Bike chaos will only get worse

Can’t find a space to park your bike around the university buildings in the city centre? Bike stewards don’t see that improving any time soon. ‘We remove one bike, and three others take its place.’
By Edward Szekeres

It’s the early morning rush to class. Students jostle their way through a jungle of bikes in front of the library as they look for any free inch of space to put down their two-wheeled friend. They carelessly drop their cycles anywhere they can, ignoring or blocking up free racks with their haphazard parking. Daniel, a bike steward, calmly observes the chaos unfolding in front of his eyes. But his façade of coolness crumbles with a sigh of despair. ‘We can’t really do much. It’s a free-for-all’, he says.

Stewards can remove bikes parked in unsafe spots, such as in front of emergency exits or safety corridors.  But it’s a futile effort at best. ‘We remove one bike, and three others take its place. If students could park their bikes in the middle of their lecture room, they’d do it’, Daniel thinks.

The Uurwerkersgang, a narrow side street hugging the Harmonie building, used to be a favourite parking spot. But its front end is now marked with a large sign that forbids cycle parking. The reason? Safety. ‘The firefighters told us they need the street clean in case of an emergency’, explains Daniel.

Students can instead leave their bikes in the racks behind the Harmonie building, or right under it. Around 500 spots are available underneath the public library, right next to the UB. While facility manager Rein van den Bos admits these spaces might be hard to find, he says the ultimate responsibility resides with the cyclists. ‘There’s plenty of free space underground, but people don’t make use of it, because they think it’s too far a walk from there.’

Van den Bos thinks many students are not even aware that there is a corridor leading directly from the underground garage to the Harmonie lobby. ‘We need to give people more time and information. It’s always hectic in the first weeks, but we have more than enough space to accommodate all bikes.’ Last year, the University did its own investigation that found the capacity of Harmonie’s garage parking to be enough to accommodate all wrongly parked bikes.

But ignorance and laziness might not be the only roots of the bike parking conundrum. Arthur Hilberdink, the steward supervisor, is convinced the problems will only get worse. ‘We’re hearing that the public library next to the UB will be renovated sometime in the future. That will cost us many parking spaces’, he says. The University library itself has large premises underground that would be suitable for bicycle parking. But the space is currently used as book storage and it might take years to create enough parking spaces there. ‘It could be as late as 2025’, says Hilberdink.

Stewards think changing class schedules could ease the pressure on parking, as not all students would arrive in at the same time. Installing two-tier bike racks, also used at the train station, could also be an effective, albeit expensive solution. ‘But safety is an expensive commodity’, adds Hilberdink.


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