Similar to Germans’ penchant for water thrift leading to all sorts of infrastructure headaches and the dire garbage shortages faced by the recycling-happy nations of Sweden and Norway, the Dutch are now facing a distinctly European dilemma stemming from too much of a good thing: Amsterdam has run out of spaces for cyclists to park their bikes.

A shortage of bike parking is the sort of quandary that would turn many other cities green with envy as they aggressively push to relieve car congestion, curb carbon emissions and promote alternative modes of transportation. But this predicament is no laughing matter in Amsterdam, a city where getting around by bike isn’t just a 21st century urban trend or some kind of touristic diversion — it’s a deep-rooted cultural tradition. Amsterdam — and the Netherlands, a country blessed with flat-terrain, mild weather and a pragmatic populace, as a whole — is largely defined by its bike culture and being unable to accommodate its bike-commuting denizens has become a very real and very pressing problem. 

As reported by the New York Times in a 2013 article that's been accused of being just a touch melodramatic, the number of bikes in Amsterdam doesn’t just surpass the number of cars. By government estimations, there are significantly more bikes in the city than there are residents to ride them — 880,000-plus bikes for less than 800,000 Amsterdamers. Over the past two decades, bike ridership within the city has exploded by 40 percent. According to statistics, a staggering 57 percent of Amsterdam residents bike daily, with a huge percentage of them using pedal power to commute to and from work.

Chaotic bike parking in Amsterdam

So wait ... where'd I leave my bike this time? (Photo: Laure Wayaffe/flickr)

It’s a brag-worthy feat, for sure, but due to Amsterdam’s size, age, density and unique, canal-heavy topography, this accomplishment is accompanied by a dearth of public places for cyclists to stow their two-wheeled rides, particularly in the city center. In total, there are only roughly 400,000 designated public bike parking spaces scattered throughout the city. 

"There are too many bikes. At train stations, shopping malls, in residential areas, everywhere there are more bikes than bike racks,"  Michèl Post, an official with the Fietsersbondsaid, or Dutch Cyclists' Union, lamented to the Times. “The city cannot cope. We need a change.”

While acting as a colossal headache for the cyclists themselves, the bike parking shortage has also proven to be a financial burden for the city (and taxpayers). In 2013 alone, authorities were tasked with impounding 73,000 illegally parked bikes at the cost of around 70 euros, or about $76, per bike. It only costs neglectful owners around 12 euros ($13) to liberate them from the city’s bike pounds.

Bike parking at Amsterdam's Centraal station

The chaotic parking situation around Centraal station. (Photo: Poom!/flickr) 

Amsterdam brass is, of course, fully aware that additional bike parking spaces are urgently needed; the city has committed 200 million euros to improving cycling infrastructure including new dedicated cycling paths and the addition of 21,500 bikes spaces by the year 2030.

But the looming question is where?

A recently announced scheme would involve constructing a massive, underwater garage with room for 7,000 bikes adjacent to Amsterdam Centraal station, one of several areas identified by authorities as being in dire need of more spots. The subaquatic garage would be located directly under IJ, a bay-turned-lake that surrounds Centraal station and serves as Amsterdam’s waterfront. Tunnels would potentially connect the garage directly to Centraal’s metro and train station, the busiest transit hub in the city.

The decision to place a plus-sized bike garage underneath Amsterdam's waterfront isn't a decision based purely on available real estate. It's also an aesthetic choice. While a historic European city that's littered/plastered with chained bikes in certain areas makes for striking photography for out-of-towners, it also detracts from Amsterdam's singular beauty. Stashing away bike parking in less conspicuous but still convenient locations helps bring the focus back to the buildings, the parks and all the other things that make Amsterdam such a stunning place to live and visit. 

Bike barge in Amsterdam

Bike-filled barges line Amsterdam's famed canals. (Photo: Wansan Son/flickr)

While the estimated cost of tucking away a bike parking garage under Amsterdam’s waterfront has yet to be completely ironed out, the NLTimes reports that the plan, backed by Amsterdam Mayor Eberhaard van der Laan, is currently under review by the city’s Infrastructure and Sustainability committee and will be voted on in the beginning of April. 

Writing for CityLab, Feargus O’Sullivan notes that there are also plans to construct two artificial islands off Amsterdam's waterfront that would accommodate 2,000 additional bicycles each. The islands will join Amsterdam's existing floating garages.

Care to share any Amsterdam bike (parking) war stories? 

Via [CityLab] via [The Smithsonian]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.