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Originally published Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Bike-share in Seattle: Start-up calls for 500 bicycles, a few million dollars

The proposed initial phase would put 500 bicycles in downtown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, Capitol Hill, the University District and Sand Point. Future phases might include Ballard-Fremont, Overlake, downtown Bellevue and Rainier Valley.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Information

Puget Sound Bike Share: pugetsoundbikeshare.org

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Momentum is growing to build a bicycle-sharing network in Seattle by mid-2013, if a nonprofit coalition can gather a few million dollars.

Puget Sound Bike Share hopes to follow the lead of Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., and other operations around the world.

The proposed initial phase would put 500 bicycles in downtown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, Capitol Hill, the University District and Sand Point. Future phases might include Ballard-Fremont, Overlake, downtown Bellevue and Rainier Valley.

Participants might pay $5 a day, $30 a month, or $75 a year to hop a bicycle at one of 50 street-side stations, in a situation somewhat similar to using a Zipcar.

Bicycles here would have seven gears to help with hill climbing, instead of the usual three. They would be equipped with lights, and helmets — required in Seattle and King County — would be dispensed from a machine, then returned along with the bike.

The bike-sharing organization is recruiting an executive director this month to raise money and hire an operating company.

Organizers don't expect to seek local taxpayer dollars, said Ref Lindmark, a King County Metro Transit planner and president of the bike-sharing committee. Instead, the group intends to fund the $3.7 million estimated startup, and $1.4 million yearly operating cost through grants from corporations, foundations or the federal government.

Microsoft and Seattle Children's have pledged property for bicycle parking, and to subsidize employee subscriptions. Other partners are Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, the University of Washington, Sound Transit, Cascade Bicycle Club, the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington.

Bicycle sharing complements mass transit by solving the so-called last-mile problem, Lindmark said.

"People can get off the bus and bike eight blocks or so to work," he said. Bike-sharing also works well for short hops between offices, for tourists, or for shopping side trips, he said.

Seattle ranks approximately seventh among big U.S. cities for transit use and third in bicycling, behind Portland and Minneapolis, two clues a bike share here could be popular.

But there are potential drawbacks:

• Seattle lacks cross-downtown routes that are safe for a casual bicyclist. In premier bike-share cities such as Washington, D.C., and Hangzhou, China, proponents' video shows wide boulevards providing separated bicycle lanes. Lindmark answers that Boston sustains a bike share in conditions comparable to Seattle. Tom Fucoloro, editor of Seattle Bike Blog, says the city needs to intensify efforts to create a protected bikeway downtown, in time for the bike-share launch.

• Conflicts could increase on the already congested Third Avenue busway. "I would imagine if we've got a lot more bikes downtown, the bus drivers will have to get used to the fact there are a lot more bikes around on a regular basis," said Paul Bachtel, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587. "Perhaps bike riders will use more discipline, too."

• Even after startup, a $1.4 million yearly operating budget translates to $2,800 per bike. Lindmark reiterates that sponsorships or grants would cover the bulk of expenses, and said the 2-year-old D.C. system collects enough user fees to roughly break even on operations.

Bike-share organizations in Portland and Vancouver, B.C., are forming networks that are expected to debut before Seattle's, he said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom.

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