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Amsterdam's underwater parking garage can fit 7,000 bicycles and zero cars

Amsterdam's underwater parking garage can fit 7,000 bicycles and zero cars

Maybe one day, flying cars and jetpacks will mark the cities of the future, but today – in 2023 – the open underwater bicycle parking garage at Amsterdam's Central Station is as spacious as a garage. The structure has space for 6,300 personal bicycles and a further 700 for bikeshare to facilitate the first or last mile of rail travel. When the second garage opens in February, the capacity will increase to 11,000 cycles.

The four-year, €60 million (about $65 million) project may sound strange to someone outside the Netherlands, but it's business as usual for Dutch cities, which are slowly but systematically ditching the personal automobile. are and are turning into a relic of the past – a time when cities were built around the needs of cars, not people. Halle is a large underground (but not underwater) bicycle garage in the city of Utrecht, capable of hosting 12,000 two-wheelers. In a country where bicycles easily outnumber citizens, data consistently shows that around 35 percent of Amsterdammers use their bicycles, rising to 50 percent of Utrecht's residents.

A timelapse released by the city of Amsterdam shows this marvel of engineering built. Workers first had to pump water from the 19th-century station front, then lay the floor in the garage and later install massive pillars brought in by barges to support the submerged roof.

An estimated 200,000 commuters travel to Amsterdam's Central Station daily by rail, ferry, tram, bus and subway – almost half by bicycle. Traditionally, they park in the many dirty upstairs bicycle stalls that are still around the station and are scheduled to be removed in the coming weeks. While the largest of these is so vast that it has become a tourist attraction in itself, locals consider them stinking monuments of despair, often lacking any free space due to the high number of semi-abandoned bicycles. As a result, regular commuters lock their bikes to nearby trees, street lamps and signposts, or leave them on any slabs of concrete available, increasing their chances of theft.

At least for now, the new underwater parking structure I visited has immaculate, serious 2001: A Space Odyssey vibes. It was only open on Wednesdays and was little used until Thursday when I visited. Inside the 24-hour managed facility, I probably saw a few hundred personal bicycles and several dozen OVFiets bikeshares available. Importantly, I noticed a daily cleaning worker working hard and a handful of friendly staff on hand to explain how everything worked.

Parking in the garage is free for the first 24 hours, then €1.35 (about $1.46) for each additional day. It's convenient for daily commuters and an excellent motivator for people to get off their bikes quickly. To enter, you need to swipe your OV-chipkaart (Dutch transport card linked to your bank) or attach a Faetstag ("bicycle tag") to your bike. The affixed tag is free for customers and takes only two minutes to request and process once inside the garage.

A street-level bike path leads you directly to the above-ground entrance to the underwater garage, which is marked by a large blue sign and bicycle logo, making it visible from a good distance. The sign still shows the number of available parking spaces (it read 5792 in illuminated green numbers upon my arrival) allowing you to find alternate parking when it is full. Here, you jump off and either walk or stand on a pair of rolling beltways that descend below the waterline, bringing you to the entrance to the parking garage.

Since a new FiatStag was fitted to my bike, I was able to roll right through the so-called "check-in and check-out zones" without delay. Others require you to tap your OV-chipcarat on a clearly marked spot on the bottom of the display. The surrounding lights turn green, and the display reads, "Fiets ingecheckt!" (Bicycle Check In!) To let you know you can move on.

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