Now that we own the failing Pronto! bike share, we have to figure out how to make it work. The data say that gravity is the answer.
“Seattle: Where it’s all downhill from here.”
Pardon me, just trying out some new slogans. You may have heard the City Council is buying the failing Pronto! bike-rental system. No point in arguing about the wisdom of this now. With eyes wide open, the council voted 7-2 Monday to buy it for $1.4 million and sink up to $4 million more into expanding it.
Like it or not, now we own it.
What I have found most interesting about the bike-share system debate is that we have reams of data about how it was used in its first year. Every ride taken on Pronto’s 500 bikes can be analyzed, from duration to the change in total elevation.
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The top take-away: People want to ride downhill. Especially the hard-core riders: They really like to ride downhill.
“Seattle: Coasting is our way of life.”
More than three-fifths of all the Pronto! rides in the city were taken by only 3,000 people, the annual pass holders. Yet these regular users quickly figured out: Pronto! only lives up to its name and punctuation if you’re going down.
Of the 87,000 rides this group took, about 56,000 dropped in elevation from start to finish — many of them substantially. These bikes often were not ridden back up the hills, so they had to be carted back up in vans.
As one data analyst noted, so many bikes collected at the bottoms that, on average, “Pronto staff had to shuttle almost 100 bikes per day from low-lying stations to higher-elevation stations.”
“Seattle: we’re metrogravitational.”
The other day I rode a Pronto! bike for a couple of hours around the city. The bikes are heavy, with limited gears, and so they are a slog going up hills. I went from the University Bridge up to Capitol Hill via 10th Avenue East, which is a gradual incline by Seattle standards. Still, by the time I had struggled past Mayor Ed Murray’s house and humped it up to St. Mark’s Cathedral, four riders on real bikes had passed me by.
But oh man, when I careened from Capitol Hill to my office in South Lake Union, what a delight! I zipped past traffic on Belmont, cruised over the freeway with a smashing view of Lake Union and lazily drifted into the docking station near REI, all with scarcely having to pedal. People saw me whistle past and would call out, “La vita e bella!”
OK, I made that last part up. But seriously, Seattle now is caught in one of its classic conundrums. We can’t not have bike share, for obvious eco-progressive credibility reasons. But we also won’t ride up hills. What to do?
I say, own it (hence the new slogans). We were built on seven hills, like Rome, right? Embrace them. Put bike stations on top of every hill and on bottom of every dale and encourage people to glide away. Sure, that means hauling more bikes around by van at night. But if even the hard-core riders are choosing to coast one way and then ride the bus back, then that’s who we are. Stop feeling guilty about it.
“Seattle: Going downhill, and proud of it!”
There’s a reason I never went into marketing.
I do have one real suggestion, though: Extend the rental period for the bikes past a half an hour. I barely made my trips from station to station in under that time, especially if an uphill grade was involved.
A pledge: Soon I’m going to have to find a new way to get to work, because a developer is planning to put two 40-story towers in our company parking lot. In the spirit of “Now we’re all in this Pronto! thing together,” if the city puts a bike station near my house in Madrona, I will buy an annual membership to try it out.
For the downhill leg, that is.
Food bank update
Here’s a good-news update in response to all your emails pointing out how tone deaf it is for the city to bail out Pronto! for $1.4 million even as the Greenwood food bank is being forced to close due to loss of just $53,000.
Rob Reardon of the Salvation Army called to say his group is hastily putting together a plan for a new food bank in Greenwood, at its center at 95th and Greenwood Avenue North.
“The people of North Seattle exceeded our Christmas kettle goal by $30,000 this year, so now we’ll use that money to fill the devastating hole in Greenwood left by this food bank closing,” Reardon said.
The closing of one window opened another. Sometimes la vita is bella.