Thursday 28 April 2011

When parking space becomes tight

In most countries people will think about parking cars when they read the headline. In the Netherlands there is also a shortage of parking space for bicycles. Even though bicycles take up far less space than cars, when you reach a certain number finding a place to park can become difficult just as well.

Especially around popular destinations such as main train stations, universities and shopping areas the number of parked bicycles is so high that regulation became necessary.

This video shows some of the bicycles parked in one city in the Netherlands

Around stations you are not allowed to park your bicycle for more than 30 or 14 days. This may sound like a long time, but we should perhaps explain how the Dutch behave.

The Dutch on average have more bikes than one. Many of those extra bikes are bikes in other cities. A Dutch student may buy an extra bike for around 50 euros to reach an internship or an extra schooling course and park it at a railway station. When the course is finished these bikes are often abandoned. The Dutch call the abandoned bikes ‘weesfietsen’ or ‘orphaned bicycles’. Bikes without an owner clog the much needed parking spaces so the city councils come up with ideas to find those bikes. Labels are used to tag bikes. If you don’t remove the tag within 30 days obviously you haven’t used your bicycle. Those bikes are then removed.

Electronics to the resue

But this system consumes a lot of time and resources of the cities. Now electronics come to the rescue. The Dutch have found a way to monitor the parking time for every single bicycle.

A trial is running at the railway stations in Utrecht and Groningen. Not coincidentally two cities with a major university and high bicycle use.

This video shows the electronic system that monitors parked bicycles

ProRail, builder of Dutch railway infrastructure including the stations with all facilities, so also bike parking, has equipped bicycle parking racks with a detection mechanism. The moment a bike is parked the switch detecting that sends a wireless signal to a local receiver that sends it to a central computer using the internet. That computer registers date and time of parking and sends it back to the operator in the bike parking facility. The operator can monitor where bikes are parked and for how long. If a bike was parked more than 14 days earlier the operator gets a message to remove that bicycle. Owners can get them back from the council after paying a fine.

Added bonus: on screens at the entrance the number of free spaces for certain sections in the parking facility can now be shown. So parking your bike will not be the usual long search for that final open space.

The system costs ProRail about 100 euros (146 US$) per parking space. But it hopes this will be reduced once the system is installed in more places.

Dealing with the high number of parked bicycles is a big challenge all over the Netherlands. But it is of course a better challenge to have than having to deal with parked cars. The blog has many posts about bicycle parking.


peter wassink said...

i liked another suggestion for spotting the orphan bikes. (heard it mention here in Amsterdam) It uses the knowledge of frequent parkers.
People that come to park their bike on a daily bases get to know which bikes are never mooved. You could let people mark them (for instance with stickers)so that bikes can be monitored more effectively.
It would be a lo-tech crowdsourcing solution.

Slow Factory said...

100 EUR per space? How much does it cost to build a new bike parking structure per space? Some examples?

Frits B said...

GIF: A new bike parking structure doesn't cost much in money but the big question is: where?
And you know what the result of this electronic tinkering will be: parking fees. The system will easily pay for itself that way.