Bike bunkers had a really successful trial in Dublin, starting in 2015. But there are still very few – despite huge demand. What gives?
I often get asked about the delay in rolling out the scheme. It’s one of the most frustrating delays I’ve seen on the council, but hopefully we’re beginning to make progress. This is a long saga, but hopefully gives you some insight into the delay behind this great idea.
The Problem and Solution
About 40% of homes in Dublin city are terraced. Many of those homes won’t have side access or large front gardens: this makes storing bikes securely a challenge. People are forced to risk leaving them locked outside or have to drag the bikes through the house – which is hassle and can be messy.
This problem was examined in some depth in 2014 by Dublin City Council Beta – a small part of the council which trials new ways to improve life in Dublin City. You can read their 2014 report on this here.
The solution they proposed was bike bunkers. They provide a secure hangar on the street, which allows for around six bikes to be locked up safely. The bike bunker has standard bike racks inside, but it is also locked, which means that only residents with keys can get into the bikes.
It takes up roughly the space of a small car – with a smaller profile than a Fiat 500, essentially swapping space for one vehicle for 4-6 vehicles, which is a pretty good deal.
Bike bunkers had been tried and tested in cities around the world, including London, Brussels, Glasgow, and Rotterdam.
The First Trial: does it work?
Following the 2014 report, DCC Beta moved on to trialling a bike bunker. In January 2015, they installed a Cyclehoop bike bunker (pictured below) here on John Dillon Street, a residential, terraced street just off Patrick Street.
The trial lasted for five months, and the purchase, installation and removal of the bunker cost €4,800. Six people from four households participated.
You can read the full, 16-page report here, but the basic story is simple: it worked really well. There were some issues with litter blowing in, and a good debate on how to charge for access (see page 8 of the report), but it clearly worked.
The Second Trial: will it scale?
Following that, DCC Beta decided to scale up the project. The bunker clearly worked technically and good lessons had been learned, but adminstering one bunker is a different proposition to running a wider service.
A website, BikeBunkers.ie, was set up to gather location requests from residents – to ensure that bunkers would be placed in the areas with the highest demand.
Work kicked off in 2019 and a total of 12 bunkers were installed around the city – all within the canals, where houses are much more likely to be terraced. A few different types of bunker were also tested, as you can see below:
There was huge demand for spaces in the bunkers. There were a max of two slots per household, and each slot cost €100 a year.
(This cost was controversial, as it’s more than twice the cost of residential car parking (€40 a year). In my opinion, it’s a tricky one to get right: bike bunkers are more expensive to adminster and install than car parking, but we obviously want to encourage bike parking above car parking. A combination of residential parking increases and a lowering of the bike bunker rate could solve this issue.)
The scheme went well and got overwhelmingly positive feedback. There was some fair and understandable objection to the look of the bunkers (some models are more visually intrusive than others), but my own view is that the bunkers are (a) necessary and (b) no more visually unappealing than a car parked in its place.
The First Delay
The project left its DCC Beta trial and was subsumed into the ordinary council work, with a view to expand the scheme. Repeated staff changes, staffing gaps, and various other problems caused the project to splutter and halt.
The existing 12 hangars continued, but despite repeated requests from the public and councillors (I was one of them!), it seemed difficult to get things moving.
Then, in September 2021, there finally seemed to be a breakthrough. A report to Dublin City Council’s Transport Strategic Policy Committee announced that they were “currently working on a tender for the Bike Bunkers which will be advertised on the E– tender’s website within the next 6 to 8 weeks. The tender is for the procurement of approx. 350 bike bunkers”
The estimated cost was €3m, and there was national funding available to cover it. This was great to see: jumping the number of bike bunkers in Dublin city from 1, to 12, to 350. Progress!
The Second Delay
Then – suddenly – nothing happened. When I followed up to ask about the tender in January 2022, I was told the same tender was still being prepared, and would be online in 6-8 weeks. Below is a screengrab of a single email thread I had over a year about this – just to give you a sense of the frustration and ongoing delay.
There were other emails, meetings, and calls, but you get the idea!
It seems that at some point in mid-2022, council management decided to pause this tender, seemingly due to staffing concerns. They commissioned a consultant to report on how to get the scheme up and running, as it had clearly taken too long.
It was fairly clear at this point that the consultant would recommend that they tender out the whole scheme – with the administration of the bunker scheme done outside of the council. But still, we had to wait for the consultant’s report.
The New Model
After much chasing, the consultant was appointed and reported back in July 2023. That report, along with the council staff’s recommendation for how to proceed, was put before the Transport committee in September 2023.
The report was by Arup, and you can read it here. It looks at the bunker schemes in other countries, concludes that it works well, and that a similar approach to the trial should be used to gauge which locations would have most demand (essentially asking residents to register).
It also found that “publicly funded, owned and planned but privately maintained and operated is the most suitable model” for Dublin.
Personally, I would have preferred to have it all run by Dublin City Council directly: but it’s clear that it hasn’t worked, and at this stage, I just want the bunkers installed and running.
Staff recommendations following the report were put before the councillors and committee members and were approved.
I want to get this project over the line, but I have two main worries about the new approach:
1. It may well be delayed in some way further, especially considering that it’s a new approach. There may been unforeseen delays that we haven’t encountered yet.
2. The recommended spend for the scheme would only cover the cost of 150 bunkers in the next three years. The previous 2022 plan was to tender for 350 bunkers. The constultant report said there was demand for “at least 300” by 2026 – yet we are only going for 150.
I hope we can overcome both – and was assured at the Transport committee that the budget can be increased if needed.
In general in this job, I generally try to stay positive and hopeful. I don’t think pessimism about Dublin does the city any favours, nor does it encourage good work in the city council.
I have hope that we can advance this project as soon as possible – there is agreement generally that it works well and solves a pressing need. There is little-to-no public opposition. Good, effective people have worked on it internally. But still the project flounders.
I think we can get this done, but if it is delayed further, it’s be a very grim indictment of the ability of the local government sector to get things done quickly and efficiently. Build the bunkers!