More and more Dutch cities are looking for solutions to the growing number of parked bikes littering the streets. New bike parking facilities are being opened all over the country. But managing these larger modern facilities poses new problems that sometimes require an innovative approach.
One of the charms of Dutch cities is the large number of bikes everywhere. Not just bikes whizzing by, but also parked bikes in various stages of decay chained to bridges and lamp posts. But what might seem charming to the visiting tourist, is a nightmare for city councils. Wrongly parked bikes block pavements causing dangerous situations and abandoned bikes need to be removed.
On top of that vandalism and bike theft are so common that it is near impossible for cyclists to take a decent (expensive) bike into city centres unless they have a safe place where it can be parked. Cyclists either have to go to a guarded bike parking facility - a service for which you traditionaly have to pay a fee - or use an old decrepit 'city bike' and hope for the best.
Encouraging bike use
In recent years bike use has been encouraged to combat the problems of congestion and pollution in city centres. More and more cities have started to offer free (first 24 hours) guarded bike parking facilities in the centre - some permanent, some pop-up to cater for the busy shopping and nigh life hours. Often they offer extra services such as toilets, lockers, a place where you can do simple bike repairs or buggies you can borrow.
To encourage the use of public transport new free (first 24 hours) guarded bike parking facilities are also being built at train stations all over the country. A great improvement for city councils and cyclists as the problems of nuisance bikes, vandalism and bike theft have always been the greatest around stations.
Not enough spaces
Now almost half of the passengers come to the station by bike. Dutch Rail expects that this number will increase over the coming years. Even the 12,500 spaces of the world's largest bike parking facility at Utrecht Central Station which was only completed in August 2019, soon won't be enough!
More supersized bike parking facilities can - and will - be built, but this takes time and comes at a price. Another option that's being explored is reducing the number of bikes that need to be parked at the station. For example, by rethinking the existing OV-bike share scheme so bikes are used more efficiently.
Now passengers can only use an OV-bike to get from the station to their final destination and back. The logistics for this are not too complicated as the bikes are always picked up and dropped off at one central location. But what if the OV-bike could also be used to get from wherever you are to the station, where the next passenger picks up it up to get from the station to their destination? Definitely food for thought.
Bike traffic jams
More and larger bike parking facilities also asks for a different approach to the way the incoming and outgoing of bikes is controlled. Traditionally you receive two paper tickets with a number and date when you have arrived. One is fastened to your bike, the other you have to show when you pick up your bike. This way a staff member can check whether you are leaving with the correct bike and how much you have to pay.
A few years ago the city of Utrecht introduced a more contemporary system whereby a re-useable barcode - one for you, one for your bike - is used to check in and check out your bike. At train stations there is a new system using your rail card. Here you check in your bike yourself at a machine. A staff member has to check out your bike, so payments can be made if your stay has been longer than 24 hours.
An unforeseen problem arose when the world's largest bike parking facility had just opened: bike traffic jams in the evening rush hour. So many commuters wanted to check out their bikes at the same time that the staff couldn't cope. More staff was brought in, but clearly a more efficient system is needed to check 12,500 bikes in and out every day.
At the stations in Breda and Hardewijk new automated systems that are supposed to streamline the whole process are now being trialled. An electronic tag that is linked to your rail card, is placed on your bike. As you pass through electronic gates your bike is automatically checked in or out. Any payment required is automatically charged to your rail card. If the trials are a success automated systems will be introduced at train stations around the country.
We already have a barcode on our bikes to park in Utrecht. By the looks of it our bikes will soon be decorated with an array of barcodes and tags marking our destinations - just like suitcases that have travelled the world.