Finally fully open: Utrecht’s huge bicycle parking garage

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The biggest bicycle parking of the world, in Utrecht, is now fully operational. Since Monday 19 August the garage at the central railway station has room to park over 12,500 bicycles. The first part of the garage had already been in use for two years, but a whole new part with 5,000 parking spaces has finally become available. This final part of the garage was opened by the junior infrastructure minister, Stientje van Veldhoven, who sometimes jokes she is the Dutch “Minister of Bicycles”, together with two directors of both railway companies and an Utrecht deputy mayor who has the redevelopment of the station area in his portfolio. These four people were representing the four main investors of the project.

These people opened the garage. From left to right: Ans Rietstra (director Projects ProRail), Stientje van Veldhoven (Junior minister of Infrastructure and Water management), Victor Everhardt (deputy mayor Station area Utrecht) and Roger van Boxtel (president-director NS).

Everything about the Utrecht Stationsstalling (Station bicycle parking garage) is impressive. A staggering 12,500 parking spaces, a building time of almost 5 years, a cost of over 30 million euros. The facility is an integral part of Utrecht’s new station. The building time was so long because the station remained fully operational. That is why everything, including this garage, had to be built in stages. The first part was opened in August 2017. At that time there were 6,000 places. In October 2017, that number was increased by 1,500 to 7,500 places. It was then hoped that the final part would have been finished by the end of 2018, but that was too optimistic. With an 8 month delay the garage has now been opened and it is already making national and international headlines.

A few locations in the garage offer a view over all three levels. This is also where daylight can flood the building all the way to the basement. Note that the grey areas for walking are at a different location than the red areas for cycling.
From the basement you can look up in the building and see people cycling by on ground level.

This garage is quite different from the former biggest facility in the world. That parking garage in Japan, at Tokyo’s Kasai station, has room for 9,400 bicycles and was opened in 2008. There, a 15 metre deep basement gives access to 50 lifts that automatically store bicycles in even deeper underground tubes that are inaccessible to the public. The Dutch facility does not rely on such a sophisticated mechanical system that may be prone to malfunctions. You can simply cycle into the Utrecht garage. This facility is so large (it is 350 metres long) that it was indeed designed for indoor cycling. You can even cycle through the building if you do not want to park. On the ground floor you are allowed to use the garage as a short cut. It takes almost a minute to cross it. Right after one of the entrances you can choose on which of the three floors you would like to park. Those floors can be reached by cyclable ramps. You can base your decision on the available spaces that signs indicate real time. The first two years of use have shown that people chose their floor based on what they are going to do. The -1 level, the basement, is often used by people who want to catch a train. Probably because that basement has a tunnel which offers direct access to all train platforms. People working in the direct vicinity of the facility and people who want to visit the mall prefer to park on the +1 level. From that level you only have to mount one flight of stairs to the square on top of the garage. The ground floor is reserved for people who have a subscription.
Map of the facility (PDF 1.9Mb).

Once upon a time this was a bicycle parking building on the Utrecht station square. The temporary blue wooden building was designed by Utrecht architect Gerrit Rietveld in 1955. This picture is from 1967. At that time the total number of parking places in the area was 4,800 in 4 buildings. When the station was rebuilt in the 1970s all the buildings on this picture had to be demolished. This parking garage disappeared in 1972.

The facility was designed by Ector Hoogstad Architects and it won a competition in 2011. It is an integral part of the renewed railway station. Bicycle parking at the stations in the Netherlands has slowly evolved into this. Decades ago a small separate building for bicycle parking in the vicinity of the station would be managed by someone who had to make a living off of it. Then the municipalities and railways stepped in and the dedicated buildings got closer to the station. Those facilities grew to their limits (Groningen comes to mind). Then, with the reconstruction of many large stations, the bicycle parking became an integral part of the station. Examples can be found in Arnhem and here in Utrecht.

This is where I parked my bicycle every day from 1995 to 2012. A basement under the railway platform of tracks 1 and 2. This garage was owned by the railways. Due to the building activities this garage had to be closed in 2012.
The very same basement is now part of the new parking garage. This part is still owned by the railways unlike the rest of the facility that is owned by the city of Utrecht. The extra columns are there to support a new building on top of this location. This is now the place to store bicycles with baskets and children’s seats. Bicycles that would not fit in the normal racks. This is also where the 1,000 bicycles of the OV-Fiets rental bike system are stored.

The largest bicycle parking facility in the world was developed at a considerable cost. The city of Utrecht reports that the cost was well over 30 million euros or more than €2,400 per parking space. This was financed by the railway company (Prorail, infrastructure management, roughly 60%), the city of Utrecht (20%) and the Ministry of Transport (20%). Nederlandse Spoorwegen (rail passenger management) and the European Union, via the CEF (Connecting Europe Facility), also contributed. For all the new bicycle parking around Utrecht Central these parties contributed well over 50 million euros in the still ongoing project to redevelop the Utrecht station area. The new garage is owned by the municipality of Utrecht. The city also manages the whole facility. Financial agreements with all parties involved in the development were made for the cost of maintenance and day-to-day management. The facility is open 24 hours, 7 days a week and that means the city of Utrecht employs around 40 people to run the place, including the staff in the workshop to do minor repairs. The former parking garage under platform number 1 and 2 was owned by the Railways. That old facility has become part of the new one. This is where people can park bicycles with baskets and children’s seats and it is also where the 1,000 public transport bicycles (OV-Fietsen) are stored. That part is still owned by the railways, but here too agreements were made for its management by the city.

A commemorative sign near the entrance via the railway tunnel, dated 19 August 2019, informs about the investors of the “Stationspleinstalling”, (Station square bicycle parking facility). Listed are the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water management, the municipality of Utrecht, Prorail and Nederlandse Spoorwegen (the latter two are the railway companies). Co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for Transport.
An unfortunately common sight: whenever the facility was full, two wardens would seal it off and they would send people to one of the other bicycle parking facilities in the area. With the 5,000 spaces extra this is hopefully less often the case.

The first part of the facility was well used in the past two years. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the occupancy rate was between 80 and 90%. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the garage was often full. Nevertheless, users rate the garage with an 8 on a scale from 1 to 10. The area outside both entrances is still a building site. The area around the north-entrance can get its final design next year, in 2020. For the south-entrance the building activities will only stop in 2021, so the area will remain a building site for some time to come.

The existing north-entrance seems almost ready from this location. But behind the camera everything is still under construction. This entrance and its surroundings should be completely finished by 2020.
Now that the South-entrance is also open the both one-way cycle tracks in the facility are a public main cycle route, even for people who are not going to park in the building. The city will monitor how that goes. It may be difficult in the morning rush hour to turn left here into one of the corridors with the parking racks for people with a subscription.

In all facilities combined there is now room to park around 33,000 bicycles in the Utrecht Central Station area, of which circa 22,000 spaces are public and free for the first 24 hours. That meets the task that was set for the parties involved. That doesn’t mean that this is sufficient for the future. Just last week the growth of the number of rail passengers turned out to have been 4.6% for the first half of 2019, while only 1.9% was expected. Since 53% of the travellers arrive at the Utrecht station by bicycle the parking around Utrecht Centraal will be full by the year 2025 or even sooner. The city is already working on new and further solutions for the future.

This week’s video is about the now open biggest bicycle parking garage in the world.

22 thoughts on “Finally fully open: Utrecht’s huge bicycle parking garage

  1. This is amazing! Think it will be a long time before England follows suit, Liverpool roads are enough to put anyone off road cycling! I can’t wait to check it out next time I visit Utrecht!

  2. The Kasai station parking in Tokyo wasn’t really one parking to begin with to be honest. Seeing that as one parking would be similar to seeing all the bike parking at Utrecht Centraal as one parking, which would be a lot more than 12.5k.

  3. On the face of it, 30 million euros sounds like a lot, but as you say “more than €2,400 per parking space” and once each space has been used many times over throughout the years, the cost appears far more reasonable. Also, in-line with what rrustema says, if the space was used instead for car parking, the cost per parking space would be far higher with fewer spaces available.

  4. I wonder how big the largest car parking in the world is… It would be extremely difficult to facilitate the parking of 12,000 cars around a train station while keeping the walking distance to the train short.

    1. There is disagreement around what is one car park, and where car parks are connected together. Many large international airports have scales of 10,000 or 20,000 parking spaces (Schiphol included!). The solution to long walks that is used… provide busses to take people to and from their cars.

  5. Paul and I wanted to be at the opening ceremonies, however, the parking attendant misunderstood us and said the new garage would be open to cyclists at 4pm. Thanks for the nice video. We had a great time biking through and around the now fully opened parking garage,

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