Mayor Murray Pulls Off “Big Asks,” Secures Funding to Keep Seattle’s Bike-Share Plan Rolling

The plan for Seattle’s Bike-Share Program was established years ago, so why exactly is the new mayor acting like it was his idea?

For those following Seattle’s march toward a bike-share program, the words out of our new mayor’s mouth during his State of the City address last week were both exciting and mystifying.

“I will announce plans very soon with our friends at Puget Sound Bike Share to bring an exciting new bike-share program to Seattle—a program we are prepared to launch in 2014,” Ed Murray told the crowd.

It was a peculiar declaration. While any bike-share program would by definition be new to Seattle, plans for one definitely are not.

The Seattle Department of Transportation, King County, and a group of other stakeholders—under the umbrella of the Bike Share Partnership—started studying back in 2011 what it would take to bring a bike-share program to Seattle, and things progressed from there. Led by the nonprofit Puget Sound Bike Share, Seattle has been actively working toward a 2014 launch since at least 2012, when the Washington State Department of Transportation awarded King County a $750,000 grant for the purchase and installation of bike-share stations in the U District. In April 2013, Puget Sound Bike Share selected Portland’s Alta Bicycle Share as the company that will operate the system and secure the bikes and stations—with a stated goal of having 500 bikes available for short-term rental at 50 stations throughout the city by 2014. In September 2013, the City Council passed two pieces of legislation paving the way for bike-sharing to operate in Seattle. The City even maintains a bike-share website, last updated in December 2013, that states “The program is anticipated to launch in 2014.”

All the while, money was being rounded up to get the program off the ground, in the form of grants and private sponsorships from the likes of Children’s Hospital of Seattle. At last check, Puget Sound Bike Share was over half of the way toward the $4.4 million it has said is needed to launch phase one.

So what on earth is this new bike-share program Ed Murray will bring to Seattle?

“Nothing has really changed,” Puget Sound Bike Share Executive Director Holly Houser tells Seattle Weekly. The goal is still 500 bikes at 50 stations. Puget Sound Bike Share will still be running the show. With a contract that’s all but finalized, Alta Bicycle Share will still be the operator. And the program still plans to debut in 2014.

In other words, the bike-share program Seattle has been promised is the one Mayor Murray now says it will get, only with the new mayor jockeying for a major chunk of the credit.

But how much credit can Murray possibly take for something already years in the making? It comes down to money—and according to Houser and others, that’s where Murray deserves props.

While former Mayor Mike McGinn will probably always be known as Seattle’s bike mayor—or Mayor McSchwinn, if you must—when it comes to taking charge and leveraging the city’s financial might to get a bike-share program rolling, it’s Murray who was willing to do the heavy lifting, according to Houser. She tells Seattle Weekly that in his two months in office, Murray has made securing the final chunk of private sponsorship funding for Seattle’s bike-share program a priority.

And apparently it’s worked. Houser says the mayor and Puget Sound Bike Share will announce in the coming weeks that private funding has been secured for the remainder of the $4.4 million needed for a 2014 phase-one launch.

“Murray has been able to come in and basically pick up the phone and make that final push,” says Houser, adding that McGinn didn’t have the political relationships or desire to pull off “those big asks.” Houser says having the strong political support of the mayor has been essential.

As a candidate, Murray’s dedication to biking in Seattle was often questioned—fairly or not—especially when compared to McGinn’s. Laying claim to Seattle’s soon-to-be-realized bike-share program, even though it’s been slated to debut in 2014 all along, should help to quiet those rumblings.

“He wanted an early victory, and bike-share was kind of teed up,” says Tom Fucoloro of the Seattle Bike Blog. “It’s a chance for him to launch something that could have the potential to revolutionize the way people get around the city”—though Fucoloro admits that Murray’s maneuver was “not that hard of a thing to do” given the circumstances, and “kind of a no-brainer.”

While Murray, in his State of the City address, all but promised a 2014 launch for Seattle’s bike-share program, Houser takes a more cautious approach, telling Seattle Weekly she’s “pretty darn sure” it’s going to happen. The only potential hiccup now is getting the equipment, she says. In January, the company that was supposed to supply equipment for Seattle’s bike-share program filed for bankruptcy. Houser says Alta is currently “working very hard to put together a new supply chain” for Seattle.

She’s optimistic, saying that in the end, going with a new company for equipment will likely mean putting “a superior product” on the street. “We’re all cued up and ready to go. We have everything we need on our side,” Houser says.

Either way, when Seattle’s bike-share program does launch, it’s becoming clear who will claim credit: Ed Murray.

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