O&O square bike-free: 'Not to bully students'

| Rense Kuipers , Emira Cota

The O&O Square has been bike-free since the start of the academic year. The measure leads to frustration and misunderstanding from students and staff, but according to portfolio holder real estate Nico-Tom Pen, the intervention is necessary because of safety and accessibility.

Photo by: Hung Nguyen

'I literally have not heard anyone being happy with this development', 'blatant anti-student policy', 'mediocre' and 'funny how seriously the UT takes bicycle parking while not enforcing the smoking ban'. These are some of the not-so-mild reactions to a UT Instagram video to make it clear to students where they can, in fact, park their bikes since the racks on O&O square have been removed.

'Safety and accessibility'

'We are not doing this to bully staff and students,' responds Nico-Tom Pen, portfolio holder for real estate at Campus & Facility Management. 'It is genuinely about safety and accessibility. The square was messy, bikes were parked everywhere. And thus also in the places where emergency services should be able to reach in case of a calamity, or where people with disabilities should be able to pass. Perhaps a bit harsh, but you don't want your bike hinder the emergency services, do you? That's why we ask for people's understanding.'

Pen says that around O&O Square, not fewer, but more parking spaces have been placed. 'The reason we did not introduce this new policy earlier is that we did not have enough spaces within comfortable walking distance. We went from 2,700 spaces to about 3,350 around the square, with the major additions being the parking spaces behind the Citadel and Ravelijn and near the High Pressure Lab. We also added extra spaces between Carré and Hal B. If we didn't have the facilities in place, we wouldn't have asked people to do it.'

'Wasted space'

On the spot, on the O&O square, the new policy leads to varying reactions among students, a walkabout reveals. Iruni Asgiri, Communication Sciences bachelor's student, is understanding, although five minutes before her lecture, she is still searching diligently for a spot while standing in front of the Waaier. 'I think it's a reasonable decision. Last year the square was overflowing with bikes and it was very annoying to get past them. I'd rather just arrive a little earlier in the morning to find a spot.'

'It feels like there is a lot of wasted space'

Fellow study mate Caterina Ruiz holds a different opinion. 'They removed a lot of stalls near the building where we have most of our lectures. The racks at Ravelijn were really spacious and now it feels like there is a lot of wasted space.' She noticed that while there is a lot of space in the upper bike racks, many students don't know how to park there. 'It would really help if the university could give clear instructions on how to put our bikes in the upper bike racks.'

Derk Jan Weening, Electrical Engineering student, does occasionally use the upper level of the double-level bike racks. 'I have no problems with that, but I prefer to put my bike at the bottom. That takes a bit less effort for students.' According to Weening, the new policy is ineffective, especially the use of so-called bike stewards on the square. 'When they are gone for a few minutes, people just put their bikes in those spots again. I don't know why this policy is there, but I've heard it's to make the campus look nicer.'

'Students prefer to park their bikes in front of the door. But you can, as long as you know where'

Parking at the front door

One of the goals is to make the square 'a more pleasant place to meet', Pen insists. 'It looks a bit stony now; we are going to change that. There will be more meeting places, in locations where safety is not compromised. But that is going to take some time.' Meanwhile, he insists that there are plenty of bicycle parking facilities, even right outside the door. 'I understand that people say students look for convenience, are in a hurry and prefer to park their bikes in front of the door. But you can, as long as you know where. I am referring in particular to the stalls between Hal B and Carré, from there you walk right in via the back entrance. I admit we could do with clearer signage and we are working on that. But I would also say: take a bike ride around the square to see where the spaces are. There are plenty of them.'

From 23 October, the UT will tighten measures, Pen informs. Then, those bikes that are parked incorrectly will be taken to the racks near the Spiegel, where the owners can pick up their bikes. 'We want to avoid frustration, so hope for understanding because of the safety and accessibility arguments,' Pen stresses. 'We need to reprogram ourselves a bit, I hope that in the foreseeable future we won't know any different from the situation as it is now.'

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