Friday, January 4, 2013

Robotic Bicycle Parking Tower at the Castle of the Queen

Hradec Králové means Castle of the Queen, so it is nice that bike in the logo is a semi- step through model.

Cycling for transport is popular in the Czech Republic where the conditions are right, and Hradec Králové in in the north-central part of the Central European country is no exception.

Often called Hradec for short, the small city of just over 90,000 claims an official 24% bicycle modal split, a bit of an exaggeration says one local expert but similar to the German cycling capital of Bremen and a bit higher still than the biggest districts for biking in Berlin -- comparisons are difficult and not really necessary - continuous improvement more so - but still Hradec has about eight times as much cycling as Prague, per capita.

As I understand it, the high rate is due to several factors, including being a place where nearly everyone cycles sometimes -- meaning that they drive motor vehicles a bit more safely in relation to people on bikes.

So it is not surprising - but very encouraging - that a type of cycle parking unknown in the country has been implemented in Hradec. Similar to the well-known automated underground parking in Japan, the system here has the bikes above ground. (So in other words the Japanese system is an "innie" and the Czech one an "outie"). The kolověž (bike tower) has 116 spaces and in full effect will give a bike back in about 30 seconds. For now the price is 5 Czech crowns -- about 25 US cents. There are certainly different reasons to do what is most appropriate structurally and just in terms of available space, but the new parking structure is also a positive symbol for transport cycling in a country still relatively crazy about automobiles.

Not so close -View from approximate location kolovez towards Hradec Králové main station, via Google Streetview.

Still, symbols for cycling are not important as what actually works well. The  kolověž is located a bit far by foot to the train station (though it also serves people just travelling to this central part of town) and has no provision for larger cargo bikes including long tails -- these are the real automobile replacements, and if actors in Hradec want people to take children (and a dog) to school in the morning on the way to the station they will need consider safe parking for all types of bikes. Officials and investors will build more towers if the first one proves popular, but on a per space basis does it make the most economic sense?

Dave Holladay from the CTC in the UK has some very useful comments at the end of the Bike Biz article here.

In a way the Hradecký kolověž reminds me of the Bikestation in Washington D.C.. Though the latter is better equipped, both are relatively low-capacity but very visible. This is okay, but it is great compared to what is available at the main station in the capital of Germany, where I live.

In the end a (barely) Western EU-based objective expert's feeling of encouragement or statements of "continuous improvement" in viewing this solution runs the risk of being patronizing -- just because the Czech Republic is not the most "Western", economically-developed etc. etc. does not mean it deserves anything but the best, and cities and towns in this country and other parts of Europe with less overall success in sustainable development need just as much friendly pressure and support as anywhere else. Honesty about economic capabilities is a virtue; lowering of standards is not.

Inside view. Not precisely a robotic system... but anyway the word "robot" was created by Josef Čapek from Hronov, a town near Hradec Králové. Photo from Several You Tube videos of the system are also at this link.


This entry comes after a nearly five month break during in which my second dog, Mara (on the right), departed this physical plane... perhaps to the věž duhy (rainbow tower). Her brother Obi died a year ago.