Bicycle Parking Guidance System in Utrecht

Dynamic parking guidance systems are well-known all over the world, for cars at least. Utrecht has just started using such a system to guide people to bicycle parking facilities and that is a first! The Dutch are sometimes accused of resting on their laurels, there would be no innovation in The Netherlands. Anyone who knows just a little bit about the situation in this country should know that that is utter nonsense! There is a lot of innovation in all aspects of cycling and cycling infrastructure. Adjusting the lights in a cycle tunnel to your personal taste, with your smart phone? Check. Setting the traffic lights to green as you approach? Check. A bicycle roundabout? Check. Dynamic information about the fastest route across an intersection? Check. Bicycle streets? Check. All directions green? Check. And what about all the new big bridges that are built? There is so much innovation in The Netherlands that it becomes the norm really. And now Utrecht has installed dynamic signs to guide you to the bicycle parking facility that is best at that moment. The P-Route Bicycle – as the city calls it – makes it easy to find an open space to park your bicycle free, dry and safe.

My video about Utrecht’s Bicycle Parking Guidance System

The alderman for traffic started the system by unveiling the last of the 21 digital signs on Tuesday 2 June last. The system guides cyclists coming from all directions into the city centre to 6 of the 17 municipal bicycle parking facilities (4 of which are pop-up parking facilities that operate at peak hours only). The system will be expanded if it turns out to be a success. The city published a fact sheet (in English) that explains how it works. “Along the access roads to the city centre and the Railway Station Area, 21 digital signs inform cyclists of the number of free parking places in the nearest bicycle parking [facilities] and indicate the route to these facilities. If a parking [facility] is full, cyclists are guided to the nearest parking [facility] where places are available. Cyclists can use the P-route bicycle to find a place for their bicycle quickly and conveniently.” This describes the part that the cyclist sees of the system, but of course there is also a technical system needed to feed the signs with the right data. “The number of free parking places is established by means of an innovative detection system equipped with optical sensors. In combination with smart software these sensors detect whether or not a parking place is free. The sensors look like cameras, but the images are not captured or saved, so the cyclist’s privacy is not violated.”
The computer programming language used to operate this system is Haskell.

The sensors for this system look like cameras, but they work in a different (and secret) way. They detect if and when a bicycle was placed in the individual racks.

The system will also ‘learn’. After a while there should be sufficient data to help predict when a parking facility is reaching its limit. When that happens the most distant signs can indicate beforehand that the facility will be full once a cyclist has cycled the distance to that facility. The data is also stored for management information. The city can adjust its pop-up facility policies based on figures provided by this system. So the facilities are there when and where they are needed most.

This map shows the location of the 21 digital signs (the red squares) pointing to the 6 bicycle parking facilities, numbered on this map. 1a. Westplein South, 1b. Westplein North, 2. Jaarbeursplein, 3. Lange Koestraat, 4. Vredenburg, 5. Stadhuis (City Hall), 6. Zadelstraat.

The city of Utrecht funds the system with financial help of the Province and even the Ministry of Transport (Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management). It was developed by two companies working together: LumiGuide and Armada Mobility.

Bas van Dijk (centre) and his colleagues of LumiGuide check whether everything works the way it should, on the laptop of Bas, right before he started the system.

Bas van Dijk is chief technology officer at LumiGuide in Nijmegen and he walked around with a laptop at the opening ceremony. With one stroke on his keyboard he started all the 21 signs throughout the city. With a big smile he told me: “Naturally, we think that our system, that detects bicycles with an optical sensor, is much better than switches in the bicycle racks that other companies use.” On their website his colleague explains: “Our system was initially developed to detect cars, but when we were presenting it, municipalities started asking if it could be used for bicycles as well. When we were asked that same question several times, we couldn’t ignore this demand. So we decided to remodel our system for bicycles, with this result.”

My tweets about the opening of the system caught a lot of attention.

Lot van Hooijdonk is the alderman for traffic in Utrecht and she is very proud of the results of the current cycling policies in Utrecht. “We have decided that the bicycle is the main form of transport in the Utrecht city centre. This comes with the obligation to really take care of the needs of people cycling. You can see that we seriously do that from all the infrastructure and parking facilities we have opened recently. This system is one more service for cyclists in Utrecht.” She re-tweeted my picture of herself with the sign and told me: “That picture is already eye-opening. You can see that the Westplein facility has more free spaces, even though the Jaarbeursplein facility is much larger. I can imagine that I would adjust my behaviour when I see that when I cycle into the city. It is best to go to the facility with most available free spaces, not the one you know to be the largest.” That is in line with what the city aims for: a more evenly spread bicycle parking load in the city centre. The Utrecht long term Cycle Action Plan (2015-2020) that was presented after the opening, has a summary in English that you can download as PDF.

The opening ceremony of the bicycle parking guidance system took place on a very windy afternoon. But Lot van Hooijdonk climbed on top of a ladder to give the press the opportunity to take pictures.

This new system goes a lot further than just reporting how many places one facility has at the entrance, which is the case in Groningen or Delft. This system has the potential to be copied elsewhere. Other cities look at it with great interest. Notably my home town ʼs-Hertogenbosch, where a council member already asked the alderman for traffic to look into the Utrecht system as something that could be beneficial for ʼs-Hertogenbosch as well.

Video by the city of Utrecht about the “P-Route bicycle”.

21 thoughts on “Bicycle Parking Guidance System in Utrecht

  1. I am really amazed how people love to bike. I am one of the many who eventually cant live a day without my bike. And learning these systems is a help. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Being able to quickly locate the parking and then navigate through the rest of the city is an important thing when promoting cycling. Thanks for the article, keep up the awesome blog!

  3. Meh! Part of the fun of biking is to leave your bike wherever the heck you want. I studied in Utrecht for 4 years…
    This type of control does not sit well with me.
    Do the cameras at least capture bike thieves?

    1. There’s no control. You don’t have to follow the signs, there are even a lot of parking facilities that are not indicated and you can also still park in on the streets (at some locations at least). But good luck with that… the racks on the street are always occupied. So for people who want to be helped this is a great service. The camera’s don’t capture images so no thieves either.

    2. And with Dutch bikes, it is very possible to park wherever you want, so long as a sign does not prohibit it. The wheel lock and the mass of the bicycles, up to 25 kg, mean that you do not want to pick up a Dutch bike if you can possibly avoid it. You can also use a chain or U lock or cable lock to secure the front wheel to the frame, making it extra annoying to try to steal the bicycle. Having sturdy kickstands and the bicycle being built to last decades in the snow, ice, salt, water and sand means that they will be very suitable for outdoor parking.

  4. what waste of money they should all just work harder so they can afford cars then they wouldn’t need stupid bicycles look at places like England we have loads of cars and there is nothing better than driving a seat to work and sitting at a desk all day i do not even beak a sweat who needs fresh air and exercise anyway i love the stench of un-burnt petrol and diesel not to mention nitroxides and carcinogenic particulates. H,,, YUM YUM AGGHH shit my arm really hurts ow ow ow ow fuck call an ambulan……………………………………………………

    1. You might be drugged out on the petrol smells while the tourists in Amsterdam are high on marijuana but ordinary people like Mark and I hate that smell and regardless of whether you like it or not, that petrol does kill the environment and people. Enjoy cancer. Mark does not sweat much while cycling, that is because it is not difficult. The towns are designed so you do not have to cycle far, even in the distant suburbs, you do not have to stop often or even slow down often, the paths are designed efficiently. You might not like exercise but the Dutch are much healthier with them. Cars cost far more money than bicycles do by the way. Most adult Dutch people can afford cars and they are very common. But they choose not to, really choosing between two good modes of transport, but cycling is prioritized.

    2. They don’t want to drive. They could afford cars and many do, but they rather deliberately choose not to drive. Furthermore, car infrastructure is incredibly expensive. Underground freeway projects (these days it is very hard to execute any other type) can easily cost $1billion per lane mile or more. Road widening is also expensive and sometimes lethal. Cars also cost society in so many ways: declining health, air pollution, land that wide roads and parking lots occupy so that it can’t be used for anything more productive, lost time to traffic congestion (inevitable in cities), lost time to looking for a parking space, traffic accidents, waterway pollution (from oil, coolant, and windshield washer fluid), road wear, bridge wear, etc. Bicycling comes with health benefits, reduced air pollution, increased land efficiency, reduced waterway pollution, reduced time lost to congestion, and, with this latest Utrecht innovation, less time lost looking for a parking space. The choice is clear: the bike wins.

      1. I deliberately choosed to stop driving. Therefore, I ditched my car. Because I am only in my home town. Never traveling outside my home town. Everything here is in cycle-able distance. I live 300 meters/1000 ft. from the town center and have 6 grocery stores in walk-able distance from my home. and last but not least, my age. I am almost 53 now. Hence, sitting at home, sitting in my car without exercise could endanger my health.

  5. How much did this cost I am wondering? Including the actual bicycle parking spaced themselves.

    1. For the bicycle parking, the documents below estimate the cost for 22000 places around Utrecht Centraal on approx. 52 million investment (2357 per position) with a 20-year lifetime, and a maintenance cost of 5 euro/yr, which would yield a total of 118 + 5 = 123 euro per position per year).

      If I’m not mistaken, they mention the sensor system as well (benuttingssysteem), with a cost of 50 euro per position and a lifetime of 10 years, but I doubt that includes the parking guidance. However, on the scale of such projects, the additional investment wouldn’t be that high.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.