A Tumultuous History

The Dutch maintained a strong tradition of cycling until it experienced its car boom in the 1950s. Due to WWII, this occurred much later than in the U.S., which had its car boom in the 1920s. Dutch planners shifted towards more auto-centric policies and urban design. Through the 1960s-70s, cycling rates and safety decreased as bikes began to share the road with a growing number of automobiles. During this time, Dutch urban planners began to destroy old buildings to open up streets and create large auto corridors through city centers.


Large corridors in Amsterdam were cleared by urban planners in the 1960s to make room for motorized traffic. (Source: Fotocollectie Anefo/Society for the Nationaal Archief)

However, not everyone shared the vision of the urban planners at the time. An increase in traffic deaths, particularly of vulnerable road users (e.g., elderly and children), led to mass protests that called for safer streets and livable communities. Protestors demanded to “Stop de kindermoord” or “Stop murdering children,” which sent a strong message to public officials that something needed to change.

As a solution, protestors called for separating slow and fast traffic. This idea was not new at the time. A national policy enacted in the 1920s established in rural areas when daily bike traffic exceeds 500 cyclists per day on a route, there must be separation. This idea simply needed to be applied to the urban environment as well.

Luckily for the Dutch, in 1975 the Dutch planners and officials began to reverse their car-centric policies and even some major infrastructure (e.g., Utrecht removed arterial connections through the city center). Ultimately, this shift also resulted in investment in building the world-class cycle network that we see today in the Netherlands.