All about cycling in the Netherlands
Utrecht has opened –what will become– the largest bicycle parking facility in the world. The first 6,000 spaces can be used now, another 1,500 will become available by the end of this year and the full 12,500 spaces can be used by the end of 2018*. By that time, this Utrecht bike parking garage will have surpassed the Tokyo Kasai facility –current largest in the world– that has room for 9,400 bicycles. Until then it already is the biggest in the Netherlands.
This bicycle parking garage is so big that the design had to allow cycling inside. It would otherwise take too much time to push your bicycle to the nearest available parking space. That gives the facility a distinct different look and feel compared to most other Dutch bicycle parking garages. What it has in common are the large open spaces and the fact that it is very well lit, making it clean and bright. Apart from ample parking spaces for standard Dutch bicycles in two-tier racks, there is also room to park cargo bikes, bikes with baskets and bicycles with children’s seats. Finally, the facility has a much needed and very large OV-Fiets bike hire station with 720 new Public-Transport-bikes on offer.
The facility needs to be opened in phases due to its location; right under the new station square that is currently being built in Utrecht. The thousands of travellers arriving in Utrecht daily need to be able to reach their destinations on foot at all times. It is a giant puzzle of where what can be taken away first to make room for something new. Building for this garage started in July 2014, but first the bus station with the taxi platform on top of it, that used to be at this location, had to be demolished, which meant the buses and the taxis had to have a new place first. Now the first part is ready, the station square on top of the bicycle parking garage can be built. Once that is finished (by the end of this year) people can use that square in their new walking routes and the structures with the original routes can be demolished. That is where the last one-third of the facility needs to be built. Underneath those 1970s elevated walkways, builders are already doing ground works. Once the original structures can be taken away, new parts will already be all around those old structures.
Last week’s opening of the facility attracted a lot of attention, also abroad. Large numbers always speak to the imagination, but the Guardian was most struck by the fact that the Dutch didn’t seem to see this as a success.
“authorities in the Netherlands are being accused of complacency, rather than praised for their foresight. The 12,500 places at Utrecht station are all very well, critics say, but with 43% of journeys under 7.5km (4.6 miles) being taken by cycle in Utrecht – creeping up from 40% five years ago – they simply aren’t enough, said Martijn van Es, spokesman for the Dutch cycling organisation Fietsersbond.”
Fortunately, the figures are a bit better than that. This facility is one of many around Utrecht Centraal. In total, there will be 33,000 bicycle parking spaces before the year 2020, but indeed, that won’t still be enough to satisfy the demand. It is good that the Cyclists’ Union does its job well in asking for more attention and planning for cycling. There was more criticism. In a letter to the editor of Volkskrant the new facility was called a “consequence of failed urban planning”. The writer of the letter thinks the burden of bicycle parking should be spread more over the entire city with more –smaller scale– destinations and to other stations as well. “Well organised suburban stations would decrease the pressure on the central station and would prevent the need of such mega bicycle parking facilities.” That there is some criticism doesn’t mean the people in Utrecht are not proud of this facility; they are and rightly so. Not least because it is so space efficient. Some even think that if the same amount of space –that can accommodate 6,000 bicycles– had been used to park cars, it could hold a mere 150 vehicles.
The bike parking garage was tested some weeks before the opening by a group of lucky people at the end of July. It wasn’t revealed if there were some last-minute changes after this test, but in a way the whole facility is still in a testing phase. Many things are still missing. A system that will guide you to free spaces has yet to be installed. Screens that will tell you when the trains leave will also come later. The complete routing in the garage will have to be changed. Future exits for walking to the station square (not finished yet) cannot be used and because one-third of the building is still missing, a ramp to cycle to the other floors is also partly not there yet. This problem was cleverly solved with temporary stairs, half-way on the ramp that was already built, to walk. Of course the stairs have grooves to push your bike to those other floors. Two tunnels offering a direct walking route to the tunnels under the railway platforms, have already been opened in the basement.
The parking facility is a joint project from the city of Utrecht and both railway companies. The railways run it now and that means they impose their rules of conduct on the visitors. I was soon to find out what that means. There is a photo and film ban at every facility run by the railways. That goes for stations, inside trains, but also for bicycle parking facilities. Although the staff understands everybody wants to take pictures so shortly after the opening, they did ask me to abide to the general rules and to “stop taking pictures”. Fortunately, only after I had already filmed for almost an hour. Since I had no other business there, it effectively meant I was to leave and I did. When I joked about “being kicked out” on Twitter I had underestimated what the result of such an inconsiderate remark would be. Not only did the city’s office for the transformation of the station area respond on Twitter, they also sent me an e-mail right away to explain the situation and to apologise. Both this office and the city’s department for cycling kindly offered to arrange extra time for me to film. Even the Utrecht alderman for traffic got involved, so the joke got a bit out of hand! In the end, I really only missed one shot –of the 720 OV-Fietsen– and footage of those bicycles was kindly offered to me by Martijn van Es, you’ve seen his name before in this post, the spokesperson of the Cyclists’ Union. Thanks to everyone who wanted to make sure I got the images I needed for this week’s video!
Finally, some last facts and figures. The facility has only one entrance for cycling so far (another one will be built). After you enter you decide where you can or want to park on one of the three floors, one of which is underground. There is a special area for 272 bigger bicycles and there is an area with 1,800 spaces for people with a subscription. The rest is for people that simply use their public transport chip card. If you don’t have such a card you can get a temporary one from the staff that you return when you check out your bicycle. The first 24 hours of parking are free. After that ordinary bicycles cost €1.25 for every consecutive 24 hours, while people with ‘special’ bicycles such as cargo bikes and the ones with baskets and children’s seats pay €1,50. For people living in another city, who need to leave their bicycles here for longer periods, there is a subscription that is on offer until November for just €55 a year. The garage is open 24/7 and always guarded. A dynamic guidance system (telling visitors where there are still places available) will be installed at the end of the summer. It will also be connected to the city’s Dynamic Bicycle Parking Guidance system. From then on bicycles that have been parked for over 28 days (without a subscription) will be removed.
The Utrecht ‘Stationsstalling’ (Station’s bicycle parking facility), as it is apparently called, will be officially opened on 21 August next by the Utrecht alderman for (the reconstruction of) the station area and two regional directors of both railway companies.
This week’s video showing the new Utrecht bicycle parking facility.
* The opening of the last part of the facility had been postponed to August 2019.