EDITORIAL | Appetite for bike share done right remains after Pronto demise

Bike sharing can work in the City of Seattle.

Don’t let the looming end of Pronto — announced last week — obscure the fact that if done right, it can be an effective part of a wider transportation network, especially as a connector to other mass transit options.

So, where did Pronto go wrong? The answer depends on who you talk to.

Some will say it’s the city’s onerous bike helmet law. Seattle is the only city in the U.S. with a bike share program that also has such a regulation for adults, and those familiar with bike sharing say it adds extra complications that make it harder for a program to succeed.

Others will point to the density of stations and the service map. A 2015 paper from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) said that “good bike share systems have lots of stations within a short walking distance and maintain that spacing across all neighborhoods.”

Not only did the spacing and siting of the stations leave much to be desired, the general coverage map wasn’t large enough. Service that extended to Ballard and Fremont to the north, and to the Rainier Valley to the south may have provided a substantial ridership boost. Imagine if stations had been synced up with light rail stops and Rapid Ride bus lines as well?

Those who note the difficulty of biking through certain hilly portions of the city may argue that electric bikes were a necessity.

Finally, and perhaps most convincing, is the point that the general bike infrastructure just isn’t there yet to get enough people to comfortably use a bike share system.

In that way, it’s a shame that the decision from the mayor to scrap the bike share expansion plan for biking and walking projects is being framed as an either/or, as if such additions wouldn’t have contributed to greater interest in and wider use of the system.

The earlier referenced NACTO report said protected bike infrastructure must be introduced along with system launches and expansions to ensure that bikers of all abilities are comfortable.

With our neighbors to the north and south — Vancouver and Portland — launching bike share programs of their own last summer, Seattle will soon standalone among the three major Cascadia cities without one.

We sincerely hope that the city can learn from the problems that plagued Pronto, and that the mayor’s optimism about the future of bike share in Seattle is well-founded.

Let this serve as a learning experience over how a bike share program should and shouldn’t operate, not as a referendum on the service itself.