Seattle approves new bike share rules without helmet requirements

The Seattle City Council passed the new permanent rules on bike share companies Monday afternoon but did not touch the issue of bike helmets, which are required by law to be used by riders in Seattle and King County.

“Shame on you,” Executive Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington Deborah Crawley said to city council members. “You're allowing the most vulnerable in this city to ride without a helmet, where we know research says that those with any means in the city wear helmets.”

“The city's choice to roll out bike share programs without also implementing helmet safety measures is reckless,” Jessica Lo, also with the Alliance, added.

The council voted unanimously in favor of approving the new rules, which charge $250,000 per vendor if four vendors are granted permits during the initial permit application period and $50 per permitted bicycle or device if three or fewer vendors are granted permits during the initial permit application period.

But the rules said nothing of the King County law requiring any person operating or riding a bike in the county, including Seattle, “to wear a protective helmet designed for bicycle safety.”

“The city has set itself as a prime target,” personal injury attorney Richard Adler said, laying out how the city could be sued by a brain injury victim. “It is foreseeable in my world, that a bike will have a collision with a car. It often doesn't win. A bike may also have some event that occurs on a city street with a pothole that hasn't been properly repaired.”

He said if a driver’s insurance did not cover a victim’s injuries and needs, it is foreseeable that an attorney would look to the city.

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With Ofo officially announcing it’s pulling out of Seattle, KIRO 7 checked the websites of its competitors, Spin and LimeBike.

LimeBike, which said it would provide both pedal and electric-assist bikes under the new regulations, instructs its users follow all local rules in an informational video on its website. In colorful graphics, Spin does the same, telling riders to “always wear a helmet.”

The city did require the Seattle Department of Transportation to provide a written plan for sidewalk management, responding to concerns from advocates and people with disabilities.

“Blind, disabled and all other pedestrians are being severely impacted by the bicycles that are littered on the sidewalks that we try to walk on,” Marci Carpenter, who is blind, said.

KIRO 7 contacted several people with the Seattle Department of Transportation on Monday. One person acknowledged receiving the questions about helmets and the new regulations but no one answered them.

Customers in Seattle said they supported the idea of the expansion but raised issues with maintenance problems.

“We tried three different bikes,” Shane Carstens, who was visiting from Edmonton, said. “We couldn't get any of them to work. One said it had a maintenance problem. The other one said it was down for low battery. And then the third one was another—I forget the message, it was a maintenance issue again.”

“I was very disappointed because I was really excited about going around the city, seeing everything,” his 12-year-old son, Thomas, said.

LimeBike’s general manager for Lime Seattle, Isaac Gross, said in a statement that their internal data shows that at any given time, over 85% of their bikes are charged and fully operational.

“That said, if anyone experiences an issue with a bike we encourage them to report it using the Lime app so we can address it quickly,” Gross said.