Monday, 5 August 2013

Groningen Europapark railway station. Can cycle-parking be beautiful ?

Groningen has three railway stations. I have often written about the largest of the three, where there are over 10000 cycle-parking spaces but the other railway stations are also important and they also have bicycle parking. Europapark is in the South of the city. The station was originally built in 2007 as a temporary structure and re-opened in 2012 after extensive rebuilding. It won an award earlier this year as the most beautiful building of 2013. The inviting cycle-park is part of the reason why:

The temporary station in 2007. Bicycle parking was outdoors -
it's in the left of the picture on the other side of the railing.
The temporary railway station had several hundred unguarded outdoor cycle-parking spaces. The permanent station has 740 indoor spaces with a guard and is designed to accommodate double that number of spaces if the parking is made two level (as shown in a video here). The cycle-park is open from before the time of the first train in the morning until after the last train at night. This means it opens on most mornings at 5 am and doesn't close until 2 am.

There are bins here and they are used. This station is spotless.
(cleanliness is important for cycle-parking)
It has been understood for many years in the Netherlands that a smelly, dark or otherwise unpleasant cycle-park is not attractive to potential users. This is a social safety issue. If people are to feel safe on entering an enclosed space, especially late at night, it is best that this space is well lit, well maintained and staffed. This new cycle-park has all of those features and the cycle-path to it has

The parking is accessed from an underpass. The underpass also provides a new and very useful crossing of the railway line which didn't exist before now. Because it doesn't stand alone, it links up with the existing network in the city to form a very convenient route directly to the city centre and is useful for those cycling to school and work from homes South of the station.

The approximate location of the new cycle-park is shown in blue. The red lines show the new cycle-paths which are part of this development, including the new access under the railway line as shown in the video above. Google Maps does not yet have imagery even of the temporary station.
Why we must be wary of great infrastructure...
The new station has a shelter built of titanium and it is the
first in the country to receive a new type of furniture. The
station cost €40M in total and the luxury bike parking is
perfectly in keeping with the rest.
I like this cycle-parking design a lot. It will invite users because it's attractive and will be well maintained. It was expensive, but actually the amount spent on the cycle-parking is not out of proportion to the amount spent on the rest of the station.

However, I always caution against taking too much notice of exceptional pieces of cycling infrastructure. It's not that I dislike seeing such things, but that they don't mean much in themselves. I think I perhaps need to explain this stand.

Cities across the world like to boast of their best, but we must be wary of attention being diverted from the most important issue so far as encouraging mass cycling is concerned - the need for a comprehensive network of very good quality routes which go everywhere.

It's difficult for a politician to achieve a quick win by proposing, let alone delivering, a truly extensive network so it is far more common to see emphasis placed on what will look impressive in a short amount of time. Sometimes such projects are even named after the person who proposed them. Campaigners need to guard against such vanity. It has been known for at least 30 years that individual paths, bridges and tunnels are not enough to encourage cycling. Building only exceptional pieces can consume a large proportion of the total available budget for cycling, and the high expenditure on large items can hide that overall levels of funding for the more important but mundane cycling infrastructure is actually very low.

No piece of infrastructure, no matter how good, is particularly valuable to cyclists unless it forms part of their route. This is why a comprehensive network is the only way to reach all people. In the Netherlands, there are many piece of exceptional infrastructure and all of them form a part of the already existing comprehensive network. As such, it makes more sense to build them here than it does elsewhere. This example, due to providing a useful new route under the railway line, the building of this station improves the existing grid of cycle paths and therefore is useful for people who don't even use the station itself.

The video was made when I was accompanied to the Europapark station a few weeks ago by Cor van der Klaauw, senior beleidsmedewerker in Groningen and a true expert in cycling matters. He appears briefly in my video. Cor also wrote about the new station in an article on the Verkeerskunde website.


bz2 said...

Wow, 21 hours a day staffing at a suburban station, that's unusual even by Dutch standards. Groningen is something else.

Gordon Oliver said...

It makes the cycle parking that we recently installed at Maidenhead Station look decidedly boring. At least it is two-tier and is well used. Actually, I'm starting to appreciate the problem that the Dutch have with cycle parking at rail stations. As fast as we provide it more bikes come along and fill it up. It's a nice problem to have though!