UTRECHT, Netherlands (CN) – When your country has more bikes than people, you need somewhere to park them all.
On Monday, the Dutch city of Utrecht opened the world’s largest bicycle parking facility. The Netherlands has a population of 18 million people but 23 million bicycles.
Located beneath the central train station in the country’s fourth-largest city, the Stationsplein bicycle parking can hold 12,656 bikes. The previous record was held by Tokyo, Japan, which has a facility that can hold 9,400 bikes.
“People from abroad are often very jealous of what the Netherlands does with cycling infrastructure,” said project leader Lidwien van Kessel, of ProRail, the public-private partnership that manages the Dutch railway network.
The facility has been opened in stages over a two-year period, starting with 6,000 spaces in August 2017. Those initial spots were 80-90% full during the week, unsurprising since the central train station in Utrecht is the largest transportation hub in the country.
“Our bicycle culture is part of Dutch identity,” Stientje van Veldhoven, the Netherlands’ minister of infrastructure and water management, said at the opening ceremony.
A post-WWII car boom led to an increase in traffic fatalities. Protests over the 3,000 deaths in 1971, 450 of which were children, together with the 1973 oil crisis pushed the government to invest in cycling infrastructure. Now, traffic rules favor cyclists, bike paths are protected from traffic, and Dutch children attend mandatory cycling lessons as part of their school curriculum.
One-quarter of all journeys in the country are now made by bicycle.
The parking facility was designed by Dutch architecture firm Ector Hoogstad Architecten and incorporates raw wood and natural lighting from the pedestrian square above it.
Parking is free for the first 24 hours and 1.25 euros ($1.40) for each day thereafter.
In fitting fashion, the grand opening kicked off with local leaders pedaling away on stationary bikes to create sufficient energy to drop a banner blocking off the new section of the structure.
How soon will the Utrecht facility fill up? “Next week,” predicts Marte Jansen, a student who cycled to the station to catch a train to class.
Fortunately, the city has another nearly 10,000 bicycle parking spaces within walking distance of the station.