What’s the future for Groningen’s Station bike parking?

Groningen station was one of the first to get a large bicycle parking garage. When it was opened in 2007, there was room for a little over 4,000 bicycles. At that time it was the largest bicycle parking garage in the country and also the most expensive. The structure had cost almost 11 million euros and it was named ‘City Balcony’. If you look at it now, 12 years later, it didn’t age very well. It is overcrowded and there are temporary fences and warning signs everywhere. The electronics are out of order and on a rainy day you will find puddles even inside the building. What will the future hold for this bicycle parking garage?

Groningen’s City Balcony (as its parking facility is called) on a rainy day in June 2019. The electronic sign – to display the available spaces – is no longer working.
The inside of the City Balcony in June 2019. Too many parked bicycles, warning signs everywhere and puddles to add to the unpleasantness.

Early reports on Groningen’s bicycle parking facility are often very positive. It is interesting that especially the openness of the structure was seen as a good thing. People were happy that they didn’t have to go into a dark cellar to park their bicycles. Times have changed. There are many examples of completely closed bicycle parking garages big and small (such as the ones in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Maastricht, Utrecht, Haarlem, Houten and Zaandam) which protect people and equipment much better against the weather influences. They make this one in Groningen look like the bad example now. The facility was also not big enough, not even after it was expanded to 5,500 spaces. A temporary extra structure had to be built as well and even that was not enough.

The hall of the most beautiful train station in the Netherlands. Marketing Groningen was very pleased that ‘their’ station came first. This ceiling was hidden by a white lowered ceiling from the 1960s to 2000 because it was considered ugly in the 1960s.

Many people also think Rotterdam is the most beautiful station. In the competition it came third.

In August 2019, almost 10,000 train travellers chose Groningen station as the most beautiful of the Netherlands. With a third of all votes it was a very clear winner. Valkenburg, the oldest surviving station building, came second and Rotterdam, a very modern building came third. Indeed, the building of Groningen station, finished in 1896, has a beautiful façade and also a magnificent interior. Especially the main hall is exceptional. And yet the elaborate ceiling had been hidden in the second half of the 20th century by a lowered white washed ceiling, but that false ceiling was taken out and the original was restored in the year 2000. A nice illustration that the general taste differs over time.

Groningen’s Main Station in 1975 with cars parked right in front of it. Picture Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed.
The front of Groningen’s Main Station as seen in Google StreetView. The parking garage called ‘City Balcony’ is partly blocking the view of the historic façade.

That views change over time also goes for how we see the bicycle parking garage. Once it was seen as state of the art, but I think it is downright ugly. I had filmed the structure in 2016, but I decided not to use the footage because I really couldn’t say anything positive about it. In June 2019, I filmed again although the facility looks even worse three years later. My earlier posts may already have given away that there is little love lost between me and Groningen. There is just no click, but I am not the only one who thinks this bicycle parking facility is well below standard. Already in 2014, a columnist reported that a society for local history in Groningen would like to see “the thing” go. He wrote:

“For many people in Groningen it hits a raw nerve. Ever since it has been here people talk about it in dismay and disgust. Time and time again they call for the removal of ‘the monster’.”

It isn’t sure yet what is going to happen to the city balcony, but things are going to change a lot at Groningen station. From a terminus station Groningen will become a station which will have trains going through further north-east, continuing to even Germany in the future. More trains on more lines means more platforms are needed. The entire station area will be redeveloped. Works have already started elsewhere in the city where a new marshalling yard is under construction. That means the current train depot, right behind the station building, can be used for the expansion. The back of the station (south) will get an entrance and tunnels will offer a way through the station area for walking and cycling. This new cycle tunnel will offer an entrance to an also new underground parking garage for 5,000 bicycles. Building starts in 2020 and the bicycle parking garage should be finished in 2022.

Entrance hall of the new – to be constructed – bicycle parking garage at Groningen main station. There will be travellators like in Rotterdam and Maastricht. Picture: Koen van Velsen architecten and Beauty & the Bit.
The bicycle parking garage at the second level below Groningen main station. The walking level/bicycle tunnel depicted above the parked bicycles is already below the platforms which are at ground level. Picture: Koen van Velsen architecten and Beauty & the Bit.

The plans for the reconstruction do deliberately not speak about the current station square on the north end. Only after the redevelopment will be completely finished (which is planned to be in 2023) plans will be made for the redesign of the north side of the station with that concrete bicycle parking structure. That the new facility will “only” have room for 5,000 bicycles is almost a missed opportunity. The current parking (for that same number) is already overflowing. It would have been nice to have made the original parking unnecessary. That way it could have been removed like so many people in Groningen (and beyond) would like to see, but we’ll have to wait what the city decides about the ‘City Balcony’ in the coming years.

My video about the current (2007) bicycle parking facility at Groningen Main Station.

Update 1 December 2021
The city council of Groningen wants to remove the bicycle parking garage in front of its station. That is what executive council member Roeland van der Schaaf told the press. ‘I think everyone agrees that the Stadsbalkon functions well as a bicycle parking, but needs improvement in terms of use and appearance.’ This statement of the alderman is not yet a council decision, but it does show how the current city council thinks about the concrete bicycle parking structure.

6 thoughts on “What’s the future for Groningen’s Station bike parking?

  1. There are several good things with the Balcony.
    – Electric advisor for free spaces,
    – bicycling all the way to the stand,
    – Underground, which makes possibilities for ground level
    A bad thing was no connection straight to the platforms (as in Houten)

    So why keep many cities building bike garages where you have to walk to the bike stand? Unbelievable!
    Delft have made well, but Zuidas not.

    1. It’s clear you’ve never used the Zuidas garage on a daily basis. In peak hours, all three of them have queues, processing tens of bikes per minute. Cycling in those garages would be extremely dangerous, the long ramps (and in the new garage sheltered waiting space) are nceassary to bring the speed of the cyclists down and get them to queue orderly. It works very nicely.
      In quieter hours, it might be more convenient, but the ramp itself isn’t causing much of a delay. Cycling in the garage is common in the new garage in off-peak hours.

        1. Car parking garages with 5000 places, one entrance and peak hours in which over 1000 cars enter in one hour? Can you show me some examples?

          1. Have some faith!
            Still, it’s about biking to and fro the stand. Can cars drive to their parking spot, I am sure bikers can ride.
            In all traffic planning, travel time is counted in seconds. That should be applied to bikes as well.

            1. But is already IS measured in seconds. From entering zuidplein, down the ramp, getting my bike labeled, parking bike on upper rack, locking bike, leaving via stairs and entering station is less then a minute for me. And the narrow corridors mean that you’re walking inside the parking garage.
              Using the new one at Strawinskylaan is slower. You don’t need a ticket (just check-in), and as mentioned, you can cycle in the garage when it’s quiet, but the walk to the station (120 meters more) is taking more time

              If you have a system where 15000 people can park their bike, and the bottle neck of the system is a 120m walk, i think you’ve done an amazing job. Removing half of the bikes from the zuidplein parking to give enough space for cycling would move more people to the new garage, which i don’t think is an improvement.

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