SEATTLE, Wash. - He spent five years working for the Seattle Department of Transportation, ushering bike-share companies into the city. Now, Kyle Rowe is leaving the city to work for one of the companies he welcomed to Seattle.
“I decided to join SPIN and help them be a leader in the revolution of free-floating bike-share that’s expanding quickly across the country,” Rowe said. “There’s a lot of innovation happening on the technology side of things, but the space I’m coming into help out on is innovation on the policy side. This is a new relationship companies are having with cities.”
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Rowe might not be as familiar of a name as other city officials, but he is well-known to Seattle’s bike community. He has primarily worked on bicycle projects at SDOT (along with pedestrian work), including the bicycle master plan, as a strategic advisor. When SDOT updated the council on bike-share information, Rowe was at the table. He helped out when the city was considering an electric bike-share company from Canada. When Seattle developed rules and regulations for the new free-floating bike shares, he helped write them. And when SDOT had to teach Seattle how to use the new bike-share system, Rowe starred in an instructional video under the title “bike-share program manager.”
Rowe said that he recently considered leaving SDOT to work at a couple private bike-share companies. He opted to become SPIN’s head of government partnerships just four months after the company launched in Seattle. The city’s stationless bike-share pilot won’t be over until the end of the year, but Rowe is confident Seattle will keep the bikes rolling through town after that.
He will now bridge the gap between the private bike-share company and the public sector he once worked in, with cities across the country. He won’t be working with Seattle anytime soon, however.
“I actually won’t be working with SDOT at all for a year, and I won’t be working with them on bike share for two years, that’s consistent with the Seattle ethics code,” Rowe said.
Rowe indicated that SDOT is sensitive to ethics controversies after recent issues with Director Scott Kubly. The SDOT director failed to disclose a conflict of interest with a bike-share company the city was working with when the now-defunct Pronto system was operating. Kubly previously worked with that company. It prompted an ethics investigation in 2016 that concluded he violated the city’s ethics code.
“Not only would this question be raised given the relationship (I have with SDOT) today, but also that it’s already made some news in Seattle, we would expect it to come up,” Rowe said. “There’s no reason to bring me on to manage a relationship with SDOT … I’m solely joining on to help with other cities.”
From SDOT to SPIN
Rowe said he enjoyed SDOT, but felt attracted to the company values at SPIN — an equitable bike system at no cost to cities. That encouraged him to leave the department where he heavily worked to implement bicycle programs in Seattle. His time at SDOT began when he was studying urban planning at the University of Washington.
“I started (at SDOT) before I even graduated college,” he said. “I started there as an intern supporting the 2014 bike master plan.”
He moved up through the ranks at SDOT since then, working on pedestrian and mobility projects, but bikes were a consistent focus. In 2016, he headed up Seattle’s bike-share program as Pronto was failing and on its way out, but new private companies were aiming to move into town.
“There’s a younger, newer generation of tech startups that are coming into cities and being a provider of mobility … we got to learn from the experiences before us, from our older peers and do this collaboratively with government first,” Rowe said. “What I can do is come into SPIN and share with them the concerns, the thinking, the whole framework of what a city DOT is going to be looking for in terms of inviting us into their city; seeing us as part of their community and not disrupting their transportation goals.”