Dispatch from the Netherlands, part 2: Transit and Parking

This is the second part of Jonathan Mertzig's series on biking and biking infrasctructure in the Netherlands. You can read part 1, about wayfinding and complete streets and networks here. The final installment of the series will be published next Wednesday.

Bike-friendly Public Transit and Mixed-Mode Journeys

You can take your bike on most trains for a small supplemental fee outside of peak hours. Here on a new Sprinter train, they even explain the rules in English.

While long-distance, intercity journeys are quite possible with the Dutch cycling network, you might find taking a train or bus to be a bit more efficient, and many public transport options in the Netherlands make it easy to take your bike with you.  Nearly all classes of service on the Dutch railways support transport of cycles for a small supplemental fee (with some reasonable rush hour restrictions).  Over the last decade the Dutch railways actually have been phasing out racks in trains because mounting bikes on them was deemed too cumbersome and inconvenient, and instead have shifted toward favoring spacious standing areas for cyclists to encourage quick and easy loading of bikes. Trams and long-distance buses also often have space that can accommodate cyclists.  Notably, most cycle accommodation in Dutch public transport also serves as a good example of “universal design”—the same roll-on/roll-off compartments that provide space for cyclists can also accommodate wheelchair users, families with baby carriages, or tourists hauling luggage. (More info on taking bikes—or a few other wheeled things—on the train).

Entrance to the bicycle center beneath the rail station in Hilversum. The facility offers secure bike parking, a repair facility, and bike rentals.

Apart from the possibility of taking your bike along for the ride, Dutch transport hubs also tend to provide excellent facilities for cyclists, with large amounts of secure bike parking and on-site facilities for repair and rental of cycles.  The national public transit card system (OV-Chipkaart) even integrates with a  nationwide bike share scheme, the OV-fiets, which lets you hire a bike at most stations.  And if you were wondering, yes, it’s possible to even bike to the airport—bike paths can take you all the way to the terminal at Schiphol.

A pair of OV-Fiets bikes on the street in Maastricht. The OV-fiets is a nationwide bike rental scheme connected to the national transit chip card (OV-Chipkaart) that allows you to bike up a bike at most major railway stations.

Takeaways:   Encourage the installation of quality bike parking at major transit nodes and emphasize the need for simple roll-on/roll-off bike transport on new transit vehicles.  A few cumbersome racks on the front of buses don’t truly make a transit system “bike-friendly.”

Madison’s most recent chance at having intercity rail service was unfortunately squandered, but while the plans were still on track—no pun intended—multi-modality incorporating cycling was a key part of the designs… some of the initial reasoning for choosing  Judge Doyle Square as a location for a bike center was the synergy with a potential future train station.  When opportunities for planning intercity connections arise, let’s make sure those rail- (bus-, hyperloop-) to-bike connections remain a key part of the discussion.

A bike shop at Maastricht central station, one of two facilities offering bike rentals and repairs at the station.

 

Parking and Support Facilities

Bike parking is quite plentiful in Dutch cities, but it seems they can still never build quite enough. Perhaps the most extreme example of demand for bike parking is around Amsterdam Centraal station, where several huge parking areas, including a few multi-level garages, are often overflowing with bikes.

If there’s one glaring problem with cycling in Netherlands, it’s parking… they just can’t build enough!  But from an American cyclist’s perspective, the parking situation in most Dutch cities seems downright luxurious.  Most major destinations like stores, schools, and offices have large bike parking areas with quality racks and many include lockers available for rental to long-term users.  In city centers or at transit hubs, centralized parking garages provide a place to stow your bike before exploring a neighborhood on foot or taking a journey on mass transit. 

A large bike parking garage serving Den Haag Centraal station and surrounding office buildings

The best types of these facilities, known as a bewaakte fietsenstalling, combine a large number of lockers or locking racks with video surveillance and on-site attendants to provide a highly secure place to stow your bike. And as a bonus in the often-rainy Netherlands, many also shelter your bike from the elements.  In the past, parking in such facilities was typically was a paid service, but in recent years I’ve noticed an increasing tendency to provide such facilities for free. The preference towards providing free centralized parking helps maintain a less crowded streetscape with reduced need for on-street parking—and less of an excuse for illegal parking—and helps cut down on bike theft and vandalism.  Many of these parking complexes also provide bike maintenance shops, self-service repair areas, and rental facilities.

Den Haag provides an example of the move towards free centralized parking in many cities. To help eliminate clutter from chaotic bike parking on busy shopping streets, the city expanded their secure parking garages and made them available for free.

Apart from the ample provision of parking and repair facilities, supplies for simple repairs and bike accessories are widely available at locations beyond specialized cycling retailers.  Most variety stores and convenience shops carry at least a basic selection of supplies like tubes, patch kits, and accessories like bells, locks, lights, and reflective gear (notably, a trip to the Netherlands is a fantastic opportunity to stock up on affordable cycling kit!). So if you find yourself with a flat tire, a quick fix is usually a short walk away.

Basic bike supplies are easy to find—here at a HEMA store (sort of like the Dutch equivalent of Target), you can find a variety of parts and accessories.

Outdoor markets are not only a place to buy fresh veggies and other edible delights… you can often find bike supply vendors and repair stands at many markets. Here at the Woensel Weekmarkt in Eindhoven, you can find two Dutch staples right next to each other: fresh herring and bike tires!

Takeaways:  The Judge Doyle Square bike center could be a great pilot of this sort of concept, but there are many other destinations around town where quality indoor parking could be a huge perk to encourage cycling. Many major employers and institutions like the UW have good connectivity to our bike routes but perhaps not the best opportunities for parking. We should encourage high-quality indoor bike parking to be a part of development plans.  And maybe with that parking, include a nice bike repair stand!  And while we’re at it, let’s nudge our neighborhood retailers to carry at least a modest selection of basic bike repair supplies.

Beneath the 18.September Plein square in Eindhoven, between the central station and the central business district, there is a huge ‘bewaakte fietsenstalling’ with free parking. The architecture seems to match the nearby building known as “The Blob.”

 

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