Public Bike Share, Pronto!

Welcome back to the Stats-on-the-Streetsiest city blog in town! Today’s topic is bike share.

Bike share offers a unique transportation solution within cities. In a dense urban core often a car is more trouble than it’s worth, the bus may not conveniently traverse the necessary route, and while a personal bicycle provides more unconstrained mobility, it also presents the problem of what to do with your bike while at your destination. Who wants to worry about some jackass stripping their beloved bicycle while enjoying the theater*? Public bike share provides the mobility of a bicycle without the liability of your own property.

Many major American cities have launched bike sharing services in recent years, such as the well-known Citi Bikes of New York City, Divvy of Chicago, and Capital Bikeshare in the nation’s capital. Seattle managed to jump in front of their Cascadia Cup rivals Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Canada by starting the Pronto bike sharing system in 2014 spanning downtown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, and the University of Washington.

Apparently Pronto came about through a fit of Seattle Process-busting leadership by current mayor Ed Murray. According to the Seattle Bike Blog, Ed Murray called up Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden and made a sponsorship deal, thus demonstrating an impressive amount of leadership and, along with the 2nd Avenue protected bike line, casting doubt as to whether McGinn was the real bicycle-friendly mayor (Just kidding Mike McGinn we still love you!!!). I’m sure that the original plan was to have a never-ending, inclusive debate, and then vote on like a monorail proposition or something and never get bike share, so this outcome was surprising for sure.

The current Pronto network basically serves two clusters: the central city and the University of Washington, with a small number of trips between the two. I’ve heard through the grapevine great satisfaction with linking Pronto and KC Metro for urban trips, especially commuting. If you’re interested in using Pronto the official website is here, and a bunch of happy people riding Pronto bikes are here. For more information refer to the always marvelous Seattle Bike Blog and look at posts with the Pronto tag.

Anyway, Pronto is sponsoring a data challenge, that I think I am too disorganized to officially enter, but wanted to at the very least present a rundown here. Here’s the data challenge website. And here’s the rundown.

Popular Stations

So, um, the haters pointed out that people would be more likely to coast their Pronto from Capitol Hill to downtown than to tackle the uphill return trip. The haters appear vindicated.


Overall there was more action in the city center than the University area, but then again there are a lot more people downtown than at the UW. The most popular station appears to be Pier 69 on Alaskan Way so apparently tourists have really taken advantage of the cycle share, perhaps supplemented by natives playing tourist as well.

Popular Routes

Tourists. Tourists love riding Pronto bikes along the waterfront. The graphic below is a little confusing, because the most remarkable pattern about it is that there is little pattern, apart from the Eastlake thread connecting the popular city center to the much less Pronto’d University of Washington. Within the central city, no common paths or routes emerge from the general jumble of criss-crossing lines from checkout station to drop-off station. People seem to be using the Pronto as intended, from one more or less random city block to another more or less random city block, although I suppose Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square direct proved unpopular.


File under completely unsurprising: few urbanistas think it’s a good idea to go Pronto-ing down Eastlake. Many visitors to the city think it’s a good idea to go Pronto-ing along Elliott Bay.


It’s a little rich that I, a white man, would start complaining about how bicycling skews towards whiteness and Y chromosomes (also risk factors for ill-deserved leadership positions), but anecdotally that seems to hold. In the Better Know A Bike Counter Series (soon to continue) all we know are bicycles rolling across a counter. The Pronto data provides a unique opportunity to scrutinize demographics. So who exactly is riding all of these rental bikes?

We have age and sex information for trips conducted by annual pass holders, as opposed to people who purchased a 24-hour or 3-day pass. The annual members took about 87,000 of the total 143,000 total trips, or roughly 60% of the trips. The flip side is that we know nothing of demographics for 40% of the trips, but given trips taken by annual members the pattern does not surprise:


Basically half of all annual member trips were taken by men between the ages of 25 and 39, and the service was exceptionally popular among males aged 25 to 34. Overall the male/female split was about 80/20 on trips taken (note that this is not the same as the sex ratio of the members themselves, which is discussed here, as well as the age composition of the members). This isn’t particularly surprising, and suggests more could be done to encourage women to make use of the bike share. I assume that safety concerns are at least part of the issue, but would prefer that women pontificate on this discrepancy rather than myself. (Female readers: any thoughts on the imbalance of bike share participation?)


It’s interesting that the total daily trips are fairly similar between weekdays and weekends. A typical midwinter day saw approximately 150-250 system wide trips. A typical summer day saw 500-700 trips.


The single highest day was apparently April 20 with almost 1,000 trips, and I’m at a bit of a loss in how to explain that. April 13-19 was Pronto week, but I don’t see any promotions or activities specifically related to the 20th. Further none of the stations are that close to 23rd and Union. Any ideas on why 4/20 would have blown away all other days for Pronto ridership? The lowest ridership day occurred on March 15, alongside a little over two inches of rainfall…

Time of Day

Commuters used Pronto, but also striking is the volume of midday, weekday trips. Overall, though, this looks like the exact same bactrian camel/dromedary camel bicycle pattern at the SDOT bike counters. The busiest hours saw 75-100 trips, whereas the depth of winter saw daytime hours with 5-10 trips.



To only slightly misquote the old expression, payday’s on Friday and bikes flow downhill. The system recorded approximately 140,000 trips over the course of the first year, which works out to about 400 trips per day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but I imagine participation will continue to increase as people gain familiarity with bike share, and the car traffic disaster that is the Puget Sound region continues to worsen. Congestion doesn’t matter when you’re on a train; congestion doesn’t matter when you’re on a bike.

Pronto bikes proved popular with young men, tourists, and commuters, as well as for lunchtime/midday trips. People rode more in good weather than bad, daylight than darkness. We probably don’t need data to know those things, but often it’s nice to confirm conventional wisdom.

Unwarranted editorializing: I’ve been told that Boomers see cars as symbols of freedom, but spend enough time following WSDOT Traffic, or Tracy T in the King 5 Traffic Center, or really just trying to drive in this region at any time under any circumstances ever, and you will quickly become convinced of the opposite. Regardless of Cliff Mass’ cranky putdowns, I think bike share is a wonderful step towards a functional, multi-modal transportation network.


*This line was originally supposed to be a potshot at Pamela Banks, but it was actually transit that she said people would never take for an evening at the theater, which I find even more ridiculous.

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