what bicycle storage room heaven looks like

Over the past week several news reports have highlighted widening availability of indoor bike storage to encourage commuting on two wheels by offering secure and convenient parking.

In Santa Monica, California over the weekend the nation’s biggest indoor bicycle parking facility opened its doors. It contains 360 parking slots situated in 5,300 square feet that also house retail space, bike repair, bike rentals and other services.

Closer to home, The New York Times quoted real estate insiders and advocates who say that bike rooms in commercial buildings are becoming more common, driven in part by a new access law and also by a trend toward energy-saving, green construction and retrofitting.  Even that most iconic of New York City landmarks, the Empire State Building, has a bike room.

All this reminded me of my summer trip to Amsterdam where I visited what must be the penultimate indoor storage room — for 2,000 bicycles — situated beneath the Centrale Bibliotheek, or central library (top photo). In that city, sheltered and safe indoor parking is mandated by the building code, says Marc van Woudenberg, author of the popular Amsterdamize blog.

In New York City, the Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law (Local Law 52), which went into effect in December 2009 requires office buildings with at least one freight elevator to allow people to bring bicycles into their offices. It does not require buildings to offer storage, only access. And so, the recent trend seems particularly promising.

Coast Down, Ride the Escalator Up

As cycling continues to grow in popularity here, it’s interesting to consider the accoutrements of the ultimate bicycle storage room as interpreted by the Dutch. Let me walk you through my tour:

Amsterdam’s central library, built in 2007, is located in the Oosterdok area a few minutes by bicycle from the central train station, and reached via a modern bicycle bridge that also leads to the NEMO technology museum.

My host, Pascal Van den Noort, executive director of Velo Mondial, an organization that promotes sustainable mobility and cycling around the world, led me to the entrance of what looked like an automobile parking garage, but with a key difference. While a concrete roadway led into the subterranean structure, a motorized escalator belt conveyed cyclists and their bicycles up from inside the garage.

Clear, standardized signage indicates below-ground, sheltered bicycle parking. photos: velojoy
Racked bicycles are visible through a window into the storage room as viewed from the up escalator.
The classic omafiets bike that I rented rests on a rack that pulls out and down for easy loading.

At the base of the ramp, a uniformed staff monitored security-camera images of the bicycle room. A set of double doors led to the storage facility itself, which accommodates 2,000 bicycles in a clean, climate-controlled, well-lit, and efficiently laid out floor space stocked with heavy-duty, single and double-decker bicycle racks. And — no kidding — classical music is piped into the space.

Measures of Progress in NYC

When I reconcile this example of Dutch bicycle storage “heaven” with developments in New York City and elsewhere in the U.S., I’m reminded that the policies that encourage an estimated 50 percent of Amsterdam’s population to commute by bicycle result from decisions that the city began instituting in the late 1970s. And so, by that measure, New York City, particularly in the past five years, has made remarkable progress through the kinds of efforts that were highlighted this month in the NYC Department of Economic Development’s Economic Snapshot. They include additions of bike lanes and paths, on-street bike racks, Local Law 52 for access, planned introduction next summer of a massive bike share program, and meaningful improvements in cycling safety.

For those who say there’s no space in New York City for bicycle parking facilities of type that I just described, here’s something to ponder: The famous and much-photographed outdoor parking facilities that encircle the central train station in Amsterdam and are said to house 4,000 bicycles — are built on barges. And there’s no shortage of water around New York City.

Quick tip for visitors to Amsterdam: The central library itself is worth a visit for its state-of-the-art design and its amenities. The cafeteria-style restaurant on the seventh floor, V&D La Place, not only serves excellent food, but also offers magnificent views from its terrace (photo below).

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