Bike parking can be a frustrating business, so no wonder it's a hot issue. Not only is there a huge shortage of bike parking places, but the type of bikes that need to be accommodated is also becoming more diverse. Do traditional one-size-fits-all bike parking facilities meet the current needs?
Parking problems for non-standard bikes. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com
Most Dutch cyclists will, at some time or other, have faced the problem of an overfull bike parking facility. Will my bike fit in that one empty space between those bikes with bulky saddle bags? Can I get my handle bars past those of the other bikes without getting my cables hooked behind them? Is there enough room for the bikes next to mine to get out without damaging my bike?
It might seem a luxury problem, but the bike has become so popular in Holland that there are not enough bike parking spaces to go round, especially in the big cities. Bikes parked in the streets were becoming a nuisance, blocking the pavement and looking a mess. To cater for the growing number of bikes, new bike parking facilities are appearing all around the country. The world's largest bike parking facility in Utrecht - with room for 12,500 bikes! - is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
One size fits all doesn't work for the world's first P-route for cyclists
P-route for cyclists. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com
In June 2015 Utrecht introduced the world's first P-route for cyclists. Digital signposts tell cyclists how many empty places there are in the various bike parking facilities in the city centre. The same as for cars.
Easy for cyclists who'll no longer turn up at a full bike parking facility. But also great for the people managing the facilities as it will give them better insight into what the peak times are for bike parking. This will allow them to set up extra pop-up facilities at busy times.
To be honest, I hadn't really paid much attention to these new digital bike parking information signs until a couple of weeks ago. On my way to one of the bike parking facilities in the centre, I happened to notice that the signs indicated there were plenty of places left. To my surprise I heard on arrival, that actually they were full.
On enquiry, I was told that the detection system doesn't work properly. Why? The optical sensors can only detect bikes that properly parked in the racks. Non-standard bikes that don't fit in the racks and badly parked bikes are not registered. Considering the number of empty places I was expecting to find, there are clearly a lot of them...
The sheer number of bikes is only part of the problem. The increasing diversity of bikes and the wide range of accessories fixed on them make it harder, or even impossible, to fit bikes into the current bike racks. Just take a look at our photo gallery to get an idea of the variety of bikes on the Dutch cycle paths: granny bikes with a big crate on the handlebars, bikes with a child's seat both on the front and back, bikes with bulky saddle bags, cargo bikes, folding bikes, e-bikes, tandems, recumbents, trikes... All these different sized bikes need to be parked somehow.
One thing is clear: non-standard size bikes will never fit properly in a standard bike rack. But is this a problem when designing new parking facilities? To find out, cycling policy organisation CROW-Fietsberaad and Dutch Rail will be investigating bike parking facilities in the city centres. They will go around counting bikes and measuring them. How many non-standard bikes are there? Do they fit in the racks? What are the most common sizes of the crates, baskets, saddle bags and child seats? How do these compare to the current standard for bike racks?
The idea is that this data will help make bike parking facilities more bike friendly. The last thing cities want is to discourage people from cycling and make them use the car instead. However, increasing the size of a standard bike parking space will decrease the capacity of bike parking facilities. This brings us back to the need for more parking places. It seems like a catch-22 situation...