Getting around and through Seattle’s transportation mess, you learn to give up asking questions about the darndest things. Empty Sound Transit-subsidized SDOT streetcars crawling through the International District. Utility workers digging up the busiest streets at the worst times. Speeding electric skateboards with oblivious ear-budded riders slaloming through pedestrians on thronged sidewalks. And perhaps most annoying, the scourge of bike-shares making obstacle courses out of our urban landscape.
But nothing quite prepared me Saturday when I stumbled into what appears to be the Ground Zero of Bike Share, a jammed junkyard-style parking lot outside a nondescript warehouse at 8th Ave NW and 46th in Ballard.
Answers elicited from the lone worker on site did little to explain. He was sitting on a folding chair stripping bike electronics parts with pliers for what he said was recycling. He got up for a bit to make a futile effort at moving some of the bikes that blocked the sidewalk, because, he said, a wheelchair would never be able to get thorough. I thought that was commendably conscientious but grimly ironic in its futility. He related something about an electrical power outage in the warehouse so that the bikes that needed fixing were piling up. These were second generation bikes, he explained. New bikes were coming, he had heard, but he didn’t know when.
Later I learned that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) had recently spanked the bike share companies by lowering the number of bikes they could operate, on account of excessive sidewalk bike-parking violations. But the new caps wouldn’t have required Lime to shrink its fleet back to this parking lot. That’s because SDOT set the new caps at thousands of bikes above what SDOT reports bike-share vendors are actually deploying. So much for SDOT’s biting penalty strategy.
At the Ballard Lime warehouse, I was also struck by all the idle white box vans, home-based for the moment and not out on the streets where they would usually be schlepping bikes here, or there. I’ve always wondered how much fossil fuel must be used by unmarked vans packed with climate-friendly electric bikes. Next time you’re at a traffic light behind on of these incognito fossil fuel vans, imagine it full of electric bikes.
And don’t even think about sustainability in the larger sense, such as the resources it takes manufacturing the bikes out of aluminum, copper and lithium in China and then bringing them to Seattle on big trucks and container ships. And where do all the worn-out bikes and their electronic recyclings go when the riding days are over and bikes must leave Ballard for the afterlife?
So many mysteries.
So what’s the story? Is the fleet defective and breaking down faster than the repairers can keep up (hence the waiting for Next Gen Limes)? Is the company failing (which would explain the lack of more robust maintenance activity)? Or are the good-but-exasperated burghers of Seattle rebelling by vandalizing the bright-colored curb litter in a stepped-up protest?
Emails to SDOT and Lime so far have produced no answers. That’s pretty typical for the SDOT bike-share program. I have filed a public disclosure request to dig out what SDOT does or doesn’t know. Regrettably, curious citizens’ public disclosure requests to the City of Seattle invariably go into a 30-day reply hopper. Answers to the Lime Bike pile-up at an out of the way warehouse in Ballard may take a while.
I’ll let you know.
Image: Doug MacDonald