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Why bike sharing could get more women riding in Seattle

Trends elsewhere suggest the added convenience may increase the number of women cyclists.
Riders taking part in a 2013 Washington, D.C. biking event for women.

Riders taking part in a 2013 Washington, D.C. biking event for women. Washington Area Bicyclist Association


Over the past nine years, the percentage of Seattleites commuting by bike has slowly climbed from 2.31 to 4.1 percent. Seattle officials see the forthcoming Pronto! bike share program as an opportunity to not only get more people riding, but a more diverse group of people as well. If other cities with bike share programs are any indication, Pronto! could very well provide an increase in the number of women riding bikes in Seattle.

Nonprofit Puget Sound Bike Share recently announced Alaska Airlines’ title sponsorship for the Pronto! Cycle Share program. Alaska’s five-year, $2.5 million contribution was a critical step toward making Seattle’s bike share a reality. The program is slated to launch in September of this year with 500 bikes at 50 stations downtown and in the University District, Capitol Hill and South Lake Union.

Rentals will cost $8 per day, $16 for three days or $85 for an annual membership. Users rent a bike from a sidewalk docking station, ride it, then can return it to any other open docking station in the city, allowing for one-way trips. Bike share rides are typically less than two or three miles — far enough that you might not want to walk, but perhaps too short for buses or driving. With the program's low cost and ease of access, bike advocates and Mayor Ed Murray alike have expressed their hope that bike share will get new people riding.

At a press conference announcing Alaska’s sponsorship, Mayor Murray suggested that the costs of bike rentals will be low enough to attract broad sections of the population. “For just $8 a day, someone can ride a bicycle," he said. "There is an equity issue here.”

“Bike share bikes are designed for ease of use and for an easier, more casual and social pace,” said Holly Houser, Puget Sound Bike Share Executive Director. “Putting 500 more bikes on the road is just going to further motivate the city to improve and add infrastructure. Seattle’s only going to get better and it will encourage more people to ride.”

Several American cities with bike share programs such as Washington, D.C., New York and Boston have found that the split between men and women is less imbalanced than the national average and, in some cases, close to a 50-50 split.

According to bicycle researcher and Rutgers University professor John Pucher, women make up about 25 percent of bicyclists in the United States. In Seattle, women account for a marginally higher 28 percent of bicyclists, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s 2012 bicycle count.

But in 2012, an average of 43 percent of all North American bike share members were women (most bike share programs just track gender information for annual members, not single-day users). To understand why so many more women are using bike-share systems than would ride otherwise, it helps to understand some of the common barriers to bicycling cited by women.

According to Carolyn Szczepanski, head of the League of American Bicyclists's newly launched Women Bike program, some of the most common barriers are: perceptions of safety and comfort in traffic and issues of convenience of riding while juggling the brunt of household responsibilities, including child care. And, she says there is a lack of a sense of community, caused in part by “looking out on the streets and seeing mostly men, many of whom are athletic and wearing gear that may or may not be something women are inclined to wear.”

But she says, cost, convenience and even cachet mean that women are taking to bike share in considerable numbers.

“With bike share, there’s such a low barrier to entry,” said Szczepanski. “A lot of women don’t have a bike or have a bike that’s been sitting in the basement and needs to be taken to the bike shop or fixed up. Bike share bikes are shiny and ready to roll for just a few dollars and you have access to those bikes at a drop of a hat.”


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Comments:

Posted Fri, May 23, 7:39 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm looking forwarding to seeing the first bikes and riders. To be truly successful will take some time.

The first issue, I think, will be getting more "stations" where you can pick up or drop off a bike. To be useful to regulars, not tourists, you need to be able to get a bike and drop it off within a few blocks of your start and stop locations.

I can see this being incredibly successful downtown and in other dense locations where it is a common need to get around within the area.

pragmatic

Posted Mon, May 26, 7:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Except for the hills. Not too many women want to get all hot and sweaty on a bike, downhill is fine, but uphill sucks in July and August, even pushing.

Posted Thu, May 29, 5:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Ballard - U District (via Fremont) on the Burke-Gilman could be a winner, if they ever get the "missing link" figured out.

I can see them being used on top of Capitol/First Hills - north-south on Broadway/12th and 15th is relatively flat. Might have to truck some bikes back up from the bottom of the hill. Same with QA Hill.

Posted Mon, May 26, 7:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Except for the hills. Not too many women want to get all hot and sweaty on a bike, downhill is fine, but uphill sucks in July and August, even pushing.

Posted Fri, May 23, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

The biggest barrier to increasing the percent of trips by bike is the lack of routes that aren't mixed in with cars, trucks, and pedestrians. Everything else is secondary; create safe routes and the riders will come.

louploup

Posted Fri, May 23, 11:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe the bicyclists of Seattle would agree to pay taxes on their bikes to support the building of those routes. Otherwise, the answer is going to be "Hell no" from the same electorate that rejected two car tab fees and told your favorite "progressive" Mayor McSchwinn to take himself and his ample spandex clad rear end back to Brooklyn where it came from.

NotFan

Posted Sat, May 24, 3:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattle's voters did not reject the last proposed car tab fee increase and I pay a heck of a lot of property taxes on my home and taxes on my car that sits in the driveway when I ride my bike. The answer may well prove to be "Hell Yes". By all means tax bikes but let's stick a GPS transmitter on every vehicle and tax by actual road usage multiplied by road wear.

WSDW

Posted Wed, May 28, 10:12 p.m. Inappropriate

I'll happily pay taxes on my bike to get separate paths. Anything to get away from jerks like you.

louploup

Posted Mon, May 26, 9:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Cough, cough.

afreeman

Posted Fri, May 23, 1:11 p.m. Inappropriate

I've loved this program in other cities where I have used it. but I don't think it will work here. Manhattan is nice and flat, Seattle is a hilly city where it rains quite a bit. to make matters worse, route options are not great here. As a daily rider for the last ten years or so, from Ballard to downtown, I can tell you the downtown part of the ride can be treacherous. I don't see a program for casual riders being tremendously successful. One needs a bit of insane commitment to the bike to see it as an option. I am far from athletic, but I do have some strong legs; no one without training up to it is going to hop on a bike for a quick run from downtown to capital hill. No one without big brass ones is going to go down that hill in traffic either. Tourists and occasional riders might go a few blocks in the SLU, though there are no good routes there. People that want to ride already have bikes (and rain gear, and strong legs) I foresee hundreds of bikes sitting unused in racks all over the city.

Posted Fri, May 23, 11:14 p.m. Inappropriate

No kidding. Especially these bikes. How many tons do their weigh? Could anyone really imagine riding one of those things uphill? And then there's the theft issue. Replacement cost is $1,200, and the rider is responsible. You'd have to be a serious fool to accept that kind of risk to ride one of those tanks.

NotFan

Posted Fri, May 23, 2:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I partially agree that it's a tough sell. But there may be more opportunities than you think. I'm a bike commuter but when I worked downtown there were just occasions that I could not- early meetings or whatever and I would have used one of these bikes for a mid-day errand or something. Other folks who commute by bus or car, and live too far to bike or the family schedule makes it unworkable, may use these to pedal to a meeting, go to lunch with a friend, or run errands. I don't know - we'll see I suppose.

Treker

Posted Fri, May 23, 11:08 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't see why bicycling should be encouraged to begin with. Seattle's bicyclists are inconvenient, arrogant, selfish, obnoxious pests who'd do everyone a service if they stayed off our streets and out of our way. Maybe the best news is that they'll wind up being located in the same places where the "progressives" have established rules-free zones for the (what's the correct word now?) "underserved" population?

If we're lucky, the "underserved" will take out their frustrations on the bikes?

NotFan

Posted Sat, May 24, 3:32 p.m. Inappropriate

The biggest need for bike routes in the city is to route bikes on streets with no buses (it is extremely expensive to combine bus stops with safe bike lanes) and to prohibit parking on one side of residential streets when they are used for bikes. These concepts don't seem to be a major part of the current bicycle route planning with the result that the city spends large amounts on creating bicycle routes that are really not much of an improvement over what we have already.

WSDW

Posted Sun, May 25, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

To attract more casual riders, this bike share program should expand into additional residential neighborhoods and better-connect with Seattle's established transit options. Bike stations at various lightrail stations might be a natural starting point. A bike share station at the Mount Baker lightrail station (or elsewhere in Mount Baker) would allow casual riders to connect with Bicycle Sundays on Lake Washington Boulevard. A bike share station in Columbia City would also see plenty of use. A bike station in downtown Fremont would allow casual riders to connect with many bus routes and with the Burke Gilman trail.

I agree with other commentators that downtown Seattle is an intimidating place for a novice rider (like myself) to rent a bicycle. I would much prefer to bicycle in a quieter neighborhood with safe, designated bicycle routes.

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