Roughly 30 cities in North America have implemented or are in the process of launching public bike share programs in their municipalities. Last Monday, Seattle joined their ranks when the Seattle City Council approved two bills that are essential for creating a local bike share network in early 2014. What this means for you: Soon, you'll be able to rent one of 500 bikes at any of 50 bike share stations around town.
Annual membership to Puget Sound Bike Share will likely be around $85, says Holly Houser, the Executive Director of the program, while a 24-membership is likely to run you $9. (Bike Share is also exploring the idea of week-long memberships.) Puget Sound Bike Share is still hammering out where the bike stations will be located and their hours of operation. As some stations—those at the bottom of hills, for example—will likely become more popular drop spots than others (any bike can be returned to any station), teams of balancers will drive around in vans, redistributing cycling stock throughout the city.
This is an important milestone—for the first time, biking around town will join busing and light rail as a recognized form of public transportation. "It's an easy, spontaneous way to get around," Houser says. She explains that the average bike commute in Seattle is under three miles or about 20 minutes long. Making bikes available at reasonable costs to the public will encourage more people to try it during their daily commutes. And, if the program's successful, it will pressure the city to invest in meaningful, bike friendly street upgrades—like dedicated cycle tracks—instead of simply slapping paint on the road and calling it a bike lane.
Of course, there are obstacles in getting the general public using a bike share program. Hills, for instance. And state helmet laws—people who might jump at the convenience of renting a bike might also balk at the idea of carrying their helmet around everywhere. To address these concerns, Houser says the bikes will be equipped with seven speeds (instead of three) to help conquer hills. The bikes will also have rain guards because, Seattle! In addition, casual users will have the option of renting a helmet from any station for $2 or $3.
"I think that the beauty of this program is that it has the potential to change the culture around cycling—to break down assumptions that it's only for these more serious, hardcore cyclists with fancy bikes who ride every day," Houser explains. "Our job is getting the population to realize that it can be another form of transportation, to get from point A to point B, and to embrace it as one other option in a growing menu of public transport."