Cutting a ribbon is not unusual, but doing that with a huge pair of scissors is. Lot van Hooijdonk, the executive council member for sustainable mobility of the city of Utrecht, did have to focus, but she managed to skilfully cut that red ribbon. Her act festively marked the opening of yet another huge brand new bicycle parking garage in the city centre of Utrecht. Why the city needs it was my question to her in my video.
On the morning of Friday 15 October 2021, wardens placed two flags at the entrance of the new garage. The delivery window had not yet ended and two heavy goods vehicles on either side of the entrance left little room to walk past the flag poles. By the time the executive council member arrived on a borrowed bicycle the vehicles had, fortunately, disappeared and the space had reverted back to pedestrian space. Lot van Hooijdonk was quite clear why the city of Utrecht needs another parking garage, in the city centre. In her opening speech she said: “Anyone who knows Utrecht, knows that this area of the city is chock-full of bicycles. Here, on the edge of the pedestrianised zone, is where people park their bicycles to go shopping. With all these parked bicycles there is a lack of space for other uses. We wanted to take stationary bicycles off the streets, to places indoors, to free up public space, but there is also a lack of suitable buildings. That is why the city was very happy that after searching for quite some time, this building became available. It was great that we could move in here with our parking garage. With over 900 spaces this will really make a difference.”
This building is the former department store “Galeries Modernes”, an originally French chain of stores of which one opened at this location and under that name, in 1925. The current building was opened in 1941, it replaced the earlier building that had burned down. The legendary “Galeries Modernes” closed in 1981. The building was taken over by a new department store. Ten years later, in 1991, the store was refurbished and the façades were covered in bright blue plating. It was named “Blue building” first, but that was later changed to “De Planeet” (The Planet). A number of smaller shops occupied the former department store with moderate success. A number of tenants left more recently and the building got a new owner in 2015. To give it a new lease of life, the new owner decided that the once iconic department store had to be restored to its former glory. The redevelopment required an investment of around 20 million euros and led to a mix-use complex with about 7,500m2 of office space and 3,500m2 for commercial activities (shops), all of which has been rented out to new tenants. The bicycle parking is 1,500m2, which the city of Utrecht rents. The entire building was opened by the mayor of Utrecht (which shows its importance) on 8 October 2021. The renewed building got the name “House Modernes” which at least some people consider a (too) weird mix of English and French for a Dutch building…
In a newsletter for the neighbours, entrepreneurs and residents, Utrecht’s policy officer for bicycle parking and bicycle innovation, Herbert Tiemens, gave even more reasons for the new parking garage: “We know that Utrecht is doing really well when it comes to cycling, but there are not enough parking spaces. We see an increase in more expensive bicycles and more electric bicycles and people want to park these bicycles safe and dry. We also need more parking spaces because people cycle longer distances or they switched over to the bicycle from public transport, during the pandemic. All reasons for the city to meet the demand with this new bicycle parking garage.”
The light and modern bicycle parking garage has room for about 900 bicycles. Standard bicycles can be parked in two tier racks, but there is also space for cargo bikes. There are wider racks for bicycles with baskets and bikes with children’s seats. Thanks to the shallow ramp (without steps) many different types of bicycles can be pushed into the parking garage. The first 24 hours are free, after that people pay €0.50 for every additional 24 hours. You can also get an annual subscription that gives you the right to park in any of the city’s parking facilities. That would cost the odd amount of €75.67 per year. Free spaces are electronically indicated on the ceiling, but also in the city on the signs of Utrecht’s dynamic bicycle parking guidance system and in an app for smartphones. Bicycles are detected by a series of cameras on the ceiling. The garage offers lockers in which you can charge an e-bike battery. You can lend a stroller for free, there is free air, there is a vending machine for bicycle lights and there are gender neutral public restrooms.
The access ramp has an anti-skid surface and a groove with brushes to slow down bicycles on the descent. A bike lift (a conveyor belt for bicycles) assists people on the way back up again. In my video you can see how the first two cargo bicycles in the garage showed the exact limits of that lift. The coffee cargo tricycle was light enough. With one front wheel on the belt it was easily pulled up the ramp. The other cargo bike, an Urban Arrow with a young child in it, was too much for the lift. The noise coming from the conveyor belt did not sound good. The owner of the bike exclaimed: “I don’t think it likes this!” while she pulled the bike back down again. Fortunately, these bikes have a “walk mode”. With the controller, you engage it to power the bicycle forward at walking speed. This also worked well enough for the ramp. The warden insisted on pushing along, but that wasn’t really necessary.