Dutch take cycling to a new level, with world's biggest multistorey bike park

In the Netherlands, where there are more bikes than people, serious money is being spent encouraging even more people to get on their bikes

In a nation with more bikes than people, finding a space to park can be a problem. The Dutch city of Utrecht is unveiling an answer at its railway station on Monday morning: the world’s largest multistorey parking area for bicycles.

The concrete-and-glass structure holds three floors of gleaming double-decker racks with space for 12,500 bikes, from cargo bikes that hold a family to public transport bikes for rent.

It is part of a strategy in which hundreds of millions of euros are being devoted to enhancing cycling infrastructure across the Netherlands, a nation so fervent about its two-wheelers that it is applying to add cycling to its inventory of intangible heritage.

“We are striving to make it a cyclists’ paradise and there’s still much to be done,” said Stientje van Veldhoven, a junior infrastructure minister. “I’d like us to make better use of what I call this secret weapon against congestion, poor air quality in cities and climate change that is also good for your health and your wallet.”

She added: “If you want to get people out of their cars and into public transport, you need to make sure using public transport is easy and comfortable. It needs to be very easy to park your bike as close to the train as possible – and you don’t want to be looking for half an hour for a space.”

A cycle route in Houten, a Dutch new town near Utrecht
A cycle route in Houten, a Dutch new town near Utrecht. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

According to the Dutch Statistics Office, 60% of all trips to work in the Netherlands are made by car and just a quarter by cycling – although in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, (known as the Randstad region) cycling is more common.

Demand for public transport is growing, the main four cities are predicted to expand, and the Netherlands has been struggling to meet its climate crisis commitments, so encouraging more bike use is a political priority.

“In the next 10 years, 500,000 more people will come to urbanised areas, and if all of those people bring their car then we are going to have massive congestion,” said Van Veldhoven. “So investment in public transport, cycling lanes and cycle parking facilities is crucial to keep this area that’s essential for our national economy moving.”

The national railway service NS is investing tens of millions in bike parking, according to its spokesman, Geert Koolen. “We have over 1 million train passengers a day and in our bigger cities – like Utrecht – more than half arrive at the station by bike,” he said. “At Dutch stations there are some 490,000 parking spaces for bikes and we expect 5 million bicycle rides on OV-fiets [shared public transport bikes] in 2020.”

The Cityscape: get the best of Guardian Cities delivered to you every week, with just-released data, features and on-the-ground reports from all over the world

Utrecht is promoting cycling as part of a “healthy urban living” policy. “We are counting on biking as a healthy and sustainable form of transport for a growing city,” said the deputy mayor, Victor Everhardt. “Cycling is in the genes of people from Utrecht and in 1885 it built the Netherlands’ first bike lane. Every day, 125,000 cyclists go through the city centre to work, school and the station, and the world’s largest bike park sits perfectly in this global cycling city.”

Two cyclists parks their bikes in the parking garage in Utrecht
The parking space houses three floors of double-decker bike racks. Photograph: Michael Kooren/Reuters

The scale of Dutch investments shows cycling is about more than just the issue of transportation, according to BYCS, a social enterprise behind a network of international cycle mayors. “The bike park in Utrecht shows you need massive investments into cycling infrastructure parking, cycle lanes and great architecture, but we believe this is one of the most impactful things a city can do,” said its strategy director, Adam Stones. “If you look at it as transformation – how it addresses mental and physical health, brings communities together and addresses resource use and the environment – you put more weight behind it.”

But some experts sound a note of caution. Although the Fietsersbond, a Dutch cycling organisation, warmly welcomes the investment, it warns that it is irritating and counterproductive when bike parks are combined with a no-tolerance policy to on-street parking – as in central Amsterdam, where “wild” parked bikes are confiscated.

“I am not a fan of this,” said its director, Saskia Kluit. “There’s a grey area growing where the government wants a clean appearance and wants to get rid of the bikes, but parked bikes give the street liveliness and movement, and if you want the benefit of the cyclist shopping, it’s better they can stop everywhere they want.”

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, catch up on our best stories or sign up for our weekly newsletter


Senay Boztas in Amsterdam

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'We need more people to go by bike': meet Amsterdam's nine-year-old junior cycle mayor
As the world’s first junior cycle mayor, Lotta Crok wants to draw attention to the obstacles kids on bikes face – and inspire other children to cycle

Renate van der Zee in Amsterdam

12, Feb, 2019 @7:30 AM

Article image
Cycling downhill: has Copenhagen hit peak bike?
The share of trips taken by bike in Denmark’s capital has fallen. With ever more cars on the road and a new metro line about to open, can Copenhagen reach its target to have half of all journeys made by bike?

Athlyn Cathcart-Keays in Copenhagen

17, Nov, 2017 @7:30 AM

Article image
Cash for cycling: polluted Milan might pay commuters to bike to work
With its serious pollution problem and notorious driving styles, Milan is hardly renowned as a cycle-friendly city – but a radical new scheme aims to change that

Rosie Scammell

29, Feb, 2016 @7:30 AM

Article image
Wheeling the axe: Prague to ban bikes from historic squares and streets
Cyclists will soon be banned from historic central spots in the Czech capital by officials citing pedestrian safety – yet 1,000 cars will not

Robert Tait in Prague

03, Apr, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
Could intercity cycle highways revolutionise the daily commute?
Germany is building the world’s biggest ‘bicycle autobahn’ to connect 10 cities and remove 50,000 cars from the road. With the popularity of e-bikes growing, is Europe about to see a new era of long-distance cycle commuting?

Renate van der Zee

30, Jun, 2016 @6:30 AM

Article image
Utrecht's cycling lessons for migrants: 'Riding a bike makes me feel more Dutch'
Refuge cities In a city where more than 60% of journeys are made by bike, a local community group is using cycling as a tool to integrate people from immigrant backgrounds into their new nation. Peter Walker pays a visit

Peter Walker in Utrecht

28, Apr, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
Bike jams and unwritten rules: a day with Amsterdam's new 'bicycle mayor'
Rush-hour bike jams, speeding scooters, ignorant tourists … Amsterdam may be the world’s busiest cycling capital but it is no two-wheeled paradise. ‘Bicycle mayor’ Anna Luten is working to smooth conflict and export the lessons learned

Nick Van Mead in Amsterdam

11, Aug, 2016 @10:41 AM

Article image
Australia's biggest bike-lane sceptic 'wants to destroy cycling in Sydney'
Duncan Gay has made it his mission to rid Sydney of its network of segregated bike lanes. Cyclists and the lord mayor are up in arms at what they see as a dangerous backward step in the city’s development

Pádraig Collins in Sydney

24, Aug, 2015 @11:01 PM

Article image
Blame it on the bike: does cycling contribute to a city's gentrification?
Hostility to cyclists and bike lanes often seems to be a proxy for wider anger at gentrification. But does this urban phenomenon really arrive on two wheels – or is new cycle infrastructure a sign the street has already transformed?

Peter Geoghegan

05, Oct, 2016 @6:30 AM

Article image
Can e-bikes revolutionise long-distance commuting?
Marc Dekker commutes 80 miles a day on his high-speed e-bike. Are these powerful new bikes the long-awaited green solution for lengthy commutes?

Renate van der Zee

14, Sep, 2016 @10:03 AM