Amsterdam’s bike infrastructure is again in the news, this time for the €60 million underwater bike parking garage.
Underwater sounds really cool, in the tradition of James Bond and Dutch canals, but let’s look a bit deeper into the why and how much, with foci on public spaces and opportunity costs, respectively.
The garage is next to the city’s Station Centraal, which has had an excess of parked bikes for decades. The mess is because parking is free and lightly regulated. Indeed, it’s a classic case of a tragedy of the commons, i.e., too many bikes for too few spaces. The city has added racks, double deckers, floating parking, etc., but “more (free) supply” does not reduce demand from wrecks, stored bikes — and many many commuters.
NB: Paid (€1/ day) parking under the tracks is available with no wait.
So the issue is not a lack of parking places, but parking places that are too cheap.
The new garage
promises might change this situation by providing converting the parking commons into a club good.*
So, a club good because riders need to “check in” when they use the new garage. This means that people can be excluded “from the club.” This system will probably also be popular because the first 24 hours are free; additional time will cost something per day.
Some people are complaining about “privatizing the commons” with this garage, and they’re right, but it’s not like anything else has worked in the past 70 years!
Besides that change, it seems possible* that there will be fewer bikes stored around centraal, which will free a lot of space for other uses. Are there 200 stored bikes? 2,000? We’ll find out.
Now, to opportunity cost. I am sure that the engineers had a great time building another underwater garage, but how much does that €60 million represent?
Well, it’s €3 per Dutch citizen or €8600 per parking place. That’s cheap compared to the €50-100,000 per parking place for the two underwater car garages that I described in my paper on (car) parking in Amsterdam, but that’s faint praise — to be cheaper than a boondoggle subsidizing those rich enough to have a car in Amsterdam.
What else could you do with €60 million? Given that around half of Dutch students do not ride bicycles to school — either because they do not have them or are driven or lack training — it would make sense to subsidize lessons (even more) and bikes for kids. That would work out to around €300 per child in Amsterdam, or enough for a bike (and lock!) and training.
And then there are the car parking garages near Centraal. Oosterdok, for example, has 1,700 spaces. Assuming 6 bikes per car space and then allowing for double decking, that’s enough space for over 20,000 bikes! But let’s be reasonable and only convert 600 car spaces to fit 7,000 bikes. Will the cars be able to fit into 1,100 remaining spaces. Probably, given that the garage advertises €10 per day parking!
My one-handed conclusion is that the city built an expensive club good rather than fix its commons. That was easier for the bureaucrats, but it left a bunch of kids without wheels and an excess of cheap car parking that ruins the city for pedestrians and cyclists.
* I say “might” because it’s not yet clear that the city will remove 7,000 street spaces and push bikes to the underwater garage, but that would make a lot of sense.