Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s office issued a press release late Friday, announcing that more than $3 million will be diverted from the city’s 2017 relaunch of its bike share program to the Safe Routes to School program, dismantling the troubled service that had been slated for replacement this year.
Pronto Cycle Share launched in Seattle back in October 2014, the city finding itself a year later negotiating taking over the program from operator Motivate, formerly known as Alta Bike Share. The Seattle City Council back in March 2016 voted 7-2 to purchase assets in order to pay debt accrued from a loan taken out by the nonprofit system. Councilmembers were critical of the Seattle Department of Transportation for subsidizing the bike share program’s operating costs to the tune of $305,000 prior to the takeover.
This followed a rejected request for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant funding in 2015 that would have been used to increase the number of Pronto bike stations from 50 to 250. At the time, Pronto was only reaching about 14 percent of Seattle’s population, and the expansion had been expected to reach more than 60 percent. The $1.4 million needed for the city to acquire Pronto and spare it from insolvency came from $5 million in funding Murray had earmarked for the planned expansion.
SDOT had been discussing with company Bewegen the addition of 1,200 electric-assist bicycles to the city’s bike share program late last year, which a number of transportation advocates had responded to favorably, some even having the opportunity to test ride the bikes.
SDOT director Scott Kubly agreed to pay $5,000 in penalties last summer, following a Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission investigation into his involvement in negotiating the expansion of Pronto in 2015 and the city taking over ownership of the program. Kubly left Alta a month before taking over the transportation director position in late July 2014, but did not file a waiver to allow him to work with his former employer or recuse himself from such efforts to comply with Seattle’s ethics code. He filed a disclosure form with the mayor’s office in September 2015.
Under the agreement Kubly reached with the SEEC, he only has to pay $5,000 of the $10,000 penalty, as long as there are no more ethics violations within two years of its approval.
The Friday release by Murray’s office states Pronto service will end on March 31.
“This shift in funding priorities allows us to make critical bicycle and pedestrian improvements—especially for students walking and biking to school," Murray said in the statement. “While I remain optimistic about the future of bike share in Seattle, today we are focusing on a set of existing projects that will help build a safe, world-class bicycle and pedestrian network.”
SDOT’s Safe Routes to School program improves safety for Seattle students through engineering improvements, education and encouragement campaigns.
Friday’s release states pedestrian safety improvements to be made through SRTS include traffic calming and crosswalks at 19 schools, completing a missing link of the Fourth Avenue bicycle lane and extension to Vine Street, accelerating design and outreach for the east/west connection in the Center City bicycle network and curb ramps at key location around Pioneer Square.
The release from the mayor’s office included endorsements for the funding switch by the Cascade Bicycle Club and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
"Cascade Bicycle Club applauds the Mayor for accelerating the downtown bicycle network and connecting key neighborhoods to where people live, work, play, and shop," said Cascade Bicycle Club senior policy director Blake Trask in the release. "These new safety improvements around targeted schools will amplify the bike and walk education that Cascade provides in every Seattle Public elementary school."
Councilmember Tim Burgess, who is not seeking reelection this year, issued his own statement in support of the mayor’s plan.
"I support Mayor Murray's decision to not advance a new bike share system at this time,” Burgess states in the release. “Our limited funds can be better spent on school safety projects and continuing to expand our existing bicycle network."