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Bike Safety and Bike Sharing Are Keys to Higher Ridership

October 23, 2013 by Carol Tobin
Category: Cycling and Walking

Cities are encouraging bicycling as a viable means of transportation through an emphasis on safe bicycle systems and bike sharing programs. An increase in cycling can provide environmental benefits, including reduced vehicle emissions and healthy communities. In recent years, the number of cyclists has increased, in part due to city investments in improving bicycle infrastructure. This article is a follow-up to an earlier MRSC Insight blog post, Civic Cyclists Unite (June 2012).

In 2013, among large cities, Portland has the highest bicycle commuting rate at 6.3%, and Seattle is second at 3.5%. We’re doing well in the Northwest, but we could do even more. According to a 2004 study, 60% of the people in Portland would ride more often if conditions were favorable. A study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in 2012 indicated that most bike trips in the U.S. are five miles or less. How can we create more favorable conditions for bikes? Here are two approaches that can help:

Bicycle Planning for Safety

Why don’t more people commute by bicycle or ride more often?  The primary reason is a concern with safety. In a 2011 article, "Evidence on Why Bike-Friendly Cities Are Safer for All Road Users," the authors contend that having more cyclists on the road appears to improve safety for vehicle occupants, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

To encourage more people to ride, bicycle planning must lead with safety as a top priority. At the October Washington Planning Conference, Redmond Transportation Planner Joel Pfundt recommended a safety-oriented bicycle network that connects residents with key destinations, such as major employers, universities, and shopping areas, particularly in higher density, mixed-use areas.

Redmond completed the update of its Transportation Master Plan in 2013. One of the key components of Redmond’s bicycle network is the Redmond Central Connector, which will include a new mixed-use, multi-modal trail. Redmond is one of the cities in Washington with a relatively high bike commuting rate (1.5%) and aspires to fulfill its role as “Bicycle Capital of the Northwest.” Seattle is updating its Bicycle Master Plan this year, and the Draft Plan (June 2013) is available for review. The plan’s goal is to triple ridership between 2013 and 2030.  Seattle is also taking a leading role in developing a local bike sharing program.

Bike Sharing

bikeshare_red[1]Bike sharing systems let people check out a bicycle to ride from one point in the city to another for a small fee. In cities around the world, bike share systems have proven popular by giving residents and visitors a fast, inexpensive, and easy transportation option. Bike share can be used to get to work, run errands, connect to a transit line, visit friends and family, or enjoy the city.

A bike sharing system consists of a fleet of specially designed, sturdy, very durable bikes that are locked into a network of docking stations sited at regular intervals around a city. The bikes can be rented and then returned to any station in the system, creating an efficient network with many possible points and combinations of departure and arrival.

A few years ago, a group of committed local partners started exploring the possibility of bringing a program to the Seattle area and eventually formed the King County Bike Share Partnership, which evolved into Puget Sound Bike Share, a nonprofit organization.  Partners involved in the program include King County, Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle, Sound Transit, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Puget Sound Regional Council, the University of Washington, the Cascade Bicycle Club, and several corporate sponsors.

Other U.S. cities with bike share programs include Boston, Miami, New York, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, Charlotte, Kansas City, and San Antonio. Bike share programs have also been established in smaller communities, including Boulder, CO, Chattanooga, TN, and Madison, WI. Cities launching bike share systems in 2013/2014 include: Vancouver, BC, Portland, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Seattle’s bike share program, part of Puget Sound Bike Share, will launch in 2014, with 500 bikes that will be available at 50 street-side stops in downtown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, and the University District.  The freestanding, solar-powered bike stations will be located within two to three blocks of each other, and will include a helmet vending kiosk. The system also includes a wayfinding map component. On September 14, 2013, the Seattle City Council passed legislation essential for creating a local bike share network. Ordinance No. 124261 approved bike share vending as an allowed use in public rights of way.  Resolution No. 31468 granted Puget Sound Bike Share conceptual approval for their proposed bike sharing program.

By 2017, Puget Sound Bike Share plans to develop a system of 220 bike stations and 2,200 bikes. Each bike station costs about $65,000, and the annual operating costs are estimated to be approximately $28,000 per station. Half of the funding for the program will be from public sources, and the other half is anticipated to be from corporate sponsorships. Puget Sound Bike Share has selected Alta Bicycle Share as its operator/vendor. Puget Sound Bike Share will own the bikes and bike stations, and there will be no liability to the cities participating in the program.

Stay tuned for more updates on innovative local bicycle plans and programs.

Bicycle Planning Information from Other Washington Communities

MRSC is seeking bicycle planning information, including proposed bike sharing programs, from communities outside the central Puget Sound area. If you have information to share, please send it to

Additional Bicycle Planning Resources Photo Courtesy of Cascade Bicycle Club.


"I agree that education of bike riders is really important. As a recreational cyclist and bike commuter, I am frustrated by aggressive cyclists and riders who do not follow the rules of the road. I know that the Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation is actively involved in the education of bike riders. See, for example, Ride Smart."

Carol Tobin on Oct 23, 2013 1:39 PM

"I think anything we can do to help bike ridership and safety is absolutely important. However, there seems to be something missing, education of bike riders in the law regarding bikes on the street. I am a bike rider. So maybe i am more attuned to the issue. I also have a problem with bike riders who seem to think they rule the road, sidewalk or crosswalks. I live in Ellensburg, WA. I constantly have to be aware of bike riders who don't understand the rules of the road. This issue should be of the same importance, if not more, for the safety of bike riders and auto drivers. Thank you."

Jerry Pettit on Oct 23, 2013 1:01 PM

2 comments on Bike Safety and Bike Sharing Are Keys to Higher Ridership


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