Cycle parking, time for regulation?

Northern Ireland has had an increase in the number of infrastructure projects that target an improvement for the conditions towards cycling. The most recent ones, Middlepath St and High St, are nearing the final design phase and can start development soon.

This is very welcoming and has the potential to bring more people into making journeys by bicycle. To complement journey safety, many institutions and businesses are starting to provide places to park bicycles. However, if the destinations are poorly prepared for it, it might lead to a reduced potential in cycling usage. While there is already guidance regarding cycle parking, this means that it is required to set regulations, in which certain amount of factors are to be considered in order to provide adequate facilities for bicycle parking.

Location and Placement

The first important factor is the location of the cycle parking. As a mode of active travel, parking for cycle must be provided close and with easy to access the entrances of the buildings. Placing it further away from the entrances discourages bicycle usage.

The Tesco at the Castlereagh road is an example of placing bicycle parking further away than required. As investigated by NI Greenways, Tesco decided to place the parking for bicycles 60 meters from the entrance, when better locations were available.

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Still a big walking distance from the entrance, longer than for many drivers. Picture from NI Greenways

This depreoritizes the usage of a bicycle in order to get to the destination. A great number of non-disabled car owners have closer parking than an healthy and economic mode of transport.

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A simple drawing showing the number of car parking at same or less distance than bicycle parking. Sattelite image from Bing maps

Security

The ability to park a bicycle with reduced risk of having it stolen is also important. Lack of security for parking bicycles is something that occurs often in countries with low cycle modal share.

There is a guideline that helps reduce this risk. The Sheffield Stand is a proven design that enables people to park securely. This design is vandal proof and it easy to use. With the right locks, this design helps to increase the chance of the bicycles to stay secure.

Unfortunately, this design is ignored by many businesses. A major offender is Lidl. The supermarket chain mostly provides bicycle parking that locks on one wheel, which is not secure.

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Lidl does not surprise. Unsafe bicycle parking forcing people to unusual locked positions

Another very common sight around Belfast are cycle hoops. This is generally enough for shortstops and it is easy to apply to existing infrastructure. However, they are generally an afterthought, may make difficult to lock the wheels and are sometimes placed at narrow sidewalks, which can impact pedestrian movement.

 

There are additional security measures that must be considered to provide people with a greater perceived confidence that their bicycles will be there upon their return.

One of the measures is CCTV. This is a security system that deters potential thieves and can provide assistance towards providing any trace should the worst scenario happens. Belfast Harbour has recently increased the number of available bicycle parking and added new cameras to increase coverage.

Another measure that can increase security is to have access to the cycle parking only via an access card/security pad. This security system works by limiting the number of people that can access the bicycle racks. It is more visible at specific business facilities or a few public transport station, but can also be built as neighbourhood parking.

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Limited access bicycle parking. Picture from NI Greenways

Safety

Another major concern for bicycle users is the weather. Weather causes faster deterioration of bicycle components (which can be reduced with proper maintenance or covers) and is another reason for people to avoid cycling. If a bicycle is to be parked for a long period then it must be protected from these elements.

The guidance for shelters is not as definitive as for bicycle stands, but each must provide a roof (and side panels) large enough to protect the bicycles.

Short Term Parking

This type of parking is generally for quick stops, like grabbing a coffee, shopping or for couriers. It means that people won’t be away long and it is acceptable to leave the bicycle without any protection against the weather. However, if possible, and namely around bigger shopping centers, it is valuable to have sheltered facilities, as investigated by NI Greenways.

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Added value for a store bicycle parking from NI Greenways. Sheltered racks are a plus!

The guidelines at NI Planning portal suggest that short bicycle parking is for any stops under 2 hours. This should not be a hard figure, and each situation must be investigated independently in order to provide the best option possible for people that opt to cycle.

The pedestrian area in Belfast city centre already has a few short-stay parking structures, with non-covered Sheffield stands near shops.

 

Long Term Parking

For more extended periods of time, it is mandatory to provide shelter from the weather. The longer a bicycle is parked at the same place the higher are the chances that it will be affected by poor weather and deteriorate any bicycle’s condition.

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Secure, safe and limited access bicycle parking with protection against the weather

These should include, but not be exclusive, to commuting trips, benefiting people near their homes, public transport and workplaces.

A good quality (secure, safe and accessible) long stay bicycle parking will encourage people to ride the full trip by bicycle. Additionally, for longer journeys people are more likely to choose a bicycle to do parts of the commute (the first and last mile) by interchanging with public transport.

Several shelter options exist to provide the quality required, namely individual bike lockers (sheltered space for one bicycle), fully sheltered facilities (as pictured above) or indoor bicycle parking (inside a building). Any of these facilities would provide the safety that would protect the bicycles against the weather elements.

Accessibility

The last major point is to make the bicycle parking possible to all. People with disabilities and with unconventional bicycles must be able to park their bicycles securely and safely. For that to happen, space must be arranged to provide for these and more use cases. Translink has managed a successful attempt at Holywood Station, with access only bicycle parking that has space for all users.

The two tier bicycle parking (pictured below) enables more spaces without requiring much effort for most people to place their bicycle on the upper rack.

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Accessible cycle parking. Picture from NI Greenways

What about the Netherlands?

The Dutch have a very different approach. Cycle parking is now embedded into the early stages of planning.  It is even a law that private cycle parking must be provided on new buildings constructions. More recently, the city of Utrecht has been building a cycle parking facility that will hold 12500 bicycles at its Central Station. The videos below are a better way to get a real picture of how the Dutch do it and how easy, secure and safe is to park your bicycle.

Future in Northern Ireland

The uptake in bicycle usage and the increase building construction in Belfast has led to an increase in the number of bicycle parking being provided. Unfortunately, some are not to the highest standard (as detailed above) and that can reduce the number of people that choose to cycle. Further to that, some planning is not providing enough bicycle parking, namely:

  • 100 spaces in Belfast Hub project, a centralized hub that intended to connect all modes of transport to allow easier interchange.
  • 0 bicycle spaces in the Belfast Harbour multi-storey car park (which will allow for 900 car parking spaces).

The small examples of Translink Holywood station and Concentrix must lead the way on how to plan, provide and execute successful spaces to securely and safely park the bicycle.

Summary

In conclusion, with planning guidance being ignored or misinterpreted there is little left to do than to start implementing regulations and push for better conditions for sustainable transport, in this specific case, cycling.

This move would be another step to make sustainable transport a first-class citizen and a priority for all the planning and infrastructure building in Northern Ireland and have a positive impact in the city life in general.

Additional Reading

There is plenty of literature on the subject of cycle parking. In Northern Ireland official websites the coverage is quite shallow, but plenty has been investigated about supermarket facilities for it locally.

Other cycle parking guides (available in English) worth to take a look include the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, the Dublin Cycling Campaign, the Presto Give Cycle a Push (EU project) and Sustrans.

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