Too Many Bicycles - Is Groningen the Victim of its Own Success?

When I arrived to Groningen for the first time, I could only see one thing: bikes. They are everywhere and it is pretty impressive. The city has transformed itself in the last decades, becoming one of the world’s best cycling cities. Groningen has a cycling modal share of over 50% in its centre, smart routes for cyclists and recently the city has bid for hosting the Velo 2017, one of the world’s biggest bicycle planning conferences.

But is everything perfect in Groningen's bicycle nirvana? Whilst cycling in the city is easy as pie, the amount of bicycles all over the place might cause some discomfort, mainly to pedestrians. A good example of this problem is parking bicycles in shopping streets. Cyclists, counting myself among them, tend to park very close to their destinations. While mobility and flexibility is one of the biggest advantages of cycling, parking on the sidewalk and blocking the shop entrance, just to save a few seconds of walking, is a bit ridiculous.

I often hear cyclists claiming that they deserve to park wherever they want. I also feel sometimes that it’s my right. We, should definitely be encouraged to use the bike, but blocking sidewalks is not one of our privileges. Also, not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks is not cool at all. Urban cycling advocates must not forget the most vulnerable actor on the street - the pedestrian.

Conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians occur in Groningen all the time. It normally ends up with a smile and mutual apology, but it can get worse every now and then. The best place to watch these conflicts is in the city’s food market, three times a week. The Vismarkt, Groningen’s busiest square, is not only a popular attraction for locals visiting the market and the shops around it, but also a key traffic intersection. Private cars are banned from the area, allowing a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists. However, so many people come to Vismarkt when the market is open, that it’s just unpleasant at times, especially for pedestrians.

Solution: the good old red carpet?

Solving these conflicts should be one of Groningen’s highest priorities when it comes to bicycle planning. The city has already demonstrated that it’s possible to leave the car back in the seventies and become a heaven for human beings, but now it has even more important role: making pedestrians and cyclists play nicely together.

So Groningen came up with a creative solution for the parking problems. They place red carpets at the entrance of stores and in crucial spots, signaling cyclists not to park there. Surprisingly, it works great. See in the picture how parking bikes leave the area leading to the stairs free.

Red carpet prevents cyclists from parking. Picture: Lior Steinberg

After easing the parking problem, what should Groningen do with the packed food market? Ban cyclists? Build more infrastructure? Add signals? Leave the pedestrians and cyclists handle it by themselves?

Written by Lior Steinberg. Follow him on Twitter and .