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: 

• Now for the bad news: For its first several years, at least, Puget Sound Bike Share won't provide any bikes south of I-90 or in West Seattle. That decision, according to the group's business plan, was made "to maximize initial success" in places where demand is expected to be high, like the University District and South Lake Union.

Like the car-sharing service Car2Go, which The C is for Crank told you everything you want to know about last week (Josh was less cranky here), Puget Sound Bike Share will initially cater to wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, while areas like the Rainier Valley (areas that, incidentally, include light rail stations that would be natural homes for bike-sharing kiosks) are left out. 

Although phases two through four include areas as far-flung as Bellevue and Redmond, it's unclear when, if ever, bikes will be available in the southern half of Seattle; Bike Share's business plan includes a few spots along the Rainier Valley light rail line and a small patch of West Seattle as part of a "potential future phase" that could launch sometime after "Phase 4," in 2018 or later. 

Of course, a really successful pilot program could prompt county planners to accelerate that expansion. It's worked elsewhere: In Montreal, which built the largest bike-sharing program in North America (more than 5,000 bikes at more than 400 stations) from the ground up starting in 2009, the number of people who say they ride bikes has increased dramatically around bike kiosks.

If you build it, in other words, they will come. Even, perhaps, in hilly, rainy, change-averse Seattle. 
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