Bicycle parking restrictions in the Netherlands

With a bike share of transportation that is unique in the world come “problems” that are equally unique. At least some municipalities in the Netherlands see a problem in the high number of ‘illegally’ parked bicycles around popular destinations in their towns and cities.

Parking Campaign Amsterdam
Poster to announce the parking restrictions around Leidseplein in Amsterdam: “Work with us! Park your bike okay”

Two weeks ago Amsterdam announced the start of a campaign with a stricter enforcement of bicycle parking restrictions around Leidseplein. To “tidy up” this central square that has a number of theaters and a very high number of bars and restaurants. According to the city they all support the campaign.

In principle, parking your bicycle on the public roads is permitted everywhere in the Netherlands under the road act from 1994. A municipality can however designate specific areas where restrictions are in force. They can either be restrictions in time of parking that is allowed (ranging from 30 minutes to 28 days) or that bicycles can only be parked in specific parking racks or areas. Cyclists that leave their bicycles for too long or outside the racks risk confiscation by the local government. Mostly the bike can be retrieved for a small fee.

More municipalities have taken measures for so-called concentration areas. High on the list of popular destinations are railway stations. With 40% of the train travelers arriving by bicycle the stations in the Netherlands have huge problems with the number of parked bikes. The four-story parking facility in front of Amsterdam Central station may be the most photographed facility in the Netherlands. It was meant to be temporary. So are the ships behind the same station where there are thousands of bikes to be seen as well. I have shown you this in an earlier video. Utrecht has the largest train-station in the Netherlands and will need to have 23,000 parking spaces after the remodeling of the station area is finished. Until then over 800 meters of bike racks on the streets and a number of temporary facilities prove to be inadequate. Other stations like the ones in Assen and Rotterdam also have regulations and no-parking zones near the train station. At least, outside the racks (see pictures).

Parking restrictions
Various signs for parking restrictions in Houten, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Rotterdam and Assen.

Another very popular destination in many Dutch cities is the inner city pedestrianized shopping area. Tilburg is one of the cities that banned on street bicycle parking there, but had a hard time enforcing the rules. There is a huge free underground bicycle parking facility but people still parked on the streets closer to the shops. So last year the city tried to bring in humor to get people to obey the rules. As is clear from the video, not everybody understood this campaign with a barking tricycle.

Not everybody understands why the municipalities are banning parking bicycles at all. You would expect the local governments to be happy that people didn’t arrive to those destinations by car, and try to keep it that way by creating adequate facilities. In 2010 Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) investigated the situation of 1600 popular destinations in 43 municipalities and found a huge shortage of bicycle parking racks. For 80% of the train stations parking facilities were not sufficient. And for main shopping areas that was the case in 70%. Instead of banning bicycle parking municipalities should invest in more bike racks. After all, a row of neatly parked bicycles looks ‘tidy’ enough. Restricting bicycle parking at popular destinations could lead to a decrease in the use of bicycles and surely nobody would want them replaced by parked cars!

Utrecht no parking
No parking sign in Utrecht. With the additional warning “bicycles will be removed”. Most cyclists do not seem to be bothered by this restriction, even attaching their bikes to the no parking sign itself…
Attention no parking longer than 28 days
Warning label in Utrecht stating: Attention! It is not permitted to park longer than 28 days in a rack or your bike will be removed at your expenses.” This to free racks from abandoned bicycles and thus to create more free parking spaces.
A labeled bike in 's-Hertogenbosch
A labeled bike in ‘s-Hertogenbosch informing the owner: “This bike will be removed! You can avoid confiscation if you remove this bike yourself before 27 April 2012 8:00am, labelled on 29 March 2012”.
Uploading bikes conficated by the city of 's-Hertogenbosch
A city worker of ‘s-Hertogenbosch accompanied by a police officer uploads bicycles that were parked illegally.

One of the strangest side effects of these policies is the fact that bicycle thieves now allegedly dress up as city workers and steal high quantities of bicycles at the time. All the more reason to think long and good about these policies you would think. It is time Dutch cities see this as it is: it is great that so many people use their bikes, it would be wise to create good parking facilities for them.

10 thoughts on “Bicycle parking restrictions in the Netherlands

  1. I’m forwarding this post to some of the city halls around Boston in the US. Tagging bicycles before removing them is the method they need to learn for getting rid of abandoned bicycles.

  2. Very interesting! In Ukraine we only start with “bike to work” initiative, with marking first bike lanes in our capital Kyiv and main tourist city Lviv etc. It’s all new and exciting:) Rare cyclists are like pioneers.

    But I wonder how is it, when bikes begin to produce traffic jams and vast parkings (just like cars)?

    btw, is undergound parking ( possible in the Netherlands?

  3. I like your article. Interesting to see that bike parking can be a city menace when cyclists don’t adhere to rules. See my post on how creative cyclists in Nairobi get with parking. I am hopping to get the city of Nairobi to convert the numerous former parking meter posts (which no longer have meters) into bike parking posts event for a small fee.

  4. Hi Mark, I like your posts about parking issues. But nearly all of them are about parking at the destination end. Could you make a post about parking at the home situation? Building regulations, bicycle sheds in appartment buildings, on-street residential parking facilities, back passage ways around building blocks for access to back yards with bicycle sheds, etc etc. Cycling is nice, but if you don’t have a place to leave your bike, it just doesn’t work.
    My own house does have a bike shed. But it’s too small for our family of five. But I’m sure that there are many people, especially in cities, who would consider this as a luxury problem…

  5. In Australia we can only dream of having these problems. My local train station has parking for about 20 bikes. Only 3 people regularly use them, 1 is Dutch and the other two of us are originally from Scotland. This is despite the fact that the majority of train travelers live with 7 kms of the station.

    1. Australia sounds a lot like the Nairobi cycling scene… People here prefer to gripe about the horrible traffic jams in the mornings and evenings. I only have to worry about the rain with poor drainage and the prospects of getting drenched by motorist splash more than the rain itself…

      1. Even in the Netherlands we have people griping about inner-city traffic jams, never mind the ones on the motor-ways, and our biggest city, Amsterdam, is a village of 700,000 compared with Nairobi’s 3.8 million. Most motorists just don’t seem to understand that sometimes you’d better walk or cycle to get to your destination, even over here.

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