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Addressing Copenhagen's pile of bicycles

Erik Kjærgaard | 15 Oct 2014 | Comments

There was a recent article on the BBC website about the pile of bicycles plaguing Copenhagen – and I agree, it’s true; cycle parking is a great problem for Copenhagen.

However, it is not only a problem for Copenhagen. London, where cycle traffic has increased from one per cent to two per cent of the total traffic in the past five years (i.e. 100 per cent more), is increasingly experiencing the problem as well, particularly near stations. And trust me, the issue will only increase as cycling in London is set to grow around five per cent over the coming years.

The bicycle is sure enough a very flexible transport solution and takes up only a tenth of a parking space when compared to a typical car. However, as the number of cyclists increases, it becomes necessary to enable cycle parking within a distance of no more than 30-40 metres from the end destination, e.g. the entrance to a train station. The fundamental idea of cycling is that you can get as close to your final destination as possible – so any thought of having the cyclist walking more than 30-40 metres from their parked bicycle to their end destination can be wiped out.

Cities that wish to increase cycle traffic – and luckily there are a lot of those around the world – need to take the issue of cycle parking facilities very seriously. Consider how much space cars take up in our cities, not just in terms of road infrastructure, but in terms of cars parking in the streets. Try doing a survey of your city; you will be surprised when you see how much of your city is used by cars.

The greatest challenge is finding new and creative solutions for ensuring sufficient cycle parking facilities exist at the necessary locations in the city, e.g. near stations, traffic terminals, educational institutions, shopping centres, concert rooms, pedestrian streets, theatres, workplaces and residential areas. The Netherlands is probably the country closest to a solution. Japan, despite their low number of cyclists, is used to having a small amount of space available, so they know how to make compressed cycle parking facilities. The areas available in a big city are often desirable (and expensive) so every square metre must be used in the best possible way. Thinking only of the design is of no use in this instance. The best solution with regards to design and intelligence is one that holds enough space for a large number of bikes and takes up the least amount of city area – while still keeping user-friendly cycle parking in mind of course.

During the past five decades, cars have taken up an increased amount of space in our cities resulting in billions of Danish kroner being spent on the construction of parking garages – also in Copenhagen. However, not a single parking garage for bicycles has been built in necessary locations, which indicates that bicycles are not taken as seriously as cars in our big cities. This needs to be changed if we want to increase the number of cyclists – whether it is in Copenhagen, London or elsewhere.

Cities need to grow accustomed to bicycles taking up space and requiring investment – particularly with regards to the streets, in terms of constructing separate bicycle lanes and appropriately sized cycle parking facilities wherever they are necessary. It may be that we even have to dispel the myth that cyclists, as opposed to drivers, are not willing to pay for parking.

The challenge of having cycle parking near all the important locations in the big cities is capacity, capacity, capacity – i.e. too many bicycles in one place. In some cities you need to make parking garages under the ground or up in the air (the Netherlands), on water (Malmø, Amsterdam), using the canopy on stations or traffic terminals (Japan), and in other cities you simply have to use the existing building stock available at each location. For instance, in Tokyo it is a requirement that contractors building high-rise units reserve some of the lower levels for cycle parking facilities, and if they are not reserved for this purpose, the build will be declined.

Although intelligent cycle parking facilities are often referred to as the innovation that will solve our problems with new IT solutions, in the critical and important areas of our cities technology may not always be the answer. Rather we need a back-to-basics solutions in terms of sufficient cycle parking facilities in all the right locations in a city.