• Too many bikes? We can fix that!

    Away with the bikes

    Is the bike problem unsolvable? Not if you believe Paul, Robin and Jasper, three young urban planners. But you do have to think ‘outside the box’.

    in short

    The board of directors want to convert the parking lot beside the Academy Building into bike parking in order to combat the bike plague.

    But that won’t work, the urban planners say. The more storage you provide, the more bikes you’ll have to deal with.

    The three have come up with their own solution: storage on the ground floor of buildings, because students are lazy.

    Unauthorized parking should be made impossible by creating a mound in front of the UB.

    Another option: placing obstacles in the street.

    Fourth solution: make sure that students don’t bike to their classes, but walk instead.

    full version

    Reading time: 4 min (1213 words)

    The board of the university only sees one solution to fight the bike plague at the UB: the whole parking lot beside the Academy Building should be converted into bike storage. It won’t work, Paul, Robin and Jasper say. ‘But there are other possibilities.’

    But it won’t be easy, because ‘soft’ rules, like red carpets, signs and painted symbols on the ground don’t work. ‘In fact’, Robin Neef, research master student at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences, says, ‘a sign can cause more problems.’

    Tougher measures

    Neef, together with Jasper Homrighausen – a student of Environmental & Infrastructure Planning – and four other urban planning students are members of the Student Advice Commission (SAC) that has conducted research into everything to do with bikes in the city over the past year.

    From their research, it became clear that the red carpets and signs in the city centre do work, but that stricter rules are necessary for students. ‘Students follow social norms. A sign with one double parked bike underneath it says: you can go ahead and park here’, says Neef. ‘That happens now in front of the UB and in the Nieuwe Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat.’

    Above all, students are just really lazy, says Homrighausen. ‘The solution has to be easy and clear for them.’

    As a result, bike garages in the city centre don’t work, says PhD candidate Paul Plazier, who is researching cultural geography and the use of bikes and e-bikes in Groningen. ‘Walking down one set of stairs with a bike isn’t easy enough.’

    The three of them have a clear insight into what not to do with bikes at university buildings, but luckily, they also see opportunities to implement changes that could actually work.

    1: Easy access to the garage

    A much better idea would be to create bike parking on the ground floor of the UB rather than in a basement underneath the building, says Plazier. ‘The convenience factor should be the guiding principle: that way, you can avoid having to walk up and down the stairs twice a day.’

    That’s how you make it attractive, Neef says. ‘You should build it with a glass wall so that it’s clear when you can easily find a spot and walk through, because a bike garage is only going to be used when it’s clearly visible rather than hidden underneath or behind a building.’

    In such a garage, there should be a heated entrance with a reception that gives the feeling that you are inside the building. This makes you feel welcome and makes the garage seem less like something you do in preparation for entering the building and more like an activity that fits into your routine. ‘It can’t be made any easier than that’, says Neef. ‘You bike into the building, park it correctly and then just walk toward your class in one fell swoop. That is much easier than parking in a basement.’

    Bike storage on the ground floor could really work, Plazier thinks – especially if you are adding a service element to it. You could offer a discount on a cup of a coffee inside, or provide a butler in the garage that you can pay to fix your flat tires or repair your lights. When you are done with classes for the day, then your bike is ready, too.

    That could also be implemented in existing bike garages, they say. ‘The important thing is to make the service element permanent. One-time or temporary promotions don’t work’, Neef says.

    2: Make bad parking impossible

    The university has to focus more on convenience, or, Homrighausen says, at least on what the student’s norms are. ‘Why aren’t there any bikes parked in front of the Academy building, but are there tons of them in front of the UB? That’s mostly because of the impressiveness of the front steps and the cobblestones on the square – in other words, the image and appearance of the Academy Building.’

    Students know intuitively: you can’t park here. ‘It doesn’t feel right to place your bike there’, says Homrighausen. ‘It’s crazy, then, to think of your bike as just part of a larger mass in front of the UB, only 20 meters away from the Academy Building.’

    The challenge of the bike problem is that one rule won’t make a difference. It’s about a package of rules that are aimed at changing behavior, physical limitations and making those rules known.

    ‘One part is to make it physically impossible to park your bike where it’s not allowed’, Neef says. ‘That could be achieved by creating a small hill in front of the entrance to the UB. It should be steep enough that you can no longer place your bike there, but not so steep that you can’t walk on it. Then, the only option is to place your bike in the middle of the street, and that goes against social norms.’

    3: Put obstacles in the way

    Making is impossible to park your bike where it is not allowed and taking social norms into consideration can also be approached in another way, Homrighausen says.

    ‘Place large objects all along the perimeter of the UB and on the sidewalk on the Nieuwe Kijk in ’t Jatstraat. You can still easily zig zag through them as a pedestrian, but your bike would block the whole path. You wouldn’t do that. I don’t think that the municipality would go for it, but you could make something nice from the use of these large objects.’

    4: Starbucks for pedestrians

    But with these solutions – which could work very well – you’re only transfering the problem. Because if the bikes are no longer being parked on Nieuwe Kijk in ’t Jastraat or in front of the UB, they have to go somewhere else – leaning against the store front windows, for example.

    The best idea is to approach it from the complete opposite direction.

    ‘Out of the box thinking’, Homrighausen says. ‘The bikes will just keep coming. In fact, more parking just attracts more bikes. The univeristy should invest in the admission policy of the UB so that fewer people go there. They could also make studying at home more attractive by providing more lectures online. It would also be a good option to promote walking by offering pedestrians a free Starbucks coffee.’

    What do you think of the solutions offered by Paul, Robin and Jasper? Do you have a better idea? Let us know!

    4 November the first part of this two-part article has been published: Bike plague remains.