The global cycling boom is leading to an unforeseen problem in many cities: not enough parking. In places like Amsterdam, bike racks are overflowing, and even at home, parking is a growing headache. (Especially for vulnerable groups: I was talking to a blind gentleman from Boston the other day; he finds it increasingly hard to walk down the street on his own, such is the clutter of bikes.)
Ad hoc arrangements, where bikes are left dangling from lamp-posts or pressing into trees, aren’t going to cut it in the future. Not in an age of thousands of bikes, and when cycling is supposed to be a true alternative. "Parking is the last great piece of the puzzle. Nobody has figured out the golden solution in 125 years," says Mikael Colville-Andersen, head of the Copenhagenize cycling consultancy.
So what are the solutions? For some answers, we turned to one of the great cycling capitals: Copenhagen. Denmark, like Holland, is facing up to the parking issue, working out how to accommodate demand where space is very limited. Here are a few options it is exploring, plus ideas from other cities.
In 2011, Copenhagen piloted the idea of "flex parking", where car drivers and cyclists share certain spaces. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., the lot is reserved for bikes; at night, cars get precedence. The idea is to cater to greatest demand. Around schools, in particular, there is a huge surge of bikes during the day.
The city trialed the idea at five locations, and is now considering a fuller roll-out as part of its bike-to-school program. Could other cities employ it? Maybe, says Erik Kjærgaard, from the design firm that developed it. But they may need to pay more attention to security. Although Copenhagen has bike theft (17,000 thefts last year), students left happy to leave their bikes freestanding during the pilot. Other cities would probably need "butterfly racks" (strings of wire you put up from the road and attach to the bike) or to put in a rail near to the curb.
Kjærgaard reckons there are 25 to 30 places in Copenhagen where demand for parking runs two to three times ahead of availability. "Every time we increase of the supply of places, they are taken the first day. The result is that there are still a lot of bicycles outside racks." He’s now involved in a project to identify more potential sites, and that inevitably means looking beyond the street, to the first floor of buildings, or to basements, or other underground, areas.
"There are always locations—stores, malls, pedestrian streets, entertainment spots—where cyclists need to park their bikes, and they don’t want to walk too long. You need to use basements or some of the lower floors in existing buildings, as you see in Japanese cities," he says. "Another possibility is to exploit the stations themselves. They often have large flat covers, and that puts you zero meters from the destination." Amsterdam’s Zuid Station has this underground garage, for instance.
These two-level racks are gas powered, making it easier to lift your bike up. The model is increasingly common near Danish stations, according to Troels Andersen, of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark (it collected other ideas here).
Cargo bikes, while elegant, are a particular menace parking-wise, because they take up so much space. Copenhagen has tested this pink cargo bike car: a fiberglass shell in the shape of a car, with four spaces. The 'automobile’ even has solar-powered headlights, making getting in and out easier in the dark.
Other cities have other ideas. Japan has automated shelters for sequestering bikes underground. Spain has these puppies. And then there are these parking towers from Germany and the Czech Republic, and a giant wheel solution from South Korea.
The problem with bikes cluttering up streets isn’t "too many bikes." It’s that we haven’t worked out how to park them yet.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that Copenhagen had 17,000 bike thefts last year.