Bicycle Apple

The “Bicycle Apple”

Bicycle parking facilities are not always the most attractive buildings, but there is a very interesting exception in the town of Alphen aan den Rijn: the Fietsappel or Bicycle Apple. This bike parking facility has the shape and the colour of a huge apple and in it you can find racks to park a little under a 1,000 bicycles.

The Bicycle Apple parking facility at the railway station of Alphen aan den Rijn.

Alphen aan den Rijn is a town in the west of the Netherlands with a current population of almost 73,000 (107,000 in the entire municipality). The station has an intercity service to Leiden and Utrecht and local trains in the direction of Gouda. The Bicycle Apple was built at the railway station when the municipality redeveloped that entire station area from 2007 to 2010. The station area also has two other bicycle parking facilities for almost 2,000 bicycles (1,300 of which are in a paid facility). So in total almost 3,000 bicycles can be parked at the station. This huge number for a relatively small town underlines how common it is to combine modes of transport (in this case bicycle/train) in the Netherlands.

Bicycle Apple
Rules for the Bicycle Apple: no cycling, no parking outside the racks, etc.

The interesting building is a steel construction, built right next to the new tunnel under the rail road tracks that is for pedestrians and cycling only. The main floor is a ramp that spirals 3 and a half times around a cone-shaped open core. The total height of the building is 16 metres and the diameter is 27 metres. To really make it look like an apple the top features a wind-vane in the shape of a stem with one leaf. The bikes are parked in racks on either side of the spiral ramp and these racks were especially designed for this building. The ramp can be accessed by bicycle at the bottom from the tunnel level and one floor higher from street level. To quickly get to and from your bicycle on foot, there are two stairs in the open core that provide a short cut.

What appears simple at first glance is really a very complex steel construction. Picture courtesy of Jos van den Bersselaar construction.

Even though the basic apple shape looks very simple, the spiraling ramp with the open core makes the total structure of the building extremely complex. Every detail is different. So steel was the logical choice of material. It is such a complicated design that the entire steel frame was completely constructed on the site of the steel factory as a trial, to see if all the elements were constructed in the right way. The producer published two time lapses on its Dutch website: one of the trial construction and one of the actual construction on the final location.

That final construction took place in 2009 and 2010 and the total building costs were 2.53 million euro. The bicycle parking facility was opened on the 18th of August 2010. You can park your bicycle free of charge, but the bikes are not guarded, it is an unmanned facility.

How incredibly complicated the design is becomes clear in this detail of one of the points where the steel beams come together. Picture courtesy of Jos van den Bersselaar construction.

The innovative design and the complex structure did not remain unnoticed and in 2012 the Bicycle Apple won the Dutch Steel Award. The jury report was very positive.

This is an attractive and functional design, refined in every detail. It is beautifully executed, especially when you consider the modest budget. The design of this building, the choice of material and the colour emphasize the green aspect of cycling and public transport. The steel beams and the façade of transparent wire netting (with cheerful decorations) give the building an open and inviting character. This bicycle parking facility clearly shows it was designed with love and care. Steel was used as it should be: fresh and lean.

My video. I love the way it looks when people walk to and from their bicycles and ride up and down the Apple’s circular ramp (which by the way is prohibited, but everybody rides anyway).

So that must make everybody happy and proud! Well, not quite… Even before the Apple was constructed the local branch of the Cyclists’ Union warned that the capacity would not be sufficient. Their own ongoing counts show they were unfortunately right. In September 2013 the volunteers counted 1,267 parked bicycles in and around the 970 racks. So the facility was filled up by 130.6%!

Bicycle Apple
Bicycles are parked outside the racks and in between the racks. The facility is usually filled up over capacity.

The municipality tries to keep things tidy by removing the bicycles which are not correctly parked in a rack. At first this was done once every 8 weeks, but since 2014 this had to be increased to three times per week! Making clear that an expansion of the bicycle parking facilities is really needed. The municipality is investigating if a new –standard– parking facility can be built right next to the Apple, in which another 400 bicycles can be parked.

Bicycle Apple
Bicycle Apple with the cycle path leading into the tunnel under the rail road tracks. Everything was finished in 2010.
You can read earlier blog posts about this building (none of which has a video though). There is one by Daniel Sparing, there is a post on the blog Ecological Urban Living , a Fietsberaad news item (in Dutch) and the most extensive background information (in Dutch) can be found on Archisource.

10 thoughts on “The “Bicycle Apple”

  1. I like how they figured out how to create a three story bicycle parking facility that does not require the use of stairs, escalators or an elevator to use. Very clever engineering.

    In contrast to this, at the North Hollywood subway station in Los Angeles there are currently 145 bicycle parking spaces. That doesn’t sound like a lot for a city of 3.8 million people, but in 2001 when this station opened there were zero bicycle parking spaces. The county transit authority evidently wasn’t anticipating any need for bicycle parking. That changed when they noticed bicycles locked to signs and trees.

    Next year this rail station will get at least an additional 250 indoor bicycle parking spaces.

    The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority counted an increase of 42% more bicycle boarding’s at rail stations from fiscal year 2012 to 2013. These were mainly located in the city of Los Angeles. The 151 miles of bike lanes installed in the last two fiscal years probably had a lot to do with that.

      1. Perhaps seeing how many stories high the bicycle parking facilities are in a country is another way to judge the rate of cycling.

        I don’t know of any bicycle parking facility that is two stories tall in the U.S.

        There are a lot of multiple floor parking garages for cars though.

        The upcoming 250 bicycle parking spaces for the North Hollywood subway station will be in a single story building.

  2. I remember reading about this on David Hembrow’s blog in 2010 and initially thought along the lines of: “Only a 1,000 spaces? Surely they could fit more in that space.” But then I read the population figure and realised why so “few” spaces were to be provided, and of course the Dutch would know best. Well they did if you go by what the Fietsersbond were saying before construction!

    Interestingly, reading the local Fietsersbond website here (via Google Translate) there appears to be many parallels with their struggles with local authorities as (good) British cycling advocates continue to have with theirs. Heartening to know in one way but bewildering in another to think that there are still some Dutch municipalities that don’t seem to be fully on board with providing the best cycling infrastructure. Hence the Fietsersbond’s best cycling city contest I suppose, to goad all cities to keep improving.

    Lastly, I think the proposed new 400 space (or more?) facility next to the apple should be in the shape of a pear. Then it would actually be possible, in at least one instance, to “compare apples with pears”, as the Dutch saying goes.

    Cheers Mark, and thanks for another great post.

  3. Cambridge, UK has been promised a parking facility at the station for the last 10 years or more. Eventually a design was agreed with the developer for 3000 bikes. Your blog about the parking in a minor town highlights how backward / incompetent the councillors in Cambridge are, for accepting such a ‘crumb off the table’. It is worth noting that with 29% of journeys by bicycle in the supposed ‘cycling capital of Britain” the facility isn’t due anytime soon and parking is still a shambles outside and exposed to rampant theft.
    With elections due in May I wonder if people will vote for a party that actually supports cycling? Because the current lot certainly don’t.

    1. The ramp can be accessed by bicycle at the bottom from the tunnel level and one floor higher from street level. To quickly get to and from your bicycle on foot, there are two stairs in the open core that provide a short cut.

    2. As an appendum to the comment above, the LibDem councillors were mostly defeated at the election and now we wait with bated breath to see if Labour are going to be any better.

  4. Alphen most certainly does not have a population of 107,000, that would be the total population of the newly expanded municipality. The town itself has a population of about 69,000.

    1. You are right, my figure was for the entire municipality. The town itself is much smaller. So I changed the text to reflect that. But it is a bit more than you thought, according to the source I just found.

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