All about cycling in the Netherlands
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.