Rotterdam Station Treats Cyclists With Same Respect Drivers Get in Chicago

The main train station in Rotterdam has aisles and aisles of long-term bike parking. Photo: Steven Vance

As a former bicycle parking planner for the Chicago Department of Transportation on sabbatical in northern Europe, I’m impressed by how much better the long- and short-term bike storage is here than what I’m used to in the states. Too often in the U.S., bike parking is an afterthought even though secure and convenient parking is essential for encouraging more people to use a bicycle for transportation. Nothing discourages a would-be cyclist like having a bike stolen.

I left my home base of Rotterdam, Netherlands, on the Inter-City Express (ICE) train this morning to visit a friend in Bonn, Germany, for a few days. I biked with my luggage to Rotterdam’s Centraal Station, the main train station, and parked it in the underground fietsenstalling (“bike parking area”). They have a couple thousand free spaces and you can leave your bike there for nearly a month. After 28 days the city will remove your bike from the area and store it in a warehouse. Being able to leave my bike in a secure public parking area for several days is a perk I’ve never experienced in the U.S.

Just like drivers, cyclists get a dedicated entrance. Photo: Steven Vance

The bike parking “garage” at the Rotterdam station works much like a car parking garage in Chicago. There’s a dedicated ramp to enter the structure, a direct path to the parking area, and signs that tell you how many spaces are open.

Nowadays, I generally never leave my bicycle outside overnight in Chicago. The last time I did that with any regularity was when my family still lived in Batavia and I would ride Metra’s Union Pacific-West line out there from the Ogilvie Transportation Center to visit. I would park across the street at the Presidential Towers development, using two locks to secure my bike to an on-street rack. While I was away, I kept my fingers crossed that a thief wouldn’t steal my bike because it was locked more securely than its neighbors.

The entrance to the car garage is behind me, and the bike garage is on the left of the station. Photo: Steven Vance

I just bought a new bike yesterday. As I write this, it’s double-locked at Centraal Station and I have all the confidence in the world it’ll be there when I return on Monday.

In the Netherlands it’s common for people to bike to the airport or leave their bikes at a train station before boarding a train to the airport. Thanks to to the excellent parking facilities you can be sure your bike will be there when you come back from your trip.

When I fly out of O’Hare to visit my family in Utah, it would be great to be able to pedal to a Blue Line stop (with a large backpack as my luggage), lock up my bike at the station and then catch a train to the plane. Unlike O’Hare, Midway is fairly easy to bike to, since it’s surrounded by neighborhoods, rather than expressways. It also would be nice to be able to leave my bike locked at that airport for the duration of my trip.

Riding the escalator out of the station. Photo: Steven Vance

Unfortunately, secure, long-term bike parking generally isn’t available at Chicago’s train stations and airports, so I don’t feel comfortable doing those things. John told me that on a few occasions he’s ridden to a Blue Line station, taken the train to O’Hare with my bike, and then left his bike locked to a rack at the O’Hare stop, within sight of the customer assistant, for a few days and never had a problem. I’d rather not bring my bike into that station

When I worked for the Chicago Department of Transportation there were proposals to build bike parking facilities at Ogilvie and Union stations similar to the Millennium Park bike station, which offers its members secure, long-term parking, plus other amenities like showers and lockers. Cost was one of the reasons neither plan was implemented. Last October, a coworking space in the West Loop opened an indoor bike room with showers and lockers called Bike Park — memberships are available to the public.

I’m not advocating that Chicago spend a lot of money to provide long-term parking for people who want to bike some or all of the way to airports, but we really need to pick up our game by providing more secure bike parking options, so that biking can be the first choice for more kinds of trips.

donate button
Did you appreciate this post? Consider making a donation through our PublicGood site to help us win a $25,000 challenge grant from the Chicago Community Trust, which will ensure we can continue to publish next year.

  • Currently, the top 50 N. American cities combined spend less on bike parking annually than cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, etc. Chicago would have to be putting a substantially bigger share of money toward bike parking before getting anywhere close to spending “a lot” on it. With that being said, there are definitely more pressing needs for better bikeways around the city first.

  • Anne A

    I think that having secure bike parking options near transportation stations (train stations and airports) would greatly increase the number of people riding for transportation. I wouldn’t mind paying a nominal fee to have this option available.

  • planetshwoop

    They are doing a massive rebuild of Union Station. No time like the present, right?

  • Great report—Although “respect” is an elegant way to put it, I think it is more than that. Dutch society recognizes the economic validity of the bicycle as a means of personal transportation (rather than a toy for exercise). No matter how much progress has been made in Chicago over the last decade, biking in the Dutch sense remains essentially an afterthought—its full economic potential has not yet been recognized. The few dedicated lanes (like the lakefront trail) are made to standards that do not promote much beyond the occasional fair weather stroll, and the paint is rapidly fading.

  • One can hope.

  • what_eva

    You imply that there is plentiful long term car parking near train stations in Chicago, but that’s not true. Most CTA stations have no parking and those that do it’s for daily use, not long term. Metra stations in the burbs are similar, with the vast majority prohibiting overnight parking.

    IINM, all the parking around Union or Ogilvie is privately owned and geared toward daytime use for Loop commuters.

    The airports are a different story. While O’Hare isn’t easily reached by bike, Midway is and could easily give up some space in one of the garages for bikes.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    I think Midway has bike parking near the Orange Line station. I’d assume its mostly used by people biking to the train or buses or that work in Midway. Can’t say I’ve ever had much desire to bike to the airport.

  • skelter weeks

    I wanted to leave my bike locked to an indoor rack at a CTA station for several days, but the station attendant told me I couldn’t do that, so I had to leave it locked outside.

  • al_langevin

    Sadly the government hacks at Amtrak are not thinking about bikes. They’re actually worse that Metra.

  • al_langevin

    “Cost was one of the reasons neither plan was implemented.” Yes, we can spend billions on idiotic projects like the DePaul basketball stadium and a Star Wars museum, but none for bike parking at our train stations.

    It’s embarrassing the lack of transportation planning we have compared to other parts of the world.

  • Alicia

    Amtrak is working on more accommodation of bikes, and they’ve been rolling out carry-on service on a lot of lines over the last year. Yes, they have more progress to make, but still, it’s hardly the case that they “are not thinking about bikes.”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Squire Drops Bike-Share Beef, Divvy NIMBYs Grumble

|
Yesterday’s article about Divvy bike-share in Crain’s touched on a couple of interesting aspects of Chicago’s road to launching the Divvy bike-share system, which should lead to a huge spike in ridership and safer conditions for cycling. I was pleased to read that Josh Squire, owner of the rental company Bike Chicago (a Streetsblog Chicago […]

South Shore Line: We Want to Accommodate Bikes But Don’t Know How Yet

|
As I discussed yesterday, the agency that runs the South Shore Line commuter rail service, between Chicago and South Bend, is considering piloting a bikes-on-trains program, but not for six long years. The Northern Illinois Commuter Transportation District’s ridiculous feet-dragging on the issue prompted the Active Transportation Alliance to sarcastically bestow them a Broken Spoke Award as “the […]

How Can Chicago Fix the “Weak Links” That Mar Bike Access Downtown?

|
Biking downtown has improved substantially with the addition of protected bike lanes on Kinzie Street and Dearborn Street, but much work remains to be done to create a safe, cohesive bike network linking people to Chicago’s biggest employment center. At last week’s meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, Michelle Stenzel, a community representative for the […]