Utrecht removes illegaly parked bicycles

Parking restrictions for bicycles are not to be taken lightly in the Netherlands. Utrecht has recently removed hundreds of bicycles just from the station area alone. And that is done regularly. Utrecht is no exception; all over the Netherlands municipalities enforce the bicycle parking restrictions.

“Attention! It is forbidden to park your bicycle in a rack for longer than 28 days”

In an earlier blog post I explained why these policies exist: more people want to park their bicycles than there are places in the racks. To make sure these scarce parking spaces are available, the phenomenon of the “abandoned bicycles” (that are left in the racks) has to be fought. In cities with many students the following happens. Students living in another city buy a cheap old bike, place it at the railway station in the city where they study and take it to class every day after they arrived from their home town by train. Once the study is over, they just forget about the cheap old bike and it is left in the rack. These bikes become ‘orphaned’ or ‘abandoned’ bicycles. To find them in the sea of bicycles all bicycles are labelled every now and then. When people use their bike regularly they will remove the label. That automatically makes the abandoned bicycles stand out because on those the labels remain.

At the beginning of May (the end of trimesters) Utrecht labeled thousands of bikes. A month later the bicycles with a remaining label could be removed.

A police officer takes a picture of a bicycle that will be removed. A civil worker is standing ready to actually take the bike away.

In Utrecht there are always two police officers present. They point out which bicycles can be removed and those are taken away. Not only labeled bicycles are removed, at the same time bicycles that are parked wrongly (outside or in between racks) are taken away as well. Every bicycle that will be taken away is therefore photographed first. In case of a dispute with the owner of the removed bicycle the authorities can always prove they did not take away a bicycle that was not labeled or that was parked correctly.

The bikes are loaded onto trucks to be taken to the collection point.

The police officers bring numbers to place near the bike which will appear in the photograph. One officer takes the picture the other does the paper work. Workers from the city then actually remove the bike. If necessary they will break locks. On this day they had already taken at least 215 bicycles according to the number. I saw one full truck leave, another was being loaded and a next truck was already waiting in line.

With the picture the city can prove the bike was parked illegally.

People who want to get a bicycle back can look for it at the collection point. That is a hard job because there are thousands of bikes and you have no idea where they put it. But if you find it back you can take it with you again after you paid a fine and administration costs.

Civil workers standing by to take away bicycles the police officers clear for removal.
Several truck loads of bicycles were taken away in a short time.

For a day or two you could really see that the racks had free spaces. But that effect wore of really quickly. Until the next time the city removes orphaned bicycles.

I already filmed the racks where this all happened in 2010.

10 thoughts on “Utrecht removes illegaly parked bicycles

    1. Not so. The fine is only 13.50 Euros, and a reasonable used bike costs at least 50 Eur and more likely 100+. Besides the bike that has been removed could be valuable. My bike was recently taken, and it cost over 1000 Eur.

    1. Way too small! 🙂 No there is a solution: on this particular spot a 3 story underground bicycle parking facility will be built with 12,500 parking spaces (it will be the world’s largest bicycle parking facility). But that is only one of a number of cycle parking facilities that will be built at Utrecht central station, bringing the total indoor parking spaces to 22,000. And even that may not be enough.

      1. Besides, people abandon bicycles at stations like Utrecht every day. No matter how many parking spaces you build, they will eventually fill up with unwanted and decrepit bicycles.

      2. I know a Japanese company has created a system that has the capability of storing 7500 bikes per facility. The user doesn’t even have to enter this huge facility, and it protects bikes from theft without requiring a guard to be employed. They call it “cycle tree.” The machine could easily be integrated with the OV-Fiets card. It could also in all likelihood be programmed to identify bikes which have overstayed the time limit and have the machine metaphorically spit them out, so that their numbers would be much more manageable upon removal, which could be much more frequent and would be much, much faster, especially if done regularly.

  1. I saw some workers tagging bicycles in Haarlem a few weekends ago! They let me photograph the tags… looks to be the same policy. Thanks for the informative post!
    Haarlem bicycle warnings

  2. What do they do with the unclaimed ones? Please do not say they crush them! I hope they give them away free to anyone who wants a free bike 🙂

      1. They’re auctioned, or given to charities who refurbish them and give them to low-income households or third world countries. However, I imagine many of them are beyond repair and will be scrapped. A common case for a bike ending up in the impound lot is the owner taking a long hard look at it and deciding that he/she doesn’t want it any more.

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