If you’re rushing to catch a train in the Dutch city of Utrecht, you’ll probably show up on a bike—and a massive new bike parking garage is designed to let you store your bike and get to the platform as quickly as possible. Though it’s the largest bike parking garage in the world, with space for 12,656 bicycles, the design means that you can ride inside, find a spot, and be at your train in five minutes or less.
Utrecht already ranks as one of the world’s best cities for biking, and 60% of trips into the city center are taken by bike. But the city wants to double its total number of bike commuters by 2030, and a better connection to the central train station is one part of that plan. “They asked for large-scale bicycle parking to accommodate a perfect transfer between cycling and train for daily commuters,” says Stijn Rademakers, an architect at Ector Hoogstad Architecten, which won a competition to redesign the area next to the train station.
Outside, on the ground level, a new plaza replaces a midcentury-era street that had cut off the historic city center, bringing pedestrians back to a space that had been filled with cars. Under the plaza, the new bike garage goes three stories underground, and a bike path that had been at street level now crosses underground. Because of the size of the space, the designers had to approach the design differently to make it possible to quickly commute. “It became clear to us that what you do with normal bike parks—where you enter the building, get off your bike, and walk to your parking spot—you would never be able to make it because it would simply be too long to walk,” says Rademakers. “So we said, let’s attempt to just use the bike route that goes through it as a way to reach the parking lot.”
Commuters ride down ramps into a giant bicycle roundabout that leads past rooms of racks, with exits to ride to different levels and color-coded walls to show different routes. “Basically, you can never go wrong as long as you keep cycling,” he says. “You pass all the possible locations.” Each storage space has two levels of racks, all equipped with sensors, so someone riding by can easily see if there’s space available on digital signs. Floor managers help prevent theft, and the garage also has an onsite bike repair shop and bike rental. After someone parks, they can walk up a central stairwell to the main level, or take a tunnel directly to a train platform if they already have a ticket.
The facility has only been fully complete for a few weeks, so it’s early to be able to say how much it’s encouraging more people to ride bikes—but it’s already popular. “What we do know is that the estimates are now that the bike park might already be too small,” says Rademaker. “It’s quite often full.” Including the spots in the station, the city now has 22,000 bicycle parking spaces in the neighborhood, and it plans to increase that number to 33,000 by 2020. Additional huge bike parking garages are in planning in other Dutch cities, including an 8,500-bike garage in the Hague, and the country will have around 200,000 new bike parking spots by 2030.