Dockless bike sharing is expanding to Bellevue, applying lessons from Seattle

Dockless shared bikes, LimeBike, Spin, and Ofo, in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / John Cook)

Dockless bike-sharing is picking up speed in the Pacific Northwest and across the country.

Transportation officials in Bellevue, Wash., are planning a small dockless bike-sharing program, which allows residents to pick up and drop off bicycles throughout the city using an app. Just 400 shared bicycles will be permitted in Bellevue to start — and they all have to be electric.

Those decisions were informed by Seattle’s bike-sharing pilot, which launched last summer. Seattle charged more aggressively into dockless bike-sharing, granting permits for three companies and allowing each to roll out 1,000 bikes for the initial launch. Today, that cap is 4,000 bikes per company. The brightly colored bicycles from LimeBike, Spin, and Ofo are inescapable in Seattle.

Andreas Piller is leading Bellevue’s bike-share program.

“That led to some perceptions of clutter and general unease with the state of the public realm as those companies grew,” said Andreas Piller, the Bellevue Department of Transportation’s bike-share lead. “We were told, ‘start small, focus on areas where we think the demand is going to be high, and be flexible’ so 400 is not a set in stone number.”

Another takeaway from the Seattle program? Designated parking areas for shared bikes. Bellevue is planning to set up what it calls “bike hubs,” where residents can drop off bicycles. Riders can still leave bikes anywhere in the city where it is legal to park but Bellevue transportation officials hope the bike hubs will maintain some order. Seattle just started experimenting with its own bike-share parking zones in the Ballard neighborhood. Bellevue wants to make it a core component of its program.

“The bike hubs are really a distinguishing feature of how we’re looking at moving forward with this in Bellevue,” Piller said.

Bellevue is targetting May 2018 to launch its shared electric bicycles, though that date may change. It isn’t clear which companies will be permitted in Bellevue, but Piller said he has had conversations with the three operators in Seattle as well as other bike-sharing services.