The city council's transportation committee got a briefing this morning on plans to roll out a regional bike-sharing program (50 kiosks, 500 bikes) starting in 2014—one of the first attempts at bike-sharing in a city with a mandatory helmet law. (Helmet laws, for obvious reasons, discourage bike-sharing, because bike-sharing programs are meant for short, spontaneous trips—and most people don't carry helmets around with them all day).
Cities around the world have been rolling out bike-sharing programs since at least the mid-1990s, when Portland started the first free Yellow Bike Project, but paid bike-sharing really caught on in the middle of the last decade, with programs launching in cities from Paris (2007) to Washington, D.C. (2008) to Barcelona (2007).
Here's what you need to know about King County's bike-sharing program.
• Yes, you still have to wear a helmet. Currently, Puget Sound Bike Share, a nonprofit funded in part by a King County grant, is planning to rent helmets out of vending machines at each bike kiosk; riders will pay for a helmet and return it to any kiosk when their ride is done, and staffers will pick up the helmets to "sanitize" them at the end of the day. The company may also sell helmets out of the same machines for about eight bucks.
• The bikes will be heavy (or, as Bike Share board chair Ref Lindmark put it, "durable"), but they won't, unlike shared bikes in other cities, be single-speed; instead, in an acknowledgement of Seattle's hilly topography, they'll probably have seven speeds.
• And, if committee chair Tom Rasmussen gets his way, they won't be "ugly." "When I was in Copenhagen," Rasmussen said, "the bikes there looked horrible. They may have even had a bizarre color. Why would you want to ride down the street looking like a clown?"
For what it's worth, he has a point: