Groningen is known for its cycling culture, and a survey done by the municipality found that 90% of respondents consider bikes to be the city’s most important mode of transport. Today, many measures are in place to encourage walking and cycling, like park-and-ride schemes, workplaces being required to promote active travel modes, extensive cycling infrastructure, public transport, etc.
However, one of the most significant actions taken in the city’s history to fuel the shift away from cars, was to divide the city centre into four sections with cars unable to drive from one section to another without exiting the centre and using a ring road.
In the post-World War II era, during the 1950s and 1960s, just like in many other parts of the world, The Netherlands saw a shift towards car-centric infrastructure. When the effects of this shift became more apparent to the Dutch public, it brought about backlash, with a famous example being the “Stop de Kindermoord” protests (“Stop the Child Murder” in English) during the 1970s. Protesters called for better urban planning, traffic management, and infrastructure changes to prioritize the safety of pedestrians, especially children.
In 1972, a progressive left-wing government came into power in the city and set out to radically change the transport system. In 1977, the traffic circulation plan was introduced. The city was divided into four quarters that would not allow cars to drive directly from one into another – significantly limiting traffic by ensuring the city centre could not be used for through traffic any more. Pedestrians and cyclists could still move freely throughout the city and were given more space due to fewer cars and parking spaces.
A Controversial Move
Some people, especially those living in old neighbourhoods, supported the suggested changes. However, the plan was controversial among shopkeepers in the city. They feared losing business as people would not be able to park their cars nearby to do shopping. To express their dissatisfaction, they demonstrated, displayed slogans on their shop windows, and the politician in charge of the traffic portfolio received threats due to the plan.
Hindsight is 20/20
The traffic circulation plan was introduced overnight, with hundreds of new signs popping up very suddenly. While it caused short-term chaos, it was not the end of businesses in the city centre, the project’s popularity grew over time, and today it isn’t easy to imagine the city centre being home to droves of cars. Groningen is frequently reported as the city in the country with the largest share of journeys completed by bicycle, with it making up an estimated 60% share of traffic movement. This contributes to the city centre being tranquil and often surprising visitors with its quietness.
A critique of the plan has been the lack of public participation in its implementation, but the overall result has received widespread praise; the framework has been popular with it being applied in other cities like Utrecht, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Ghent. The traffic circulation plan in Groningen is an excellent example of how a particular idea may seem radical at a specific time but, after being given a chance, turns out to yield incredible outcomes. Today, there is a continued effort to promote cycling, and there are some exciting infrastructure updates and experiments to look forward to in the city.
This article has been published before in the 2023 – Freshmen Issue.