Secure Bike Parking Infrastructure in Urban Environments

Table of Contents:

European Bike Parking Examples

When assessing cycling infrastructure across the UK it can be instructive to review the examples set in key European cities, where investment in cycling facilities is already well established. Of the European cities that invest most in cycling infrastructure, Copenhagen currently sits atop the pile. Over the last decade, the city has invested around £95m in cycling infrastructure. Cycling is deeply ingrained in the city’s urban culture, with residents cycling an estimated 1.44m km on a daily basis. According to local reports, there are 5 times as many bikes as cars in the city.

Responding to a demand for higher-capacity bike parking at Nørreport Station, architectural firm Cobe developed the area outside the station to provide improved bike parking and access routes with the incorporation of 8 “sunken bike beds” to better-utilise the available space. The firm has also developed a bike parking project at Karen Blixens Plads, a public square at the University of Copenhagen’s South Campus, developing the under-utilised space to incorporate a superimposed surface of small hills and valleys, with three central points providing sheltered bike parking for 2,000 bikes in total. Dedicated locking points, clear lines of sight and internal lighting all contribute to creating a large-scale, safe and secure bike parking facility. These projects fall under the city’s Priority Plan for Bicycle Parking, which aims to improve pre-existing facilities and construct new spaces to provide an aspirational total of 71,000 new bike parking spaces across the city by 2025.

Amsterdam’s elegant underwater facility

Lying just behind Copenhagen in rankings is Amsterdam. Conceivably due in part to the Netherlands’ flat geography, 25% of the country’s 17.53m population chooses to cycle on a daily basis, with cycling considered the most authentic way for visitors to see its capital and experience the culture, with the city boasting around 320 miles of dedicated bike lanes. 

In 2023, a substantial underwater bike parking garage opened at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. It is the result of a 4-year, €60m investment, and is a structure that holds space for a massive 11000 bikes in total. Remarkably, this extensive facility is only the second largest in the Netherlands, falling just behind Utrecht’s Stationsplein; considered the world’s largest bike parking facility with space for 12500 bikes. Both facilities allow users to securely park their bikes with a bike rack space available for every bike parked in the facility.

Local Development

Whilst these areas of Europe have demonstratively embraced cycling as a primary means of transport through developing infrastructure and providing secure bike parking, in the UK there are still barriers to cycling in urban environments. Whilst we seek to establish better bike lanes in towns and cities in order to make cycling safer and more accessible; seen particularly through the rise and development of the Government-funded Active Travel England, the provision of secure bike parking facilities has often been overlooked or bolted in as something of an afterthought, as were the motivations that drive its much-needed integration. 

Rising cycling figures over the last decade, however, have begun to bring into focus the barriers that stop urban populations from adopting cycling. The market value of bikes has grown considerably; the average price for a new, high-quality bike ranging at upwards of £2000. For those who can afford such an investment, they understandably place a great deal of value in being able to park their bike securely when leaving it unattended. Having access to safe and secure bike parking therefore not only provides security on their investment but also encourages more active use through peace of mind. 

The UK has been catching up with large scale bike parking facilities, such as Cambridge Train Station, which provides space for 3000 bikes. However, high volume bike parking facilities at major transport hubs are only part of the solution. Options for secure bike parking should also be available in key locations throughout cities and towns to help make cycling a viable option. 

Bike-Drop at Haymarket, Westminster

Research from Travel to Work Reports found a 25% rise in bike commuters in London than 10 years ago, and this has run in accordance with recent funding and an increased focus on cycling integration at transport hubs, as well as network-based platforms and inner-city bike storage facilities. Spokesafe, a membership-based networking platform of secure bike parking facilities with 17 locations across London, has established a goal to make active travel the default choice for inner city transport & logistics. Bike-Drop is another recently developed service that provides more than 500 secure bike parking spaces in indoor facilities located at Oxford Circus, Regent Street and Westminster, with a booking system accessed via a contactless QR code. Waltham Forest Council, meanwhile, have constructed 8 secure bike hub facilities across their London borough through Government funding; all with CCTV, key fob access, help points, enhanced lighting and two-tier racking systems.

Whilst these initiatives show steps are being made towards providing secure bike parking facilities in urban environments in the UK, significant investments are ultimately still necessary to meet the examples set by leading European cities.

Bike Theft and Other Urban Cycling Barriers

Inadequate storage facilities for bikes in apartments and high-rise blocks is also a problem when it comes to storing bikes securely, with many finding their greatest barrier to cycling is simply getting their wheels to the street. Then, there often isn’t visible and secure bike parking available for residents when they need it. Many are then forced to sacrifice the safety of their bike through the need to compromise, such as leaving their bikes unsecured in a partially concealed location, or attached to an impractical nearby structure. Leaving poorly secured bikes in areas with low visibility is an open invitation, and this is arguably where the issue of bike security is most prominent. With access to lithium-ion powered angle grinders, bike thieves can steal a bike in well under 30 seconds. 

Improper bike locking can encourage theft

Unfortunately, many people simply aren’t well-enough informed about the most appropriate means to ensure simple security for their bike when they do park it, leading to very basic errors, such as securing only the front or back tire, which is usually quick-release, or locking the frame only. In addition, there are those who simply aren’t willing to commit a consistent effort towards their bike’s optimum security. However, research shows that when people place personal value on their bikes and take the necessary steps in their routine, there is a corresponding decrease in theft.

Bike thefts are common as they are a very concealable crime in urban environments. Even in densely populated and visible spaces it’s often quick and easy to steal a bike and ride away. Once the bike has been removed and stolen, multiple online platforms then enable a fairly easy sell and usually guarantee decent value for the perpetrator. Bike theft presents a low-risk, high-reward crime, however, rarely is it victimless.

While bike theft continues to be taken as an unfortunate fact of life, it carries a significant social impact and can contribute towards a lasting sense of insecurity for those affected. Many people rely on their bikes for travel and the resulting impact of a bike theft can be debilitating.  

The rising popularity of urban cycling has counterproductively enabled large-scale bike theft. However, it continues to be taken with mostly indifference by law enforcement and indeed within general culture. Ultimately, this has allowed the problem to develop significantly in cities and urban areas, with the resulting conviction rates troubling.

Current Statistical Figures

Bike thefts in the UK often go unreported

Across a time period from June 2021 to July 2022 in England and Wales, a staggering 90% of reported bike thefts fail to catch the perpetrator, amounting to just a 1.7% conviction rate. Of the 74,421 bike thefts reported to police during this time period, no suspect was identified in 66,769 of the cases. What’s perhaps even more troubling is that these statistics don’t consider the amount of bike thefts that go unreported. 

In London alone, 162,943 bikes were reported stolen in the city from 2017 to 2021, amounting to an incident every 16 minutes. The combined value of these stolen bikes was around £93m, with each bike valued at around £570 on average. Of these cases, a bleak 2.5% of cases resulted in arrests made. 4,278 were able to be retrieved, with 608 either damaged or only “recovered in part”.

Main Considerations for Secure Bike Parking

Establishing secure bike parking in urban environments will enforce its own specific considerations. The Bicycle Association and Cycle Rail Working Group have published their Standards for Public Cycle Parking guide that outlines the requirements for public bike parking in the UK. In addition, we have provided a summary of these requirements in Bike Parking – An Overview

Utilising bike parking that is able to achieve certification with Sold Secure is also highly advisable, with the platform considered the premier testing and certification house for security products. Of corresponding importance is Secured by Design, the official police security initiative that supplies accreditation and a recognised standard for all security products that can deter theft and reduce crime. Public bike parking facilities are required to be capable of passing Secured by Design Level 2 testing, or at least Level 1 if the facility is installed in a secured environment.

Security mesh protects the facility for users

Ultimately, the single most effective tool in discouraging bike theft in urban environments is enabling secure bike parking facilities. To operate successfully, they require a stable, durable racking system that offers 2-point contact for the bike frame, with separate locking of both the frame and wheels of the bike enabled via a reliable locking mechanism. Establishing visual aids and directives can also help to advise users of the correct procedure for secure locking.

Establishing a facility that is of a durable, high-quality build and therefore able to withstand vandalism is essential, with periodic maintenance a key component for ensuring this. Providing appropriate lighting is, in addition, considered a requirement to assist with access and the prevention of bike theft.

Fundamentally, while secure bike parking often merits wide-spread integration in urban environments, it is essential to first interpret who will regularly use the facility, how they will use it and what the designated location will be. Understanding these factors will determine capacity, mode of access and what level of security it needs to provide. While security should always be a primary concern, short-term or long-term bike parking will warrant their own specific requirements. 

Benefits and Best Practices

The provision of bike parking is often a more efficient use of limited urban space than providing car parking, with one parking space providing the necessary dimensions for several bikes. It is, however, essential that secure bike parking provisions both visually and functionally coordinate with the environment in public spaces in order to encourage consistent use. 

Line of sight provides user surveillance

In most external urban environments, the Sheffield stand remains the default bike parking form, and can be combined with a larger facility to improve security. The design form of the Sheffield Stand is unobtrusive in public environments and familiar to users, while for developers it’s cost effective, low maintenance and space saving, with the ‘M’ stand variation providing multiple locking points for users. 

For urban-based workplaces, a secure bike parking facility is most effective when installed in close proximity to the workplace to provide visibility for users. Bike hubs and stores are seeing increased integration at transport hubs to supplement public transport on busy urban corridors, providing optimum security and weather protection to ensure that commuters feel reassured of their bikes protection during long-term use. 

Two tier racks are developing as the most popular racking system in these environments as they provide enhanced capacity across the same footprint as traditional Sheffield stands and bike shelters, with bike lockers also increasingly popular for longer-term bike parking. Any long-term bike parking facility that seeks to provide credentials in an urban environment should prioritise security and enable dedicated access control, with CCTV coverage a demonstrated commodity for helping to achieve these requirements.

Final Thoughts

Establishing secure bike parking facilities in urban environments demonstrates an awareness of the rising appeal and value of cycling nationwide. Supporting this development through establishing and integrating secure bike parking helps to create an efficient, effective parking network for those who have chosen to adopt this sustainable mode of transport. 

Easing urban congestion is a valuable asset

Providing secure bike parking in urban communities can additionally help to improve public safety and reduce the risk of problems for councils and property owners, often created through the obstruction and clutter produced from improper bike parking, such as securing cycles to railings and lampposts on public pavements and outside buildings. Ultimately, it serves as a means to increase the value and appeal of an urban environment for both visitors and residents.

Thoughtful development and the implementation of secure long-term bike parking solutions can help deliver environmental benefits like reduced traffic congestion, cleaner air and resident well-being through improved physical health and an assurance that their bike is safe and secure when parked.