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Adding electric bikes proves Seattle’s ‘silly idea’ isn’t working

There is $5 million set aside for expanding the Pronto Cycle Share program in Mayor Ed Murray's 2016 preliminary budget. The city plans to take the program over. (MyNorthwest file photo)
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Have Seattle officials accidentally admitted that biking is not a convenient mode of transportation in the city?

Along with expanding an underused bike-share program, the city would like to add electric bicycles. Electric bikes would “create the effect of riding on flat ground,” said Scott Kubly, the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Wait a minute. If the city needs to make electric bikes available, doesn’t that mean normal bikes are not as convenient?

“If a bike is electric, it’s no longer a bike,” KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz argues. It’s more like a scooter. “By the way, if you need to add electricity to a bike, doesn’t that concede the point that biking doesn’t work in the area?”

There is $5 million set aside for expanding the Pronto Cycle Share program in Mayor Ed Murray’s 2016 preliminary budget. The city plans to take the program over. The money would be used to purchase 2,000 new bikes to go along with a potential $10 million in federal grants for more stations and other needs. The city wants to add 200 new stations to its current 50.

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How is the expansion of an “underused” bike-share program justifiable? Rantz wonders. Despite the push for people to ride bikes and the money pumped into supportive infrastructure, bike commuting has gone down, he argues.

“They keep believing in this silly idea that if you offer it, people will eventually buy into it,” Rantz says.

Though Pronto fell short of its membership goal of 2,962, it exceeded its casual user goal of 6,500 casual riders by April. It attracted 10,200 riders.

However, Pronto has limited appeal, Rantz says. There are only going to be so many people that use the service; hardcore cyclists are not going to rely on bike rentals to get around.

“A bike will never work in a city of rain and hills,” Rantz says. “Especially one that people are commuting in and out of.”

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