In the Netherlands, where there are more bikes than people, city train stations have more than half a million bicycle parking spots (including, in Utrecht, the world’s largest single garage with room for 12,000 bikes). But it’s still often hard for cyclists to find parking, and the country is in the process of building room for another 100,000 bikes before 2025. In Amsterdam, the newest garage will be unique—it’s underwater, leaving public space open above, and with features to support aquatic life below.
Behind Amsterdam Central Station, a hub where trains, trams, buses, taxis, pedestrians, and cyclists converge, the bike parking garage will be part of a semifloating structure that was initially designed to help protect the quay—the area built along the water’s bank where the station sits—from accidental boat crashes from the adjacent river. “The protection put in place for the train and bus station, road traffic, and the Michiel de Ruyter tunnel meant there was some unused space between the collision protection and the quay,” says Danny Esselman, principal architect at VenhoevenCS, the architecture and urban design firm that worked on the design with Van Hattum en Blankevoort and DS Landschapsarchitecten. “That’s where the client decided to add bicycle parking, as there is always a lack of parking spaces in the city. Designing the project so it was semi-underwater meant we could create additional public space above it.”
The garage, which is set to open in 2022, will have room for 4,000 bikes, and is designed to draw cyclists in. “A good, attractive design means cyclists will want to use the parking facility,” Esselman says. “This means good accessibility, a limited height difference, efficient traffic flows, a safe and light environment, and using aesthetically beautiful materials. Cyclists are guided downwards in a smooth movement from the entrance on the boulevard. This movement invites you to quietly glide through to a parking space, stress-free.”
The structure is also designed to help support aquatic life in the river. Porous concrete, for example, lets plants and mussels stick to the walls. Coconut mats help purify the water and offer another place for vegetation to grow. Mesh baskets called “biohuts” help shelter young fish. A net will help trap plastic waste.
“As we took a ‘bite’ out of a current biotope—the home of the fish and plants—we also needed to take measures to build a better habitat for aquatic life than there was before,” he says. “As designers, you have to be aware that you are making changes to the environment, and it’s important to minimize the impact of your work. Our aim was to go beyond just minimizing the impact and improve the conditions, being mindful at every stage of the process. During construction, the methods we used meant that there was minimal disturbance of the river bed and surrounding biotope.”
It’s an approach, he says, that could be used for bike parking at other train stations near water. “A major plus point is that it allows you to use scarce amount of space available at ground level for other purposes,” Esselman says. “Think of how much space could be given over to public space, new parks, or footpaths.”