Planning for a bike share future means building a protected network

Since Mayor Ed Murray announced his decision to reallocate bike share funding to other bicycle and safe streets projects, we’ve heard an outpouring of emotions. The staff at Cascade, especially those who advocated fiercely to save and improve Pronto bike share last year, are sad to see the system go. We also see clear steps forward to prepare our city for a future bike share system.

The March 31 deadline to end Pronto service was set by city council during budget season. Though the Pronto program will shutter this spring, bike share is not “dead” for good. And while Mayor Murray redirected investments toward street safety and mobility, he also emphasized in his press release strong support for bringing a bike share system back: “I remain optimistic about the future of bike share in Seattle.”

Washington, D.C. originally launched a similarly small program, scrapped it, and now runs the most successful system in the country. So, it’s time to take stock of what we’ve learned and plan for success when the time is ripe. A policy paper we wrote last year continues to summarize our position:

“Though the pilot program did not achieve the anticipated ridership, Cascade strongly believes moving forward there is enormous potential for a bike share system in Seattle.”

Part of that potential — and this emerged from the public discourse around why Pronto struggled — is the clear need to make streets safer for people biking. Past polling has shown that not feeling safe is a top barrier to bicycling.

Discussions around bike share have returned to the issue of safe and connected places to bike time and again. Last March, when the City Council voted to preserve Pronto, they attached the funding to the buildout of key bicycle connections. Now, Mayor Murray has re-committed to forge ahead on the delayed downtown bike network, with plans to extend Fourth Avenue north to Belltown and to accelerate outreach and design for east/west connections like the Pike/Pine corridor to connect Capitol Hill with downtown.

Because of these significant conversations, we are seeing results: The beginnings of a connected network of protected bikeways connecting to and through downtown. Cascade recently launched a Basic Bike Network campaign, in partnership with Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and will continue to push for this sensible network.

Of course, Cascade believes Seattle needs both bike share and safe places to bike — it’s not an either/or decision. But if we’re to see bike share succeed in the future, a key first step voiced is to ensure that people of all ages and abilities feel comfortable riding in our city. Because of the robust and passionate conversations around bike share, our elected officials say they are doing just that. We will be holding them to it.