[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="468" caption="Bike sharing in Washington, D.C. (Photo from treehugger.com)"][/caption]

Bike-sharing programs have exploded in popularity over the last decade. Worldwide, there are more than 160 programs, most of them in Europe. Bike sharing works as an extension to mass transit, a quick and efficient (and clean) way to complete the last leg of a journey around an urban core.

There's been talk of building a bike share in Seattle for a while now, with good reason. Seattle is bike-friendly, loves its green image, and has business, tourism, and sporting events within an extremely bikeable area. Those plans, predictably, have been hampered by a lack of funding.

However, a recent UW study bolsters the case for giving Seattle a bike share. This past January, the Seattle Department of Transportation contracted a group of University of Washington Urban Design and Planning grad students to do the Seattle Bike-Share Feasibility Study. Two of the group's members, Daniel Rowe and Jennifer Gregerson, presented their findings and conclusions to the Seattle Bike Advisory Board last night.

The group divided the city into 10-square-meter cells and scored each cell based on 12 indicators, including population density, job and retail density, tourist attractions, bike friendly streets, and regional and local transit stops. They used those scores to predict demand for bikes and draft a theoretical plan for phasing in a bike-sharing program. Unsurprisingly, downtown did the best, so the planners suggested launching a bike share there.

The study estimates a daily demand of between 2,620 and 5,460 trips. To meet that demand, phase one would have to include between 790 and 980 bikes. The second phase would extend the service area north into Queen Anne, Fremont, Ballard, Wallingford, the U District, and north into Georgetown, and Beacon Hill, increasing demand by between 1,860 and 3,820 trips a day and requiring an additional 1,150 to 1,270 bikes. The final phase would add pockets of service in far south and north Seattle and West Seattle, increasing demand by 280 to 580 trips and requiring 380 or so bikes.

The study touches on some potential obstacles to starting a bike share in Seattle, including the city's helmet law, permitting and zoning for bike share stations, and potential conflicts with pedestrians (new bike users have a tendency to ride on the sidewalk).

Biking is, without a doubt, the fastest way to get anywhere between South Lake Union and the stadiums, especially once you factor in things like traffic, wait time on the bus, and the search for parking in a car. Convenience aside, it's also healthy and fun—and you get to avoid the inevitable foibles of bus riding, like smelly, loud people and (particularly for women) harassment and tacky pick-up lines.

Obviously, a bike sharing program wouldn't directly benefit existing cyclists like me. But a bike share would get more riders on the street (thousands, if the study is accurate), and any increase in riders improves visibility and reduces the number of cars on the road. It would also introduce new riders to bike commuting, some of whom would no doubt fall in love with it and buy their own bikes. Another very real benefit is the possibility of getting visitors (or even bikeless friends) on bikes for trips around town. There are plenty of places that do daily bike rentals in town, but they're expensive; bike sharing programs, in contrast, tend to cost no more than a few bucks an hour.

Right now, of course, all talk of bike sharing is completely theoretical. King County supports the idea (they held a bike share expo last August), as does the city, but both governments say they lack the funding to get a program off the ground. It will likely take significant (and vocal) public support to see a bike share program move from theory to reality.
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