there are about 4,000 bikeshare bikes throughout Seattle. But the bikeshare companies are still expanding to the total 6,000 allowed bikes.

But don’t get too excited over the stats just yet. With just one sunny, dry summer under its wheels, the bikeshare system is about to roll into winter and a range of other Seattle challenges.

Bikeshare success

The private bikeshare companies have provided their ridership data to the city. Comparing that data with Pronto’s numbers, it is clear that the companies have been far more successful in two months than Pronto ever was in its two years. Customers are riding the bikes longer, farther and more often than with Pronto bikes.


(SDOT. Click to enlarge.)

Pronto maxed out at 500 bikes in a very limited area — downtown and the U-District. The companies, however, have spread their bikes throughout all of Seattle. They started with 500 bikes, but have quickly phased in more.

Turns out that putting bikes where everyone else lives in Seattle — where hills are also less of a concern — is a smart idea. As opposed to treating the system like a downtown carnival ride for tourists. Another interesting insight from the data indicates that there is a great desire to use the bikes north of the ship canal.


(SDOT. Click to enlarge.)

The heaviest bikeshare usage is from Ballard to the University District, and neighboring areas, such as Green Lake or Ravenna. There is also considerable bikeshare usage around Alki, along the Duwamish River, and SODO.

The neighborhoods that are using the bikeshare systems the least are at the most northern end of the city near the border with Shoreline. Southwest Seattle and Rainier Valley also show minimal use.

One bikeshare, at least, is aiming to change that. Limebike announced this week that it is expanding its fleet. It plans to target Rainier Valley and South Delridge, which the company says are “under served” neighborhoods.

Spin bikeshare has also said it wants to get its bikes to those areas and provide an equitable system.


(SDOT. Click to enlarge.)

SDOT notes are that as more and more bikes hit the streets, more and more people are using them. Especially when there are events like Bumbershoot that cause heavy traffic.

Bikeshare challenges

One issue that many Seattleites have noticed is bikes parked in odd places — and that doesn’t necessarily mean on top of the Fremont Troll or at the bottom of Lake Union.

“Not everything is perfect, there are some kinks to work out that we will work with companies,” said SDOT’s Andrew Glass Hastings. “We want to make sure bikes are not parked in a way that will inhibit use for others like wheelchairs or others who rely on an orderly right of way.”

This includes bikes parked in grass strips next to a sidewalk, or on sidewalks too narrow to park in. SDOT is not ruling out a potential future requirement that the stationless bikes use stations in certain parts of the city. This would mimic Pronto’s system. The parking issue prompted SDOT to produce a video instructing riders on how to properly park the bikes.

“I’ve seen a few instances where bikes were incorrectly parked,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said. “… but certainly not overwhelmed by the bikemegeddon fears.”

SDOT is quick to note that the bikeshare numbers have benefited from a few factors. For one, they launched in the summer, when people are more inclined to ride a bike. Pronto, however, launched in a very rainy October. SDOT says that it has noticed that with every phase of new bikes, more people are using them.

“While, yes, we are going into winter, we are also having fleet increases,” said Kyle Rowe with SDOT.

O’Brien also addressed another common concern — helmets.

“One of the things I hear about frequently in the emails is about helmets,” he said. “I think the bikeshare companies … do a decent job of alerting us that it’s a requirement.”

“Obviously we see a lot of folks riding without a helmet,” O’Brien said. “… most people don’t have a helmet in their back pocket. I think that is something that we will continue to hear about.”


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Seattle touting success of private bikeshare pilot