Seattle is working on a city takeover and expansion of the underused Pronto Cycle Share network, doubling the number of bicycles and adding bike stations in more neighborhoods.

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Seattle transportation director Scott Kubly is working on a city takeover and expansion of the underused Pronto Cycle Share network — in hopes a broader coverage territory will make the bikes more useful.

“It’s like cellphones. Cellphones are only useful if your network is big,” he said Friday.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) would take over the bicycles and stations from the nonprofit that operates Pronto now. The city would contract directly with an operating company.

When Pronto opened a year ago, ridership lagged early, at around one trip per bike per day. Kubly called that a seasonal pattern, and said use improved to two or three trips per bicycle this summer.

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By comparison, as many as six drivers per day use each Car2Go vehicle, which follows a similar short-term rental model.

The proposal to boost the bicycle network is laid out in Mayor Ed Murray’s budget proposal, announced this week. Murray called fora $5 million city contribution to purchase 2,000 new bicycles, to go with a potential $10 million in matching federal grants for stations and other needs. Kubly said sponsorships would add $3 million.

The idea surfaced earlier this year, as a section of a $25 million federal grant request, primarily to seek $15 million toward the Northgate Station walk-bike bridge over Interstate 5, plus $10 million for the citywide bicycle network.

The grant request touts bike stations around North Seattle College and South Seattle College, which serve higher proportions of low-income and minority students than the city population in general.

Bicycles could also spread to West Seattle, Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Queen Anne Hill, Fremont and other areas. The city would start to add bicycles next year, to end up with 2,500 bicycles and 250 stations, compared to the existing 500 bikes for 50 stations at the University District, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union and downtown.

Kubly also would add electric bicycles, to help people conquer the city’s many hills, the Seattle Bike Blog reported.

Users currently pay $8 a day, $16 for three days or $85 for a yearly membership, to rent the bikes for unlimited short trips.

Kubly was a former acting president of Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, and in his government career has worked with bicycle networks in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

This summer, Pronto executive director Holly Houser left the nonprofit organization, now operated by Brooklyn-based Motivate. Pronto last year received $1.25 million in startup money from state and federal governments, and private sponsorships including $500,000 from Seattle Children’s, and $2.5 million from Alaska Airlines.

Kubly likens Seattle to the nation’s capital: same-sized population, dense downtown, high tourism. After Capital Bike Share scaled up to 1,100 bicycles, use soared to six daily trips per bike, he said.

Downtown Seattle remains a hazardous place to ride — a likely drag on Pronto use. The city is slowly adding protected bikeways, such as the popular Mercer Street underpass that opened in May.

As a backdoor political effect, a larger Pronto might prod the city to develop corridors faster. The Murray administration in mid-2014 accelerated the Second Avenue bicycle lane, which opened weeks before Pronto’s startup.

Kubly emphasized Friday that more bikes would help people reach the Aurora Avenue RapidRide E Line bus, or cross Rainier Valley to reach light-rail stations.

The $5 million in Murray’s budget proposal isn’t part of this fall’s $930 million Move Seattle property-tax ballot measure, but the levy’s passage or failure could influence the size of the bike network, according to the budget.

The city’s $5 million would be raised through street-use fees, Kubly said. But the city is pledging to deliver 50 miles of protected bikeways in the Move Seattle levy, to include stretches of Fourth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Eastlake Avenue East, Rainier Avenue South and the Ballard “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail.

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