Of all the impressive scenes we witnessed during our tour of the Netherlands in the summer of 2016, none were quite as astounding as the sea of parked bicycles on almost every street. For North Americans, it can be an overwhelming sight: bikes upon bikes leaned precariously against each other wherever space can be found.
At major destinations, this became has became such a space concern that many cities have implemented large bike parking facilities known as Fietsenstallingen, complete with entrance escalators, maintenance facilities, and on-site security staff. The best examples of which can be found at nearly every train station, where countless stalls have been installed to help support the hundreds of thousands of people who make the daily bike-train-bike commute across the country every day.
Upon returning home to Vancouver, we came to the distinct realization that once cities invest in complete, comfortable bicycle infrastructure networks, and promoting its use, the final – and arguably most important – piece of the bike-friendly city puzzle is providing its residents with ample, secure bicycle parking.
This idea touched close to home in September, when we took our son into downtown Vancouver for some back-to-school shopping. Stacking and locking our three bikes on the one visible U-shaped sidewalk rack on near Robson Square – one of the city’s highest pedestrian trafficked areas – we left our bikes seemingly secure to run some errands. You can likely appreciate the inevitable conclusion of this story, when we returned after a successful shopping trip to find his bike had been stolen, leading to an all-too-familiar feeling of anger, frustration, and helplessness.
One of the after effects of this traumatic event – aside from an eight-year-old boy who still misses his bike some eight months later – is that we now hesitate to travel by bike downtown for fear that more of our fleet of bicycles will suffer the same fate. This equates to less of our disposable income being spent there, as well as many areas of the city, simply because we are afraid of having yet another bike stolen.
What would change that? The availability of ample, secure bike parking similar to those we experienced in places such as Amsterdam’s Foodhallen or Eindhoven’s 18 Septemberplein. These (typically underground, but sometimes floating) lots not only provide hundreds, if not thousands of parking spaces for patrons – often monitored to detract thieves – but they also address the problem of space at street level, keeping “bike piles” away from shop fronts and making it easier for people to travel on foot throughout the city centres, markets and popular destination areas.
In Vancouver, our transit authority has recognized this to a point, installing bike parkades and lockers at a handful of popular Skytrain stations, but their use comes with a cost. Having to pay per use is a deterrent to those with limited means, or without the smart card needed for access, leaving one of two options – risk leaving the bicycle locked up to a rack outside the station, or to simply leave it at home.
The City of Vancouver, however, has spent virtually nothing on bike parking, despite allocating millions on a network of protected bike lanes on the downtown peninsula.
With all of the investments cities around the world are making in cycle-friendly infrastructure, the end-of-trip facilities often seem to be an afterthought. But as is evidenced by the overflowing lots at Dutch train stations – a safe place to store your bike is equally as important as a safe place in which to ride it. And it is something the Dutch accept as just a matter of fact, with some places like Utrecht’s Centraal Station, building increased capacity to hold over 33,000 bikes in the coming years, in order to meet the needs of the 27,000 people cycling through the area every day.
Of course, bike theft has not been abolished altogether in the Netherlands, but the continued investment in Fietsenstallingen has gone a long way to providing a peace of mind to residents and visitors alike. Cities that genuinely want to become bike-friendly must take accessible, safe, and secure bike parking seriously, especially in high-traffic areas such as shopping districts, community gathering areas, and transit hubs. It is the last piece of the puzzle that will make travelling by bicycle effortless, and eventually – like the Dutch – a normal, unremarkable part of the everyday.
If you are interested in learning more about the Dutch approach to bike parking, the preliminary Velo-City 2017 programme boasts several (outdoor) sessions on the subject, as well as pre/post programme events to facilities in Utrecht, The Hague, and Groningen.