Before the city held its first Solarize Mercer Island workshop of 2018 on June 26, the Mercer Island City Council voted 3-2 to move forward with a bike share pilot project.
Over a three-month period in the summer, the city will work with LimeBike to assist commuters in reaching the Mercer Island Park and Ride, and help residents get around Town Center, go shopping or do errands without driving.
Council members Wendy Weiker and Dave Wisenteiner were absent for the meeting, which also featured a code clean-up amendment and financial report. The potential levy lid lift for the November 2018 ballot was not discussed.
Council member Tom Acker voted against the bike share option selected by the council because it does not include pedal-powered bikes, only electric-assist, and because there was another option that would have been free to the city.
Senior Project Manager Kirsten Taylor said that investing in the pilot, at a monthly cost of $1,300 to $1,625, would make it more successful. LimeBike will maintain a fleet of 20-25 bikes on the Island, provide a two-hour response time for safety issues and 24-hour for parking issues, share usage data and do daily rebalancing Monday-Friday.
The free option would have only provided weekly rebalancing. Rebalancing is the process by which the company redistributes bikes so they’re readily available in more locations.
Other council members and city staff supported the electric bikes due to Mercer Island’s geography and hilly terrain. LimeBike is currently the only operator in the Seattle region with a significant and growing number of electric-assist bicycles in its fleet.
They also pointed out that the funding will not come from the city’s general fund, but from money set aside for first/last mile solutions in Mercer Island’s settlement agreement with Sound Transit.
Other Eastside cities have also been looking into dockless bike share, since Seattle launched its pilot last year. For some time, the city of Bellevue has been researching its own larger-scale bike share pilot. Although a May or June launch was anticipated, a very thorough RFP process delayed momentum, and the launch date is currently unknown.
Open questions — besides the status of programs in other cities — include King County’s existing bike helmet regulations, rules governing e-bikes on the I-90 Trail, the sections of the Mercer Island City Code regarding riding on sidewalks and bicycle parking, potential hubs on city land and the possibility of discouraging some parking locations via app geo-fencing, according to the council’s agenda bill.
The city has asked that any option be launched with a free ride to first-time users, and that program outreach be conducted at Summer Celebration on July 14-15. LimeBike is also interested in exploring the testing of electric-scooters in the Town Center area. These would be used on sidewalks and collected nightly. The council agreed to do the bike share first, and explore the scooters later.
Since last December, several council study sessions have explored various means of achieving less reliance on single occupant vehicles (SOVs), especially for daily commuters. In late April 2018, the city launched a six-month sponsored ride share pilot program in partnership with service providers Lyft and Uber to transport weekday commuters to and from the Park and Ride.
Reducing SOV usage not only decreases congestion on local streets and regional highways, but is also a sustainability goal of the city, as it helps lower community-derived greenhouse gas emissions. Currently 45 percent of the Island’s total annual emissions are transportation-related.
The city is helping residents go green in another way: by continuing its Solarize Mercer Island campaign. Building on the success of the 2014 residential solar campaign, which led to almost 50 new installations, the city is partnering with the citizens’ group Sustainable Mercer Island and the local non-profit Spark Northwest to work with a pre-selected, qualified solar installer.
The first workshop was held on June 26. Upcoming workshops will be from 6:30-8 p.m. on July 18, 10-11:30 a.m. on Sept. 15 and 6-7:30 p.m. on Oct. 9.
See www.mercergov.org for more.