• Problem seems unfixable

    The bike plague

    The facility managers in the city centre have given up: the bike problems just keep getting worse. Students just won't listen.

    in short

    Facility managers in the city centre feel like pulling their hair out. The problem with double-parked bikes seems unfixable.

    Towing them away and warning students doesn’t help.

    Bike garages at the busiest locations could help, but who will pay for them?

    The municipality isn’t planning on it. ‘We don’t build storage for any other businesses, either.’

    The greatest danger: disaster. ‘If there was a real emergency and people started to panic, and students and staff just run into that long row of bikes…’

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    Reading time: 5 min (1140 words)

    They’ve done so much in the past few years, from hanging up signs and handing out flyers to towing bikes away to the depot in Vinkhuizen. It doesn’t matter. ‘A truck from the municipality pulls up and loads twenty bikes in the back’, says UB facility manager Albert van der Kloet. ‘But while the bikes are being loaded, other students are ready and waiting to put their bikes in the spaces that were just cleared.’

    Van der Kloet and Jan Stalman, the facility manager for the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Science, can’t take it anymore. But they have no idea how to proceed from here – it’s like mopping the floor while the tap continues to flow. ‘We just have to let it happen’, says Van der Kloet.

    Chaos on the streets

    But they know that the problem remains. It’s chaos on the streets around the faculty buildings, says Stalman. ‘Especially in front of the Heymans building and in the Nieuwe Kijk in ’t Jatstraat, it’s really miserable. Sometimes, you can’t even walk on the sidewalk, much less use a scooter on it. That leads to complaints from the neighbors.’

    ‘It’s just the laziness of other students’ (Aniek, business student)

    It’s an image that Martin van der Wandt-Olde Riekerink, chairman of the residential organisation for the Hortus neighborhood and the Ebbinge Quarter, recognizes all too well. ‘Especially on the sidewalk of the Nieuwe Kijk in ’t Jatstraat, there are bikes all over the doorsteps or leaning against the houses. That’s not just an eyesore for the average resident, but even Jacques Wallage, the former mayor of Groningen who has an office here, has a ‘no bikes’ sign.’

    But Van der Wandt-Olde Riekerink says that it’s seen by the local residents as a temporary nuisance at the most densely attended lectures. ‘Two hours later, the streets are empty again.’ No big deal, he says. Certainly not big enough to justify building a bike storage facility in the Hortus garden, which is an idea that was proposed by the faculty. ‘The residents don’t want that – the garden has to be preserved.’

    According to Van der Wandt-Olde Riekerink, a bike garage wouldn’t make much sense, anyway. ‘Students want to park their bike at the door of the building where they need to go, so they’ll just keep doing that. I see more logic in spending money on raising awareness. A bike on the doorstep isn’t so bad, but try to make sure that a baby carriage can pass through on the sidewalk, at least. Just taking others into consideration, that sort of thing.’

    ‘It’s just easy to park my bike here, but it is pretty extreme trying to make my way through it. Are there really plans to fix it?’(Frederik Pfeil, international financial management student)

    That would also be handy at the Broerstraat. Delivery trucks, university service vehicles, and handicapped individuals have a hard time with the bikes that not only block the entrance to the UB, but also the alley beside it.

    ‘A few years ago, a delivery truck from UPS came by’, Van der Kloet recalls. ‘When he arrived, he set the double-parked bikes aside, but after making his delivery and having a cup of coffee, several more bikes were already blocking him in. And that was the last straw: he just drove over them.’

    Costly joke

    Of course that’s not okay, says Van der Kloet. ‘But it’s understandable. Students who park their bike like that are not being responsible. You can easily recognize on your own that your bike can’t block a passageway.’

    Stalman agrees. ‘It’s a fact that there aren’t enough bike racks, but you can’t just leave your bike anywhere.’
    Stalman can see only one solution: more bike garages, like Zernike has done. ‘But there isn’t any money for it. On top of that, it has to be done in coordination with the municipality, and then there’s the question of who is responsible for that.’

    Jaap Valkema, an employee of the municipality, doesn’t have an answer. ‘That’s kind of the conversation: is it the municipality’s responsibility or the university? It is true that it’s about visitors of the universities. And then, once again, the question of who has to pay comes up. We don’t build bike storage for other businesses, either.’

    That question has played a role in the bike problem for a long time. Not only the lack of parking spaces, but also who is responsible – and thus has to pay – for towing them away. ‘The enforcement is really an expensive joke’, says Jaap Valkema from the Groningen municipality. ‘Above all, you have to have the capacity for it. We haul the bikes in the area around the station away, and we’re already at full capacity there. We can’t do more than what we’re already doing now.’

    ‘I have never parked my bike in the parking garage at the public library. Why would I do that if I can park here, too?’(Hanneke, history student)

    It’s not just about hauling away the bikes, but the paper work that comes with it. ‘The bikes have to be registered and can be retrieved when the owner comes and pays for it’, says Valkema. ‘That has to be well regulated on the back end.’

    Everything is full, including Zernike

    According to Valkema, the municipality is evaluating the existing garages in the city centre and considering eventually adding new facilities. ‘We could possibly close the smaller ones and replace them with one larger garage’, he says. ‘But in the areas around the educational facilities at the RUG, there’s no discussion of that. Of course we have a garage close to the Broerplein, underneath the public library, but students make little use of it. Does it make sense to add even more storage if what we already have isn’t used?’

    Such a garage would likely only be used if it’s directly underneath the UB. Plans do exist, even though they are only just plans, says Van der Kloet. ‘That will only happen in the long term. When we further discuss the new facade, which is when a new entrance will be added, then we can talk about the garage at that point.’

    ‘You have to be really early to find a parking spot. Having an entrance where you can’t place your bike would be really handy.’(Ilse Berends, law student)

    But that’s not so easy. There’s already a basement beneath the UB, but it’s chock full of books at the moment. ‘What will happen then? Everything is full, including Zernike. There has to be more storage capacity first, and that takes time.’

    In case of emergency

    It seems that, in the coming years, the situation won’t change. ‘The problem exists, and it will continue to exist’, says Van der Kloet. ‘You just can’t reach every student. They don’t read, they don’t pay attention. In the meantime, the entire Broerstraat is a problem: double-parked bikes make it impossible for cars to drive through anymore. It’s a given, even though I’m not happy about it.’

    The haphazard bikes aren’t only a problem for neighbours, drivers, deliveries and handicapped individuals. In case of emergency, the bikes could lead to even greater risks. ‘During the last evacuation drill, the very full UB was completely empty in eight minutes, and if they have to, the fire department would just have to ride over the bikes’, says Van der Kloet. ‘But if there was a real emergency and people started to panic, and students and staff were trapped by that long row of bikes… that’s my greatest fear.’

    In two weeks, part two of this series about bike problems will come online. Following the problems, we’ll focus on the possible solutions and new ideas.