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?
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.
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.
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.