City leaders hope to bring bike sharing back to Spokane by spring, but with a new set of rules for both companies and riders.
Spokane has several laws that were not enforced during last fall’s bike sharing pilot program that would have made illegal how most people were using scooters and bikes downtown. Brandon Blankenagel, the city’s project manager for bike sharing, said motorized scooters are banned downtown. Scooter riders are required to use motorcycle helmets and vendors must provide bicycle helmets to customers.
According to the preliminary results from survey data the city gathered during the pilot, 108,400 of the 149,000 bike sharing rides were on scooters. About 72 percent of scooter riders rode on the sidewalk and only 21 percent of scooter riders said they wore a helmet.
The new regulations, which could be proposed next month, would allow people to ride scooters on downtown streets but not sidewalks and use regular bicycle helmets, Blankenagel said. Bike and scooter vendors would also no longer be required to offer helmets, only encourage riders to use them.
“Realistically, we’re trying to at least make the operation of this transportation system legal,” Blankenagel said.
When the city was first researching bike sharing, most companies were using a dock system in which riders would go to and check out a bicycle. When the city launched its pilot, using a docked bike sharing system was already outdated and there was no central location for vendors to offer helmets. Washington has far more helmet requirements than most of the country and many local transportation policies were not written with bike sharing in mind, Blankenagel said.
Blankenagel said Seattle offered helmets during its bike sharing program, but it was expensive and labor intensive for staff. He said customers who came to a dock to rent a bike could take a helmet from the clean helmet bin and when they were done, leave it in a used helmet bin to be sanitized. He said customers wouldn’t always know if there were clean helmets available, or if they were available, sometimes they were in the wrong size.
Blankenagel said the new rules are still under development, but he hopes the new regulations will be approved in a few months and bike sharing will return in May.
City Councilman Breean Beggs said Lime could be the company the city contracts this spring, but other companies, such as Bird, have had discussions with the city as well.
“I predict there will be more than one, but not unlimited,” he said.
He said other cities that contracted with multiple vendors had issues with large amounts of bikes cluttering popular areas.
Veronica Brown, a spokeswoman for Lime, said the company is interested in returning to Spokane. She said the company has launched an education program which encourages riders to follow local traffic laws and ride safely as well.
Councilwoman Kate Burke said the bike sharing pilot has allowed more people to bike or scooter on their daily commutes instead of driving. She said downtown is mostly pedestrian, bicycling and scooter friendly, but bike sharing has brought attention to the need for infrastructure improvements and the need for thoughtful transportation design in the future.
“This city is only going to get bigger and if we put more emphasis on biking and walking infrastructure, the transition will be easier,” she said.
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