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Seattle begins installing bike share stations — including a dozen around Capitol Hill

Pronto, the nonprofit bike share that will begin serving Central and Downtown Seattle in October and will expand into the Central District in 2015, has started the process of installing 50 docking stations around the city. A dozen of those stations will serve Capitol Hill, First Hill and Seattle University.

It’s not all smooth riding, however — the service also announced that the first-of-their-kind helmet vending machines will not be ready for October’s launch.

The first Seattle Pronto station went in overnight across I-5 at 9th and Mercer:

CHS has been told the Capitol Hill-area stations and kiosks will begin being installed and are planned to be in place for the service’s October 13th launch. You can see the final installation locations below:

The locations are spread across the core of the Hill with an apparent focus on grocery stores. There will also be a station adjacent Cal Anderson Park but not Volunteer Park.

Pronto plans to move forward despite the helmet machine setback with a simple solution. “When the system launches, the stations will feature an interim helmet-distribution solution that provides a rental helmet from self-serve bins free of charge to users,” Pronto announced. “An automated vending machine that will dispense helmets for a small fee will join the system in 2015.”

“We’re going to launch with an honor system,” director Holly Houser said in a statement. “Riders can check out a free helmet from an unlocked bin at each station, and then return it to a separate used helmet bin at any station when they’ve completed their ride.” According to the statement, Pronto workers will “sanitize and inspect each helmet and return them to stations throughout the city.”

Another solution: Carry your own helmet. Stores, bars, and restaurants near the stations might want to consider keeping a few “honor” helmets around, too, for trusted customers to borrow. Meanwhile, Pronto is also planning to give its annual members a voucher to redeem a free Pronto helmet from REI.

Our friends at Seattle Bike Blog argue that, helmet vending machines or no, our local helmet laws are in need of change:

We have argued that Seattle/King County should ditch or at least modify its increasingly rare all-ages helmet law to help ensure the success of Pronto. Or at the very least SPD could downplay enforcement of the law as a primary offense. Very few big cities in the entire world have all-ages helmet laws, and those that had them are ditching them (or modifying them to only apply under 18) to make way for bike share systems.

After dozens of millions of rides in dozens of US cities, not a single person has died while riding a bike share bike. And none of those cities has an all-ages bike helmet law. That’s a remarkable safety record, and all that biking is a boon to public health. While a helmet could save an individual in the case of a crash, there is little clear evidence that all-ages bike helmet laws have much of a public health benefit, if any. And if it impedes bike share’s success, it could end up having a negative public health effect.

SBB also has pointed out that recent media coverage of a supposed SPD crackdown on bicycling laws was off the mark — you can ride without fear that SPD is out to get you. Pfew!

Screen-Shot-2014-05-25-at-10.11.00-PM-400x406The new system will begin with 500 bikes serving the city with Capitol Hill, First Hill, the U-District, Eastlake, South Lake Union, Belltown, downtown, Pioneer Square and International District stations . Each station will have docks for 12 to 20 bikes and will feature a kiosk where non-members can sign up for 24-hour, or multiday passes, and or access bikes using a code. Those who pay $85 for an annual membership will be able to bypass the kiosk and check bikes out directly from their docks. The $85 annual membership will grant Pronto riders unlimited 30-minute trips. There are also 24-hour passes for visitors that will cost $8 and three-day passes for $16.

The memberships will join a $2.5 million, five-year sponsorship from Alaska Airlines in supporting Pronto operations and, eventually, expansion. Mayor Ed Murray’s budget plan for 2015-2016 includes a line item to support expansion of Pronto into the Central District next year.

Pronto bikes will have extra-low gears to help climb hills and internal shifting meaning no deraileur and no chains falling off. Internal shifting is also easier for inexperienced bikers. Seattle Bike Blog took a Pronto cruiser for a spin here.

Pronto memberships went on sale in August with 330 reportedly signing up on the first day.

You can learn more at

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24 thoughts on “Seattle begins installing bike share stations — including a dozen around Capitol Hill” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I’m someone who has his own bike I use regularly and will probably never use this (and I’d also never think of riding without a helmet) so I haven’t been paying close attention. But I have a question about it (which may have been addressed long ago — like I said, I haven’t been giving this much thought) that maybe somebody can answer:

    As a Capitol Hill resident, I can imagine a common use case where I check out a bike here on the hill and ride it downhill to South Lake Union (to shop REI, say) or to downtown or Lake Washington etc, and then take alternate transport (bus, walking, Uber, whatever) rather than committing to the uphill climb on the bike to get home. It wouldn’t take more than a few such users each day to “drain” the bikes from up here to the other kiosks downhill. (Obviously any demand imbalance that results in more one-way trips in a given direction could cause this, but that’s an obvious one for Capitol Hill in particular.) Does Pronto plan to throw bikes on a truck (or hire folks to pedal uphill) to rebalance their inventory every few days? Is this a problem in other cities where bikeshares are already operating?

    • My thoughts exactly. I take the 43 home everyday and the amount of people with bikes riding the bus is comical. I get what they’re trying to do, and I can appreciate the concept. I just hope it works.

      Also, I wonder how many times a day they are going to have to cart the bikes back up to Cap Hill…

      • The NYC bike share program has full-time staff that do this for the stations multiple times a day. Albeit, it may take some time for them to get the balancing perfect.

    • In Paris the bike share program grants credits to members who return bikes to the top of hills. Perhaps Pronto will provide a similar incentive.

      • The should probably institute a kind of “depletion pricing” — start at a half-credit for returning a bike to a station at the top of a hill, and crank it up to 1 credit, 2 credits or more as the station gets closer to empty. Presumably they could notify subscribers through their app and/or twitter to let folks know about the incentive to move bikes.

    • I imagine it will work a lot like Car2Go, where they have staff who move the cars around throughout the day, because people will often leave them at the farthest border they can and don’t need to bring the cars back where they got them.

      Like r said, it will probably take time to get the balance perfect. Even Car2Go is still working on it.

  2. Rebalancing inventory with trucks, etc is part of every bike share program I know of, even those on flat terrain.

    itll be interesting to see how the geography affects it.

    • Geography… and events, also. I was just thinking: I always bike to things like Bumbershoot to avoid parking, etc. And I always pass a stream of pedestrians heading all the way down Denny from the hill. If I didn’t have a bike, I’d be super-tempted to grab a bikeshare and roll downhill all the way to the Pronto station by the Seattle Center. Even if I was willing to then ride that bike all the way back up the hill, I wouldn’t be doing so until the late evening. So on the weekend when anything major is happening at the Center (Folkfest, Bite, Bumbershoot) I’d expect the hilltop stations to be emptied out by noon-ish each day. If they’re rebalancing with trucks, I hope they’re budgeting for extra work on the summer long weekends.

      • That poses another issue. During a major event, the hilltop stations will be empty. What happens if you take the bike to an event and all the bikeshare stalls are full? How do you return it?

      • Well, in that scenario they’re presumably already loading bikes on trucks to get them back to the other stations so it wouldn’t be full for long — and there’s probably an employee there to deal with the situation in the meantime. You’d hope, anyway; I wouldn’t expect everything to operate perfectly smoothly the first time they hit a surge like that.

      • Events do cause a problem for docking bikes, in the same way it is impossible to find a parking space for your car, and sometimes even for your bike, around Bumbershoot, a Seahawks game, or other major events.

        I was in Paris in 2008 during Nuit Blanche and it was impossible to find a place to dock my bike anywhere near galleries and train stations (the event occurs all across the city). People were propping and abandoning bikes all over the place, and bike share employees were picking them up in trucks and finding spots for them. To boot, the subways and busses were packed beyond capacity, cabs were impossible to hail, and we wound up walking for miles. The experience was frustrating and definitely an inconvenience, but in the end I found a way to get around and it all worked out.

        It would be interesting if the docking stations were linked to an app that allowed users to see available docks across the city.

  3. It will, however, be easier moving the Pronto bikes around than it would be move the Car2Go vehicles around, which always seem to be in the wrong place for me. When it’s a rainy morning and I’d like to commute to Lake Union, they’re already all parked around Amazon. When I finish work at Fred Hutch, and it’s raining again, all the Amazon workers have already driven them all back to Capitol Hill.

    Yes I do have a bike and a bike cape, but I’m getting no younger.

  4. I am really amazed that the people at Seattle Bike Blog are proposing that we do away with helmet laws for those over 18. This flies in the face of decades of public health data that show helmets are beneficial. It might be true that no one has died as a result of a bike share accident, but what about serious head injuries and permanent disabilities?

    Their proposal is shocking and just plain irresponsible.

    • It’s true, wearing helmets has definitely been shown to reduce severity of injuries when a crash happens. I assume this is the public health data you’re talking about. What’s less clear is the health impact of helmet LAWS. Helmet laws become obstacles to entry for riding a bike, both as a cost and a turn off. “Oh, biking must be dangerous if you need a helmet to do it.”
      Data shows that just getting more people onto bikes and on the roads is the best way to improve bike safety for all. It’s a safety in numbers dynamic that has a stronger impact than wearing helmets. This is the downside of helmet laws and why many bicycle advocates like Seattle Bike Blog are turning away from helmet laws, especially for adults over 18.
      Also: nanny state.

  5. Pingback: Transit Notes | Bike share launches Monday, UberPEDAL comes to Seattle, on-demand valet will park your car | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  6. So this is why there are fewer parking spaces on the hill now, because these stations have taken them over. Great. This will not reduce the number of cars on the street but it will make the cars looking for parking even longer to park, driving in circles wasting more gas and polluting.