Bike Rooms, Bikeability, Custom Work, Liveability, Walkability
Welcome to Amsterdam!
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 3750 bikes, 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.
And some of them are quite beautiful.
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.
Bike Racks, Bike Sharing, Custom Work, Walkability, Bikeability, Liveability
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.
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.
Bike Racks, Bikeability, Liveability, Walkability
Every city has orphaned lots: those islands of land stranded by an unfortunate intersection, too small or oddly-shaped to build on. But while some linger as undignified patches of asphalt or concrete, others become true neighborhood amenities, often because of smart use of street furniture and bike infrastructure.
Here in the US where uniform grids reign supreme, a triangular plot of land is pretty rare. But in European cities, defined by centuries of overlapping urban design, they’re everywhere. Lille, a city in northern France that we’ve written about before, is no exception. Here’s one cut-off triangle, in the working-class Moulins neighborhood:
What potential do you see in that little triangle? A park? A bikeshare station? A patch of calm in the urban fabric that draws people together? How about all three?
Here’s what it looks like at ground level:
This little scrap of land, it turns out, has a lot going on: shaded benches, a line of bike racks, a heavily-used bikeshare station, and a perimeter of bollards to protect the whole thing. What could’ve been an urban afterthought is, instead, a neighborhood gathering point, serving commuters in the morning and evening, and friends and families in the afternoon and evening.
It also makes nearby outdoor seating much more attractive—here’s a mid-morning view from “Le Triporteur”, a restaurant/cafe across the street:
By 7pm, that patch of sidewalk will be packed with local residents, eating frites and drinking Belgian beer, despite heavy traffic on the major avenue right out front.
It’s a scene replicated all over town, and in countless other European cities: find an orphaned bit of land, protect it from traffic, add features that invite bikers and pedestrians, and you quickly have a little slice of community, that entices people outside and into local businesses.
Here’s another example, along Rue Solferino, a busy street about a mile away:
What was just a strip too narrow to build on instead becomes a lovely, bollard-protected public square, enhanced by trees, art, and seating for a facing cafe
Obviously, there’s more to these wonderful public spaces than just some bollards and a couple of benches, but they couldn’t exist without them. Infrastructure does more than just provide a place to sit. It also defines a space and lays a foundation. And what these tiny parks—and thousands of others like them—clearly show, is that once that foundation is laid, amazing things can happen in the most neglected places.
Bikeability, Liveability, Walkability
Image: Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
According to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan published last year, the city of Portland is expected to grow by 260,000 people in the next two decades. As any Portland resident will tell you, the current infrastructure does not support the transportation needs of today’s population, let alone this anticipated spike. To accommodate such rapid growth, the Comprehensive Plan advocates for solutions that will make Portland a more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly city, by both increasing access to active transportation and rethinking how neighborhoods are developed.
One of the proposed projects is construction of a six-mile pedestrian and bicycle “green loop” that will connect the inner east and west sides of Portland. The John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape partnered with Design Week Portland to solicit creative proposals to conceptualize and design the loop. The winner of the competition, Untitled Studio, not only imagined an ecofriendly, multi-use transportation path but also introduced a collaborative process as the means to design it.
Last month at Design Week Portland Headquarters, Untitled Studio revealed their vision for “Portland’s Living Loop.” The exhibit generated excitement for the project and included opportunities for audience engagement, mirroring the participatory process that will inform the green loop’s development in the years ahead. Though the loop will serve as a critical pedestrian and bicycle route across the city, Untitled Studio also positioned it as a destination and center of community. According to their model, the loop is divided into four lanes, corresponding to the Central City, District, Neighborhood, and Block. The purpose and design of each lane is decided by the people represented by the lane, from the city as a whole down to the individuals, families and businesses that reside along a particular block.
Images from Untitled Studio's green loop proposal, view the full proposal here.
The possibilities for what the green loop could become are endless. Could the neighborhood benefit from an outdoor fitness space with fixtures installed for exercise? Would an urban garden plot be advantageous for a particular block or do businesses need space to install dedicated bike parking? Does the district want a central space for the community to gather, with ample benches for seating and trees for shade on hot summer days? According to the model, any of these options–and so many more–could be incorporated into the loop alongside the transportation paths.
Image from Untitled Studio's green loop proposal, view the full proposal here.
Civic projects of this scale are often dictated by the local government. Untitled Studio proposed this four-lane model as a way to engage the residents of Portland and ensure that the people who are most affected by construction of the loop are entitled to contribute to its design. Neighborhoods might hold town hall meetings or survey residents to identify solutions that best serve their community. Individuals and businesses on a single block might organize a potluck to meet each other and brainstorm ideas for their lane of the loop.
Image: Design Week Portland, community feedback wall, via Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
How this participatory model of design will translate from vision to reality is uncertain. Construction of the green loop will take place in stages as funding is secured, with a few key portions already completed (Tilikum Crossing) or in development. Yet if this process is successfully implemented, it could become a model for numerous other pedestrian and bicycle greenway projects that are slated for development in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan.
View the green loop presentation here.
Liveability, Bike Sharing, Walkability
We’re in France this week! Well, one of our team is anyway, spending some time with family in the friendly northern college town of Lille.
This being Huntco, what we’ve noticed about Lille, even more than the beautiful old cobblestone streets or the legendary beer (it’s only 30km from Belgium) is the bollards. Like a lot of mid-sized French cities, Lille is a great place to walk and bike, with a wonderfully rich street life — and one of the reasons why is extensive and thoughtful use of bollards, in ways that might be surprising to folks in North America.
The Place du Général de Gaulle is a good example. Usually just called the Grand Place (“big plaza”) by locals, this is a broad, brick-paved square fronted by bookstores, cafes, shops and a historic theater. It’s the undisputed heart of the city, frequented by thousands of people a day who come there to meet, shop, drink or just hang out. It also has a street snaking right through the middle of it, and a 422-space parking garage underneath.
So how do open up a big, public space to cars without turning your beloved Place into a parking lot? In Lille, you do it with bollards.
Using dozens of slender, elegant bollards at about 8 foot intervals, the city has demarcated a “street” that directs traffic through the plaza, while making it clear that cars are sharing the space with (far more numerous) people walking and biking. For pedestrians, the bollards just barely interfere with the flow of foot traffic, indicating where to watch out for vehicles but keeping the space permeable.
For drivers, the message is clear: proceed to the underground parking lot, or keep moving, slowly, until you’re clear of the shared space.
Just north of the Grand Place is another smart use of bollards along Rue Faidherbe, a short, majestic boulevard connecting the plaza to the city’s busiest train station.
In this case, the bollards line the one-way street (with two-way bike lanes), protecting broad sidewalks full of shoppers while making it easy to cross at any point. Strategic gaps in the bollards define intersections with side streets, funneling cars in a predictable way without impeding walkers — and leaving plenty of room for the city’s cafe culture to thrive.
Like the bollards that Huntco manufactures, these are unobtrusive enough that they become part of the urban fabric, not an interruption to it — in fact, they might even be a bit beloved.
The city also uses different types of bollards to lend a sense of place to different areas. Here’s a different type of bollard as you head toward the are de Lille Europe — the newer train station where the Eurostar from London stops.
You’d be hard pressed to find a city anywhere in the US that uses bollards so prolifically, or applies them so expressly toward directing cars, rather than just protecting pedestrian spaces. It’s a refreshing approach that could have some real impact in cities here, especially ones hoping to spur the kind of placemaking that’s clearly so good for business in cities like Lille.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the word bollard is French! And if Lille is any indication, France may well be the bollard’s homeland.
Story and photos by Huntco team member and world traveler Carl Alviani.