If you read our blog, then you might already know that Amsterdam has some of the world’s best-designed bike infrastructure, which helps explain why over half of all commutes in the Dutch city are by bike. This has lots of benefits—less traffic congestion, better health, safer streets—but it also poses a surprising problem: where to put all those bikes when people aren’t riding them.
In residential neighborhoods, the solution is bike racks and corrals, often mounted on sidewalk bump-outs in quiet side streets.
But what about places where everybody wants to park? When Amsterdammers take the train, go to the library, work in a big office park, or see a movie or concert, they often arrive by bike. At places this popular, a few racks won’t cut it.
Enter the underground bike garage. Most Dutch cities have a few of them; Amsterdam has over 20. To American ears, it might sound extreme to dig out a garage just for bikes, but it’s not really that different from the bike rooms that office and apartment buildings in the US increasingly offer. In both cases, the idea is simple: provide a safe, easily accessible, weather-protected place to park, and people are more likely to make biking a habit, and not take up so much expensive car parking. In the Netherlands, the logic (and benefits) are just scaled up to the city level.
Here’s one example of a gemeentelijke fietsenstallingen (municipal bike parking) garage. This one’s next to Paradiso, a legendary concert hall and nightclub located in a converted church next to the Singelgracht canal.
A lot of thought goes into the design of garages like these, starting with getting in and out. Larger garages often have ramps or moving walkways, but this is a relatively small fietsenstallingen, so you take the stairs. Notice, though, that there are small channels on either side to roll your bike down.
On closer inspection, these turn out to be more than just ramps. The “downhill” channel on the right side is lined with stiff bristles that grip your bike tire and slow its decent. The “uphill” one is actually a tiny conveyor belt! — simply roll your bike onto the yellow strip, lock your brakes, and it automatically starts moving, carrying your bike up the steps while you walk alongside.
Because space is at a premium, nearly all garages use double-decker parking, with an elevated row of racks that slide out and tilt down on a small pneumatic piston. This allows for incredible density: Amsterdam’s newest bike garage in the Strawinskylaan office district holds 3750bikes, but fits underneath a road overpass.
Most garages are staffed and guarded, and charge a (very small) fee for secure, overnight parking, which you pay with a debit or transit card upon check-out. The larger ones also offer bike repair stands, in case you need to make an adjustment or fix a flat before heading out.
Interested in adding a little Dutch-style convenience to your office, residential, or municipal development? Our range of racks and furniture is extensive, and we customize for just about any situation.
Portland State University just celebrated the grand opening of the Karl Miller Center, a state-of-the art facility featuring a bright, open atrium. This eye-catching building is a campus jewel, so the bike racks slated for installation right outside need to look the part.
Clint Culpepper, the Bicycle Program Coordinator at PSU, could have purchased brand new racks to install, but utilizing refurbished bike racks better aligns with the university’s focus on sustainability. “Nothing would make me feel worse than turning a bunch of bike racks that were totally usable and serviceable into metal recycling just to buy brand new ones,” he said. Last year Clint enlisted the services of Huntco Site Furnishings to transform dozens of old, beat up staple racks into freshly painted bike corrals, and he decided it was time to refurbish a second batch.
Moving the racks into position
Prep for powdercoat: Sandblasting
Powder coat: Layer 1
Powder coat: Layer 1
Powder coat: Layer 2
Into the curing oven
Prepped for shipping
From Clint’s perspective, the hardest part of the process is ensuring there is adequate capacity for bike parking while the old racks are removed and refreshed. The rest is as easy as making a phone call. Huntco picks up piles of assorted staple racks, sorts them, and welds matching racks onto sets of rails to make bike corrals. Fresh powder coating is applied and then the corrals are delivered back to PSU, looking good as new and ready for installation.
The updated bike corrals don’t just benefit campus cyclists. “Everyone on campus likes it when the bike racks look nice,” Clint reports. Not every user of a building wants to have a bike rack sitting right outside the front door, but there’s less resistance when the racks look good. So when the next batch of refurbished racks is delivered in a few weeks, rest assured that the Karl Miller Center will get the dazzling accessories it deserves.
When the name of your apartment complex is Peloton, you pretty much have to get the bike amenities right. And the Peloton Apartments, recently completed on a rapidly growing stretch of North Williams Avenue in Portland, does not disappoint.
For the non-bike-nerds out there, a peloton is a group of cyclists riding in tight formation, to reduce air drag during a race or group ride. It might seem like an odd name for a brand new, somewhat luxurious housing development whose tenants are more likely to be programmers than bike mechanics, but this is Portland after all, and the bike-friendly lifestyle takes all kinds. It helps that the Peloton’s three buildings are flanked on either side by two of the busiest bike routes in the city: in warmer months, rush hour traffic on North Williams and its southbound sister North Vancouver is upwards of 40% bicycles.
So in addition to three rooftop decks and some beautifully tricked-out common areas, the Peloton also serves as a kind of showcase of great bike amenities. There’s a whole ground-level bike parking area in the main building, equipped with dozens of Huntco’s Burnside staple racks, their elegant rectangular tubing softened on the edges with Santoprene bumpers, to protect delicate paint jobs. And set back from the woonerf that divides the complex (a delightful Dutch-style alleyway, accessible to the public) is a protected bike room with more than 200 Huntco Hawthorne wall-mounted racks, perfect for that second (or third) bike you don’t use quite as often.
Banking on the idea that several tenants will have bikes that they treasure and pamper, there’s an in-building Bike Club room with bench-mounted repair stands and a variety tools, and 10 gorgeous, mint-colored BV-1 bike lockers. Between these amenities, even the most road-obsessed tenant is going to feel well taken care of — an unusual value proposition for an apartment building.
The net effect of all these amenities, so thoughtfully installed, is a sense that this is a place that really means what it says. There are plenty of new apartment buildings using bike-centric imagery or messaging to sound more current, or more eco-friendly, but for anyone really making a go of active transportation as a daily habit, this kind of infrastructure is more than just a nice afterthought — it’s a game changer.
Recycling’s usually something we associate with beer cans, soda bottles and newspapers — simple things you can dump into a hopper and watch new products emerge from the other end (or something like that). Recycling’s not for anything big, expensive or useful we’re told, especially if we inquire about a damaged electronic gadget, and are advised to simply get a new one.
old racks, removed for construction
What about bike racks though? Clint Culpepper, the Bicycle Program Coordinator at Portland State University, faced this question a few months back, when a series of construction projects required removal of dozens of old staple racks. “We already had a bunch of racks piled in a storage area, and realized there was a lot we could probably do with them.”
In the early days of on-campus bike parking (more than, say, 10 years ago), racks were bolted into the concrete individually — a pretty labor-intensive approach when you’ve got thousands of bikes to accommodate. These days, the Bike Corral is the gold standard: four staple racks welded to two strips of plate steel for perfect positioning, better security, and faster installation.
Because most of the cost of a bike rack is in the steel, reuse makes a lot of sense, both environmentally and economically
prepped for fresh coating
“We basically called up Casey [Rice, at Huntco],” says Culpepper, “and said ‘Can you take care of this for us?’” Over the course of a few weeks, we trucked over 100 used racks of various sizes, shapes and states of repair into our shop. We burned off the old chipped paint, cut off the mounting flanges, welded them into corrals, and sent them off for powder-coating.
The result? 40 pristine corrals of consistent height and shape, in flawless PSU green, ready for installation. The cost? 40% less than buying new ones, not to mention massive energy savings by keeping the old ones out of the scrapyard.
recycled, Refreshed and ready to roll
a new life, as corrals
Culpepper explains that reuse is already a familiar option for PSU: a popular, long-running campus program has been refurbishing old bikes and providing them to students for years, part of an overall ethic of getting the most out of what you already have. As the campus continues to grow and evolve, and the fraction of students biking to school keeps rising, refurbished infrastructure doesn’t just make sense for the environment, it also makes sense for the bottom line.
We’ve been making customized bike racks and site-specific furnishings for years, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time we’ve fabricated cats.
The Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO) in Portland is a great volunteer-based, veterinarian-founded organization that takes in thousands of stray cats every year from around the region for spaying or neutering, all at no charge. They’d originally wanted a couple of standard Sol bike racks for their their new building, but realized during planning that it was also an opportunity to get their message out to the neighborhood in a friendly, playful way. So this is what they had us build instead:
The racks (which work just like a typical Sol rack) are instantly recognizable as cat faces, but with a unique detail: the flat-topped ear on one side is what’s called an “ear tip”, and it’s a standard indication that a stray has already been spayed or neutered. So in a way, the racks help spread the word about spaying and neutering without saying a word.
Because we do all of our fabrication here in the US, Huntco is able take on all kinds of custom orders, often on short notice and based on simple, straightforward descriptions from the client or architect.
Besides being a lot of fun for us — who wouldn’t want to fabricate an enormous cat face out of powder-coated steel? — they also add unmistakable character to the streetscape, and help organizations announce themselves in a way that’s a lot more approachable and distinctive than another sign or billboard.
This project was in Portland, but people are looking for secure, functional bike parking in cities all over the US. Here’s hoping more of it has a face that makes you smile.