The bike shed – by Walthamstow railway station

The secured cycle park that holds up to around 30 cycles by Walthamstow Tube and Railway Station is known euphemistically as ‘the bike shed’. Although it has been in operation since November 2003, it was officially opened on 28 May 2004, when Jon Snow of Channel 4 news came up on the tube to cut the ribbon. The project was initiated by Gina Harkell of the London Borough of Waltham Forest and implemented by Sekura Byk of Norwich.

Beautifully designed

The first thing to say about this cycle park is that it is a really beautifully designed building. As much as possible has been made from recycled bits of the railway. For instance, the floor is made from railway sleepers that originally came from Australia over 100 years ago. The framework is made from repainted rails. The curved back end of the structure gave the engineers real problems as it is technically challenging to bend recycled steel in the way you want it to bend. All of those problems were overcome and the result is an airy and delightful cycle park with its own small garden.

Security

Security is a prominent feature of the Bike Shed. A ‘smart card’ commands the large sliding doors to glide open to let you into the bike shed. When inside, another card reader is used to allocate and unlock a cycle rack.

Annie, a cycle trainer, using the racks.
Image as described adjacent

The cycle racks are a type of clamp that traps the down tube with a sliding bolt. It takes a few moments to figure out how to put the bike in, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s easy. Rubber grommets protect the down tube from paint damage. When the bolt is slid back across and clicks into place you have the confident feeling that your bike will still be there on your return. This type of cycle parking system has been developed by a Belgian company and is in widespread usage in that country.

There was a bit of a problem though. My own bike didn’t fit in to the security device, and neither did another bike with an oversize down tube. This often happens when cycle parks put in only one type of bespoke cycle parking. I was promised that this would soon be solved by providing some simple Sheffield style cycle parking racks inside a spare corner of the bike shed. (Update August 2004: Two Sheffield style stands have been installed.)

Well located?

The photo at the start of this article shows the bike shed is located close to one of the entrances of the tube and railway station. Locating cycle parking close to main entrances is one of the most important things about raising the profile of cycling as a mode of transport. When cycle parking is put there the business is saying to the cyclist ‘we want you, you are welcome here, please come and don’t worry we’ll look after your bike’. I was surprised to see it so close to the main entrance of the station as in my experience it has been difficult to persuade railway companies of the importance of cycle security. Sadly this turned out to be true as although being initially supportive the railway turned its back on this development. Although it is on land owned by railway land company, Spacia, the day-to-day running of the bike shed is controlled by the local taxi firm!

On the other side of the railway line a new bus station was being redeveloped, with what looks like a 1950s style control tower. This side of the tracks was where I found two more lots of cycle parking. A fairly well used set of Sheffield style racks at street level, and the now deprecated cycle racks near the platform. It did seem to me that perhaps this was the more natural place for the cycle park to be, however I’m from Cambridge and I won’t have to use this cycle park so I’ll leave it for local cyclists to judge.

My conclusions

The curve of the back end of the bike shed.
Image as described adjacent

This is a truly fabulous cycle park. The beautiful structure, the level of security and the apparently good location offer an unprecedented level of service to the cyclist in the UK. So often cycle parking has been the type of drab building at the back of a car park or school. You almost have to do a double-take when you are using this cycle park: it is so well thought out. It feels as though you’ve entered a world where at last someone loves the cyclist, and it’s a bit disconcerting. But no, you’re not in Belgium, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. You really are in north London, by a railway station and this is cycle parking at its best in the UK. I urge cyclists to go and see this system, use it and show it to other railway stations’ bosses. Railway companies should be grateful that innovative companies, councils and cycling campaigns are coming up with solutions like this, yet it still seems that are having to be rammed down their throats. Well done Waltham Forest – you put cycle parking at Cambridge railway station to shame.

Update: By August 2004 the cycle park is regularly three quarters full and has been so successful that another one is planned for Leytonstone.

More details

The bike shed is free to use during the trial period which is apparently the whole of 2004. Smart cards can be obtained from ‘the mini-cab office at the junction of Station Approach and Hoe Street’ – any problems call them on 020 8520 3221.

The system was designed by Gilbert from Belgium, who runs the company Parking and Locking Systems. It was implemented by Sekura Byk.

A similar system will be installed at Finsbury Park, and I hear that Surbiton is also getting some double-decker cycle parking.

Simon Nuttall