Final Analysis: Am I Ready to Share a Bike? Not exactly.

Not until I can be sure I’m safe on the streets of Seattle.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

On a recent visit to New York City, I marveled at the sheer bravery of the people using Citi Bike, New York’s bike-share program.

Or maybe it was their audacity that struck me. Many of these helmetless people weaving around delivery trucks and taxicabs and metro buses seemed to be my age — which equates to “was alive in the ’50s” — and I remember thinking, “You’ll never catch me riding a bike around Manhattan.”

Heck, you’ll never catch me riding a bike around Seattle. I do a lot of car driving and bus riding in Seattle. Bike riding? Not so much. For all of Seattle’s pronouncements that it’s a bike-friendly city, I have concluded after years of observational research that bicyclists here might as well be riding around with targets on their backs. Because someday, unless they’re incredibly lucky, these poor two-wheel types are going to have a run-in with a beefier, brawnier vehicle or a badly designed city street. Or both.

So it was with equal parts amusement and confusement that I read about Seattle’s own bike-share system, Pronto, being in trouble. Seems the program needed an infusion of $1.4 million — pronto — just to keep the tires inflated and the chains lubed. By the time you read this, the City Council likely will have voted on a Seattle Department of Transportation request to take over Pronto from the nonprofit Puget Sound Bike Share that has operated it since its launch 18 months ago. (That nonprofit actually pays another firm called Motivate to run the day-day operations.)

The city’s options are to just say no to bike sharing and let the experiment die a natural death, or to pick up the $1.4 million tab and let Seattle DOT come up with a way to keep the system afloat. Most proponents of the latter option say it would require expanding the network beyond downtown Seattle, where ridership is OK, if not robust, and the University District, where ridership is abysmal. Adding bike-rack stations in other neighborhoods, the theory goes, would help create an honest-to-goodness system that encourages people throughout the city to consider bicycling a viable first option when commuting to work, running errands or just having fun.

Detractors say bike sharing will never be a huge success here because Seattle is so goshdarned hilly. Motor-assisted bikes might help blunt that argument, of course. Or we could just regrade those hills into Puget Sound and become flatter than a Chicago accent. We’ve done it before.

Seriously, the idea of expanding ride share only makes sense in a city that’s serious about bicyclist safety. I don’t see Seattle as a safe bike city. Maybe I’m simply becoming too skittish in my dotage, but you couldn’t pay me enough to cruise down the Second Avenue bike lane at 8 in the morning with cars and trucks whizzing past my elbow at 30 miles an hour. 

Forty-five years ago, I drove in Manhattan. Totally unintimidated. Twenty-five years ago, I bungee jumped. Totally unhinged. Today, I’m totally sane. And I don’t bike in Seattle.

Perhaps a more comprehensive bike-share network operated by the city will help usher in improvements that eventually turn Seattle into Amsterdam West. And maybe then I’ll be less skittish about riding a bike downtown. Or across the Ballard Bridge. Or on Capitol Hill. Until then, consider me bikeless in Seattle. 

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Three predictions for the coming year on a new arena, an old arena and the Mariners.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
As every first-year business student knows, a city’s economy is not considered “world class” until said city has erected at least four shrines to professional sports and these shrines remain empty and unused most days of the year. Seattle is knocking on the door of world classiness because it already has KeyArena, Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field up and running. Occasionally. Just one more monument to appease the great mass of athletic supporters and we’re there. Hallelujah!
 
It’s only a matter of time because Chris Hansen, the San Francisco rich guy who wants to build a new arena on First Avenue South and bring pro basketball and pro hockey to Seattle, is this close to getting his way. In October, Hansen revealed that he and his investors are now willing to pay the whole honkin’ bill for plopping a new arena into the SoDo neighborhood a block from Safeco Field. He still wants a piece of Occidental Way vacated and also expects some tax breaks from the city, but that’s how rich guys are. (See: Trump, Donald.) Besides, the people who believe we’re not world class until the NBA returns to Seattle are salivating over this deal because it’s the best deal we’re ever going to get
 
Of course, these same people said Hansen’s previous offer, which would have required that $200 million in public money be plowed into a new arena, was also the best deal we were ever going to get. 
 
Hansen’s decision to pay more for his arena places the sports economy clearly in the local spotlight this year. Heaven knows we could use more opportunities to pay $9 for a beer and see millionaire athletes selling Jaguars and BMWs on TV. It’s the kind of economic shot in the arm that only comes around whenever a sports league is in a coercive mood. 
 
And so, in the spirit of this January issue’s “looking ahead” theme, we offer three predictions relating to the regional economy as the Hansen arena intrigue continues to unfold.
 
Prediction 1: Hansen, who has already spent more than $120 million buying up property in the area of his proposed arena, will persuade the Port of Seattle, his arch nemesis in this melodrama, to fold up its tent and send all cargo-handling operations to Tacoma. That decision will pave the way for so many trendy bars and restaurants with names like Kale & Kumquat or Cobblestone & Wingtip that Hansen will be persuaded to create a private streetcar system to connect Pioneer Square with the burgeoning Stadium District. 
 
Prediction 2: The city-owned KeyArena, whose very future is clouded by the Hansen proposal, will announce plans to house up to 10,000 homeless persons every day. Even on days when the Seattle Storm and Seattle University basketball teams need the building, the city believes the Storm and the Redhawks could use the attendance boost, so it becomes a classic win-win.
 
Prediction 3: The Seattle Mariners, who still don’t like the arena proposal, will channel their hostility onto the field of play — and still not win the World Series. (This is called pattern-recognition analysis.) However, always mindful of improving the fan experience — because it’s not whether your team wins or loses, but whether you’re inclined not to press charges for being gouged by a vendor — the Mariners will introduce several new fan-friendly food items, plus mani/pedi stations in the pricey seats and roving loan officers to assist anyone trying to finance the purchase of hot dogs and sodas for a family of four. 
 
JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at john.levesque@tigeroak.com.