Seattle explores on-street bike and scooter parking to clear up cluttered sidewalks

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Lime bikes sit near an empty designated bike parking zone in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

As cities across the country embrace new mobility services like bike and scooter-share, sidewalks are getting awfully crowded. The growing number of bikes and scooters parked on sidewalks can make it difficult for people with disabilities and pedestrians to get around.

The phenomenon is forcing cities like Seattle to find new solutions that balance their values of inclusivity and urban mobility. That’s where Seattle’s new proposal to create on-street bike and scooter parking comes in.

The city is developing a plan to create e-scooter and bike parking zones on Seattle streets to clear up increasingly cluttered sidewalks. The City Council passed a resolution Tuesday instructing the Seattle Department of Transportation to come up with a budget proposal for the new parking plan.

Seattle’s plan would create on-street bike and scooter parking corrals in the curbside zones adjacent to intersections, areas where cars are not allowed to park. The City Council is hoping the new parking zones will kill two birds with one stone. According to the resolution, “on-street bike and e-scooter parking will help to enforce the existing restrictions on motor vehicles parking within 15 feet of an intersection, simultaneously improving drivers’ sightlines and making pedestrian crosswalks safer.”

If such a zone isn’t available, the corrals will be on sidewalks in areas that don’t block pedestrian access. The city is asking SDOT to estimate what it would cost to build bike and scooter parking facilities on all block faces in Seattle. The goal is to add up to 3,000 multimodal parking spaces by the end of 2020.

But new parking zones are only effective if riders use them. Seattle is exploring fines for improperly parked bikes and scooters to encourage riders to drop off the devices in the designated parking zones.

Funding for the new parking corrals would come from the bike-share and scooter-share permits fees. Last summer Seattle concluded its bike-share pilot and adopted a long-term permit for mobility companies that includes a $250,000 annual fee.

Seattle has not yet launched a scooter-share program but the city started crafting a pilot last month. Seattle transportation officials plan to launch the scooter pilot next spring.

Sidewalk clutter has been a concern since Seattle first adopted dockless bike-share services in 2017 — and it’s getting worse. An SDOT report covering the second quarter of 2019 found 17.4 percent of shared bikes were obstruction hazards, up from 14.3 percent in the first quarter.

“For people with disabilities, improperly parked bikes and e-scooters create significant barriers to navigating Seattle’s streets when bikes or e-scooters block access to sidewalks, curb ramps, building plazas and arcades, transit stops, benches, and other usable areas of our pedestrian space,” the City Council resolution says.

The problem has become so pervasive that Seattle officials decreased the number of bikes that bike-share operators Lime and Jump can have in circulation. In August, SDOT lowered the cap from 6,667 bikes to about 4,500 each. The goal is to prevent bike-share operators from expanding until the parking issue is under control.

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