All about cycling in the Netherlands
Utrecht opened its – so far – largest indoor bicycle parking facility. It is the first new permanent solution to park bicycles in the area around central station. Under the new monumental stairs to the new station hall (that has yet to be finished) this huge new facility can accommodate 4,200 bicycles.
Utrecht is rebuilding its station area and up to now most of the facilities were temporary. But the area at the west side of the station is now in a stage that the first permanent structures are being finished. One of those is the 8 metres high massive entrance stairs. The steps lead up to the new municipal office building that has also just been finished and the new station hall over the railway tracks. These stairs offer great views over the square ‘Jaarbeursplein’ that will also be used for events. For those events the stairs can double as a grand stand with seating for many people. That already happens. People use the seating areas in the stairs – which cleverly hide windows for the space under the stairs – the moment the sun is out. People are not forced to use these steps. There are escalators and elevators at either end for people with a fear of heights or those who are simply not able to walk such stairs.
The space under the stairs is huge and certainly not wasted. There was enough space to build 3 floors with 37 rows of double-decker bicycle parking racks to park 4,200 bicycles. For a space under stairs it is remarkably light. The area is flooded with light and it is hard to understand how that is possible when you look at the stairs from the outside. The designers did a great job here. The three floors are easily accessed with long bicycle stairways with grooves for your bicycle. These stairs are kept at a minimal steepness so pushing your bike up is easily done. It was good to see that the double-decker bike racks are so easy to operate that also women chose to park their bicycles on the top deck. There are also normal stairs to quickly walk to the station hall.
The demand for bicycle parking at railway stations in the Netherlands is very high. Of all train travellers about 40% arrive at the station by bicycle. Considering Utrecht Central is the Netherlands’ largest railway station, with over 900 trains leaving here every day, the demand at this station is particularly high. That is why in total 30,000 parking places (public and non-public combined) will be created here in the next few years. Which doesn’t even seem enough with the current 285,000 passengers per day, and the expected growth to 360,000 passengers within the next 10 years.
This facility was developed by three parties; the two companies that run the railways – Netherlands’ Railways (NS) and ProRail – together with the Utrecht municipality. That the facility is located right under the entrance staircase means that you couldn’t park your bicycle closer to the tracks. The first 24 hours of parking are free. After that it costs €1.25 per following 24 hours (€2.50 for larger bicycles like a ‘bakfiets’). For people who go to work every day and use this facility at the beginning of their journey, this means that when they park their bicycle every morning and take it back every evening, that it is always free. People who work in Utrecht and use this facility at their work destination will have to leave their bike parked in the weekends. That means that they would have to pay. If they would do that on a permanent basis it would be better to use an annual subscription for €75,= per year.
Checking your bike in and out is done with the ‘OV-chip card’, a public transport card that most Dutch now have. Which is a “credit-card-sized stored-value contactless smartcard”, comparable to the Oyster Card in London. Instead of using the card to check-in for public transport it is now used to check-in the bike. When you collect your bicycle, the attendant checks your bike out and sees how long you have parked. You can leave free of charge if the bike was collected within 24 hours or you will have to pay for any additional 24 hours. This can be done on the spot or all at once for one month afterwards. Unless, of course, the attendant sees you have an annual subscription.
There are more electronics in this facility. The sign to every lane shows exactly how many spaces are still free in that lane. That you enter the facility at the bottom floor and that the station is at the top floor is a very clever design feature. It means that there is an incentive to park your bicycle as far up as possible, to shorten your walk to the tracks. This prevents that the facility is only used near the entrance and empty near the top.
Every floor has its distinct bright color and every lane is numbered. Every single parking space is also numbered, so it should be possible to easily find your bicycle back. Other services include free to use repair tools and if you arrive without bicycle you can also rent an OV-Fiets here.
It is great to see that after years of temporary facilities there are finally some permanent structures being finished. This facility will not be the largest in Utrecht for very long. Building the world’s largest bicycle parking facility has already started at the east side of the station. It will almost be three times as large, for 12,500 bicycles, and is expected to be finished in 2016.
Facilities like these are needed in the Netherlands because every possible barrier to cycling has to be taken away to keep the Dutch cycling. Not being able to park your bicycle could mean that people could give up cycling.
My video portrait of the new indoor bicycle parking facility in Utrecht.
Linda dell’Omo is an Italian expat living in Utrecht and she has also tried out the facility. Her account and pictures are worthwhile to be seen.
A 360 degree view of the new staircase.
The website for this particular parking facility translates to “Your bike will not want anything else from now on”.