World's largest bike parking facility under Utrecht Central Station is now open. When it is completed in 2018 there will be room for 12,500 bikes. We went to see what it's like and took some photos to share with you.
On 21 August 2017 Utrecht's newest bike parking facility will be officially opened, but since 7 August cyclists are welcome. It took some trouble finding it, as the entrance is still unglamorously hidden away in a building site. Once inside, it's hard not to be impressed. Only part of the building is in use, but even then it is huge! Currently there is room for 6,000 bikes. At the end of 2018 - when all the building work is to be completed - it will cater for 12,500 bikes, making it the largest bike parking facility in the world.
Using the parking facility
It's not just the size of the building that's unique. It's also the first bike parking facility where you can cycle right in to find your parking place. During rush hour, streams of cyclists will zoom in and out and through the facility over orange cycle lanes that run through the building like a cycling highway. However, when we were there it was quiet because of the summer holidays.
Parking is spread out over three levels. There is a separate section for season ticket holders and cargo bikes. There are also places allocated to bikes with crates and child seats that don't fit in a regular bike rack. In the cellar you can rent one of the 720 brand new OV-bikes.
When you enter the parking facility, you check in with your OV-chip card (if you don't have one of your own, you can borrow one). Price is no obstacle. The first 24 hours are free of charge, after that you pay only € 1,25 a day for a regular bike and € 1,50 for a non-standard size bike. To prevent valuable spaces from being taken up by abandoned bikes, bikes that have been left for longer than 2 weeks will be removed.
Finding your way
The building work is still ongoing and not all access routes are in use, so finding your way can be a bit confusing. We saw two puzzled tourists who had accidentally strayed in from one of the station's platforms cycling around the maze trying to find an exit. Luckily there was plenty of staff around to point people in the right direction.
Some of the regular customers-to-be also found it difficult to find their way. The signposting is not always clear. Digital boards telling you which parking spaces are free and several other features will be installed later. Remembering the number of the alley where you've parked is essential if you want to find your bike at the end of the day!
Improving bike parking at stations
The new bike parking facility is part of a larger plan to renovate Utrecht Central Station and improve the area around it that started more than ten years ago. We still remember what it was like back in the 1980s and 90s. To reach the station you had to make your way through an obstacle course of badly parked, abandoned and vandalised bikes.
It was common practise for junkies to ask you to buy a stolen bike for next to nothing - even if you still had your own bike. Not an encouraging place to be, let alone to leave your cherished bike. And Utrecht wasn't the only city to face these problems.
Luckily a lot has changed since then. We have seen the implementation of stricter bike parking policies and the arrival of safe (and free!) guarded bike parking facilities. Since 2000 around 450,000 new bike parking spaces have been created at train stations around Holland.
That might seem an enormous amount, but 50% of the 1.2 million passengers that travel by train every day cycle to the station. 180,000 passengers continue to their final destination by bike - and the numbers are growing. If nothing changes, by 2030 there will be a shortage of 98,000 bike parking spaces, says the State Secretary of Infrastructure and the Environment.
So, even before the new bike parking facility in Utrecht is officially opened, it is thought that in three years time the capacity might already be too small. Building commenced in 2014. "It was built based on figures that were already outdated. Nobody could predict that the city of Utrecht and the use of public transport would increase so much", says Martijn van Es of the Dutch Cyclists' Union.
Unfortunately, world's largest bike parking facility is not likely to solve Utrecht's bike parking problems completely. But it is a huge step in the right direction. We are curious to see how cyclists will appreciate it when it's in full use. Is bigger always better? In any case, with world's largest bike parking facility, Utrecht has got itself a mega tourist attraction!
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