The Seattle city official who designed the permitting process allowing private, stationless bike share companies to operate in the city has left to go work for one of those companies.

Share story

The Seattle transportation planner who led the city’s process to allow the new stationless, private bike shares that dot city streets and sidewalks has left city government to work for one of those bike companies.

Kyle Rowe, who was the city’s bike-share program manager, left the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) about three weeks ago to become the head of government partnerships for Spin, one of the three bike-share companies operating in Seattle.

Rowe was the lead SDOT official in developing the city’s guidelines for stationless bike shares. The city has been a testing ground for this new breed of bike share, which hadn’t been tried in any major American city before companies opened here in July.

Seattle’s regulations for stationless bike sharing were the first of their kind in the U.S.

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., 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 »

Now, as a Spin employee, he’ll be trying to get other cities to be similarly welcoming to shareable bikes scattered around their sidewalks.

“We’re going to work with governments that are considering free-floating bike shares to advance the public policy, share some of the lessons we learned in Seattle,” Rowe said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here to kind of rethink cities and first- and last-mile transportation, so my goal is to join the private sector so I can help other cities, not just Seattle, get it right.”

Unlike traditional bike-share programs that require bikes to be docked at fixed stations, free-floating or stationless bikes can be picked up and dropped off anywhere within the city limits.

Three private companies currently operate in Seattle — Spin, LimeBike and ofo. All work similarly: Bikes have a self-locking mechanism that is unlocked via smartphone app. Rides generally cost $1 each.

Seattle is still in the midst of a pilot program for these new bike shares. Under that program, the companies pay modest fees — about $1,800 plus $15 per bike — for the use of public space to park the bikes. Bikes are not supposed to block streets, sidewalks, business entrances or curb ramps.

While each company was initially limited to 500 bikes, those limits gradually increased and there is now no cap on the number of bikes each company is allowed.

In working for Spin, Rowe will be based in Seattle but will not be allowed to work with SDOT on changing or making permanent the pilot program. The pilot is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

City ethics rules bar Rowe from working with SDOT on any subject for one year. He is barred from working with SDOT on bike-share issues for two years.

Rowe said Spin is in near-constant communication with SDOT, but one of his colleagues handles those discussions.

SDOT Director Scott Kubly previously paid a $5,000 fine for violating ethics rules when he worked on matters related to Pronto, the city’s now-shuttered bike-sharing system. Kubly had previously been president of the company that was hired to run Pronto in Seattle.

Initial data released by the city in September showed far more ridership in the new bike-share program than Pronto, which used traditional docking stations, ever got.

At the end of the year, SDOT plans to review the usage data collected by the companies before recommending a permanent bike-share program.

Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan was noncommittal on the pilot program during her campaign. She said she had concerns that people weren’t wearing helmets while riding and that the city must continue to monitor to make sure bikes are parked appropriately.

“I’m anxious to see the data; I think it’s a cool experiment,” Durkan said in an interview last month.

“We’ll see what happens when it’s winter,” she said. “We rolled out these orange and green and yellow bikes in the summer when it’s cool and we’ll see if it works through October, November, December.”