The Seattle City Council passed legislation Monday to bring more bike shares to Seattle and more bike lanes to downtown. But more bike sharing depends on private companies accepting higher fees, and the Seattle Department of Transportation is dubious of the bike-lane timeline.

Share story

The Seattle City Council moved to make dockless bike share a permanent fixture in the city Monday, passing legislation that would allow up to 20,000 of the bikes to operate here, while also setting a nonbinding deadline for the city to build a network of protected bike lanes through downtown.

The bike-share legislation, passed unanimously, allows up to four companies to operate in the city, each paying $250,000 for the right to scatter up to 5,000 bikes on the city’s sidewalks.

That would be about double the number of bikes that have been on the streets in 2018, as three bike-share companies have been operating under a pilot program.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company, Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

The 10,000-or-so bikes currently in the city were used an average of about 7,000 times a day in May and June for as little as $1 a ride, although the program has drawn complaints about riders not wearing helmets and leaving bikes parked haphazardly and blocking pedestrian access.

But just because the City Council wants more bike sharing doesn’t necessarily mean the private bike-share companies — in a new business with dubious profit margins — will accept some of the highest permit fees in the nation.

Joel Miller, the city’s bike-share manager, said five to 10 companies have expressed interest in operating in Seattle under the new regulations.

LimeBike, one of three companies currently operating, said it will apply for a permit to operate both regular and electric bikes. But they might be the only one sticking around.

Spin, which has the fewest bikes currently on the street, has not responded to questions, posed over several weeks, about its future plans in Seattle.

And ofo, a Chinese company that is shutting down most of its U.S. operations, announced after the council vote on Monday that it would leave Seattle, citing the $50 per-bike, per-year fees.

“The exorbitant fees that accompany these new regulations — the highest in the country — make it impossible for ofo to operate and effectively serve our riders,” said Lina Feng, the general manager of ofo Seattle.

JUMP, a bike-share company owned by Uber, would like to operate in Seattle, but has lobbied the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) on the maximum allowable speed for electric bikes and says it’s waiting to see final permit regulations.

The Seattle Department of Transportation plans to use fee revenue to administer the program, conducting twice-yearly audits on the companies to ensure proper bike parking, and to build up to 200 new bike-parking corrals throughout the city.

Advocates for the blind and disabled had worked with the council over the last two weeks to try to address bikes clogging sidewalks and blocking pedestrians.

An amendment added Monday forbids SDOT from spending more than $500,000 of the fee revenue until the agency has a written plan for directly enforcing bike parking rules.

The council also unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution that sets firm deadlines — the end of 2019 — for the city to build a half-dozen long-planned bike lanes through downtown: on Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue North, 12th Avenue South, South King Street and on Pike and/or Pine streets, among others.

Many of those lanes have been planned since at least 2014, but have remained unbuilt.

“The city has postponed and delayed various aspects of this a number of times, to the frustration of many in the community including myself,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said. “This is an ambitious set of plans, but there’s no obstacle we don’t see a way to overcome.”

But the Seattle Department of Transportation has expressed skepticism that, with megaprojects and a construction boom strangling downtown, it will be able to construct all the lanes. And the most significant planned downtown bike lane, along Fourth Avenue, remains delayed until 2021.

“We do have significant concerns,” Darby Watson, SDOT’s acting chief of staff, said earlier this month about the City Council’s timeline. “It’s a significant challenge building anything in the right of way in downtown, particularly in this period.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose signature is not required for the resolution to pass, has declined to comment.

The resolution contains no funding. O’Brien said the money for the bike lanes is already in SDOT’s budget; the agency just needs to prioritize it.

SDOT has struggled to keep bike lanes to budgets, even if the most expensive projects are much more than bike lanes, and have included extensive rebuilds of sidewalks, traffic lanes and traffic lights.

The nearly 1-mile extension of the Second Avenue bike lane through Belltown, completed earlier this year, cost about $11 million, although 40 percent of that money went to new traffic signals.

But new bike lanes on lower Pike and Pine streets cost less than $500,000 total, for about a half-mile.