A Modular Approach to Social Distancing in Bike Parking Facilities

 The Dutch "new normal" means maintaining a distance of 1. 5 metres for the time being. That's often a challenge in city centres, parks, shops and public transport. And what about bike storage facilities? Dutch rail infrastructure manager ProRail asked us (Movares) to chip in with some ideas on social distancing in station cycle storage areas. The idea was to extend the signage already used in stations – stickers on the wall, floors and doors – to bike parkings. The key message is "keep right", and the system appeals to users' sense of responsibility. But can you simply transplant a system from stations to bike storage?

1. 5 metres in practice

How do you actually maintain a distance of 1.5 metres in a bike parking facility? And can you use the same system as you would on a larger, more spacious station concourse? Once we started brainstorming, a whole slew of questions popped up. Can people get past each other in the aisles between bike racks, which are often narrow? And 97% of people walk on the left of their bikes when wheeling them, so space is even tighter than for other pedestrians. 

Two-way traffic and walking on the left side of the bicycle causes people to be really close to each other. Standard isles of 2,1 meter between bicycle racks are too narrow. Main routes fortunately have more width by default (3 meter) but this is still quite narrow.

The most effective approach is to spread flows out as much as possible and to avoid situations where people have to pass each other from opposite directions. During the morning rush-hour most people are parking their bikes. In the evening, most are collecting them. Does a one-way system make sense under those circumstances? And what about the "OV fietsen", the bikes that public transport users rent at stations? People collecting and returning these have to go the opposite way through the bike park to those leaving and collecting their own bikes.

A modular system

The clearer the system, the more faithfully users will follow it. That sounds obvious, but it's not always so easy in practice. We identified as many situations and bottlenecks as possible and built a modular system. The system enables you to start with Scenario A and scale up to Scenario B or C if necessary. And within each scenario, we've taken account of the various types of parkings. For instance, there are facilities with no personnel, where we don't expect the aisles and entrances to get too crowded, and the users are in the open air, such as the multi-level bike park at Apeldoorn Station. In locations like this, the 1. 5-metre rule is enough for now.

In busier, enclosed facilities, additional measures will be necessary. These will vary, depending on the type of facility. For instance, a one-way system might be the right choice for a long, narrow storage facility in which users have little choice as to what route they take. In a more spacious facility with a choice of routes, users will be more evenly distributed and it will be easier to maintain distancing, so a one-way system is less appropriate. Indeed, a one-way-system may cause confusion and impose longer routes on users, causing them to spend more time in the building, which is not what we're aiming for. 

In this case introducing one-way-system causes longer routes and is confusing because it ll not match the existing signage. In this case users will have the opportunity to take a peek in a row form the main route and decide themselves, if there is already someone there, to walk to the next one.

A scalable model "Think ahead" is the watchword! In this case, that means starting with the most restrictive scenario and working back to the simplest. That way, you can rapidly scale up if necessary. Which is the advantage of our modular approach. We took this idea as our starting point and looked at a broad range of ways to maintain that 1. 5-metre spacing, and we drew up recommendations for each type of facility.

Indication of measures taken in a narrow parking facility; scenario A (inform) on the left to scenario C (impose) on the right. Measures taken in scenario A do not need to be removed when upscaling to the next scenario.

Our recommendations did include the use of actual objects, such as stickers, but also covered ways of managing the flow of cyclists, plus options for spreading them over multiple locations. You can use as many stickers as you like, but if there are too many people in a building, distancing simply becomes impossible. The measures will be implemented at over 100 cycle storage facilities, some of them in buildings and some located in public areas.

Handbook

Using the scenario approach, and our knowledge regarding these storage facilities, we worked with ProRail and Dutch Railways and compiled a handbook which obviates the need to start from scratch when planning measures at each new location and makes it possible to adopt additional measures if necessary. We need this kind of flexibility, because it's difficult to predict when we'll have to move up to the next scenario. If peak times get even busier? If COVID measures become more stringent? Because of how people are reacting? We're keeping a close eye on all these factors, and if we need to scale up, we'll be ready!

Response from our client

Lidwien van Kessel, ProRail stations programme manager:

"When you've got to do something quickly and well, you have to work closely with the people who know the subject. Deadlines are tight and many things are still up in the air, but everyone gets an adrenaline boost. So you start work. On the basis of what we already knew, we were quickly able to come up with the bike storage scenarios, in an atmosphere of mutual trust and open cooperation. This was a positive experience and I'm satisfied with the result. "

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Lunes, 17 Mayo 2021
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