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.
Addendum (19Feb): Subsidies for e-bikes get more riders… and a push for safer streets (Denver, USA)
5 thoughts on “Amsterdam’s new bike parking garage”
Interesting points. And nice to learn about the economic concept ‘club’, which is new for me.
What i miss in your blog is the aspect of time, and distance.
Oosterdok car parking is not a realistic option for bike-train passengers to park their bicycle as it is some 600m, 10min walk, to the trains.
Thanks for the comment!
Yes, you’re right on time/distance, and that issue also comes up with parking underground (vs on the surface) for both bikes and cars.
It’s definitely handy to have closer parking, and that garage was the easiest to find in the area, so (a) there may be other garages, but (b) my main point was about converting garages from cars rather than building new ones in very complex (=expensive) spaces. I think the engineers got lucky with funding this one.
Hi David, Another well written observation on the new bike parking garage at Amsterdam’s Central Station. I roamed the catacombs of both Centraal and Amstel Station for a decade when growing up in Amsterdam. This as I parked my bike in the manned bike parking garage or had a summer job of transporting and loading bikes on to trains. In the 50s, 60s and 70s people would ship their Dutch bikes to their holiday destination in France, Italy or Spain. In those days campground, hotels and pensions had bike storage rooms where people staying for their 3, 4 week of summer holidays could park their bikes. Both stations have already a giant area available for parking underground. Often unused. Having a teaching job in Zaandam for a bit meant cycling and parking at CS which in the 70s was a disaster. Often it took half an hour to find your bike buried under a slew of bikes that were leaning against yours. Will see what happens with the new garage and the expansion. https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/grote-steden-verzuipen-in-fietsen~a58eff0f/63743674/
A few statements that I have to contradict:
(1) DZ: “The mess is because parking is free and lightly regulated.”
R: Lightly regulated is not true. Handhaving is here daily and takes away all bikes around the station that are outside a rack or a bike garage. And this rule changed now to ‘only possible to park in the bike garage’, because there are no racks anymore. The only option is the biking garage. Beside that, handhaving also checks if bikes are longer in a rack than 2 weeks. After two weeks the bikes get a sticker with a date of removal. After a week they are removed out of the rack. As an answer I can say that the mess you describe exists because there are just more public transport users then there are bike racks. That’s why we build nearly 14.000 extra places now, with this two new bike garages.
(2) DZ: “the issue is not a lack of parking places, but parking places that are too cheap.”
R: It is the intention (and the duty) of a municipality to make necessary services in the street accessible and inclusive. That means bike garages need to be accessible to all groups of inhabitants. Also people that have to live from a low income. That is why they are free. And I can tell you I am working on a proposal to make all stallingen totally free, not only the first 24 hours. So no, we can’t make bike parking more expensive. It will work the other way around. People will use the bike less.
(3) DZ: “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.”
R: In this statement I don’t really follow why we should investigate what more to do with 60 million. Lots of the things you mention we already do. You have to know that the bike garage is not only payed by the municipality. A third is payed by the Dutch Railways (NS) and a third by the Vervoersregio. If you investigate it, you will see that high amounts are invested in train station bike garage all over the country. As a country we think it’s important all people must be able to bike to the train station. And when you arrive there, you have to be able to park well, and at a distance of maximum 6 minutes from the platform. This is an NS rule. Coming back to Amsterdam and what the municipality does to encourage cycling. Via courses and lessons the skills of students, their parents and specific groups (like migrant women) are increased. The access to bicycles is increased by donating bicycles, encouraging bike share systems and repair broken bicycles at workplaces with people with a distance to the labor market (Pantar). Together with organizations such as ‘Verkeer en meer’, Bycs, ‘Verkeersplein’ and ‘ZO works’ the municipality organizes activities that stimulate cycling. Such as children’s routes, fietslichtjestocht (bicycle light tour), ‘pedaling for the elderly’ and other activities to put cycling central in a positive way. On top of that, the municipality creates the most comfortable cycle paths, the finest parking facilities, traffic-safe environments, etc. All this has a price. But it is invested.
(4) DZ: “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!”
R: The Oosterdok car garage has 1.800 car parking places, but only 1.200 are public. The rest is privately owned. It’s true that a big part of that spaces could be turned into bike parking places. But is that a distance you would want people to ask to walk? Would you? Plus, it doesn’t align with the NS rule that the parking place must have a distance of maximum 6 min walk from the platform. The € 10,- Euro you’re mentioning is a PR price, to pull attention. I’ve noticed on their website. I have tried to book a place, even with a longer period from now, it’s always € 25,- euro per day. Which still is too cheap, but € 10,- is not correct. There is a car parking near (P1) that is investigated to turn into a bike parking facility. The point is that it turned out to be too low, too dark and too narrow to acces. Good bicycle parking is essential to encourage cycling in the city, because fear of theft is a major obstacle to cycling. Good parking also means that it feels socially safe. That is why quality as in air, light and space is important.
(5) DZ: “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.”
R: Seeing my other answers, I think that you know what my answer is here 🙂 These kids get wheels from the municipality, don’t worry. And if there is one thing that is most important for these bureaucrats, it is that they work seven days a week, with 30 people on Programma Fiets to keep the city an accessible and safe place to live. Especially for pedestrians and cyclists.
(6) DZ: * 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.
Last weeks all existing racks around the station were removed. So yes, the bike users are being pushed into the bike garage. So who doesn’t find a place to park near the station now has another issue 🙂 The only thing which I think can be improved, are the entrances. Because I think a stair or a ‘Tapis-Roulant’ (rolling carpet, in French) is not inviting enough and holds people from wanting to go inside. But this is another discussion.
Thanks for the comments Rene! I will answer by (numbers)…
(1) So, we agree on “free” which means (when demand>supply) that there are too few parking places. I will be very glad to see the 2 week rule enforced, as it’s not clear to me (from lots of observations of old/wrecked bikes) that it is very strongly enforced. Bikes OUT of the racks are definitely enforced (mine was taken to “bike jail” 3x from Centraal), but many of them are there due to bikes parked >2 weeks. Good point on commuters!
(2) We’re going to disagree on this. Although you’re right that a fee (even after 24 hours) will reduce the attraction of bikes (and parking), it’s not sustainable (financially or managerially) to keep providing something of value (parking) that costs money (LOTS when it’s underwater) at a price of zero. We see this with street parking; bike parking is no different. So it’s a question of how many subsidies to give. I favor switching subsidies from cars to bikes (my paper: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4140629), but demand needs to be constrained SOMEHOW, whether by price, time, brand (van moof must pay!), etc., if we’re to avoid chaos.
(3) My comment there was not to deny the other programs (thanks for giving details), but to show that €60 million is going to train commuters, who are (a) not kids and (b) not the poorer people in A’dam. So it’s mostly for middle/upper class people who commute from Centraal. The case with cheap CAR parking is far worse, but I wonder at the size of the subsidy for biking to someone living in some of the lower income districts compared to someone living in a higher-income district. It’s interesting (and good!) to know that NS and Regio are sharing the costs.
(4) Thanks for the details on Oosterdok (and P1). The purpose of my comment is to show how other parking situations “in the area” (albeit >6 min away) look, as urban strategies need to take the mix of uses in the area (around Centraal) into account. (I’m not claiming that didn’t happen, but there are often examples of HUGE spending on x while y (very close), which gets no attention, could provide part of the solution at a lower cost.
(5) Put those people in charge of car parking (and permits :), and they won’t need to work so hard to help bikes!
(6) Very good to hear! And very good for returning the streets/waterfront around the station to pedestrians!