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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.