Bicycles

The Traffic Circulation Plan, Continued: Evolution, Current Strategy and Challenges.

This is part three in a three-part series on the history of the Traffic Circulation Plan (TCP) in Groningen, Netherlands. Part one is here, and part two is here. The content was originally an assignment for History & Theory of Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I am a master’s candidate in the College of Urban Planning and Policy.  I’d like to thank Lennart Nout and Chris Brundlett at Modacity for their input and resource-sharing.  I’d also like to thank Vincent Ziols who also contributed to the paper.

  Vismarkt, 1968.  Image Courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Vismarkt, 1968.  Image Courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

In the late 1970s, the PvdA and municipal administration revised elements of the TCP as well as expanded car-limited traffic schemes in other areas of the city. The 1978-1982 Municipal Programme sought to create a plan that would extend the TCP into adjacent residential neighborhoods. The PvdA retained its political majority, and as such was able to adhere to the same principles and practices that were employed in the TCP. Their Traffic and Transport Plan was approved by the city council in 1982.  

  Vismarkt today. Image courtesy of    Wikimedia   .

Vismarkt today. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

As mode share shifted in subsequent years, city officials considered plans that would not merely reinforce the car-limited traffic plans but would also increase bicycle usage among citizens. The latest plan, Groningen Cycling City, was developed in 2015 and represents the city’s efforts to keep the bicycle as a normative and relevant means of transportation. The plan includes capital improvement strategies designed to enhance the safety and utility of bicycle paths. Heated lanes, expanded indoor parking, and stoplight-free “smart routes” are among the many projects outlined in the plan.   

  Image courtesy of    Bicycle Dutch

Image courtesy of Bicycle Dutch

As Groningen’s population grows, city officials must work to ensure that their streets function as public spaces for all types of transportation modes, not least bicycle users. The city’s Vice Mayor for Mobility recently stated that the city is making a concerted effort to ensure the bicycle remains the primary mode of transport. At the same time, the proliferation of the bicycle has resulted in some of the transportation challenges exhibited by the influx of the automobile in the 1960s, albeit to a different degree. Congestion, parking, and even pedestrian safety are all concerns expressed by citizens and city officials.  Although such challenges are not insignificant, the traffic reforms necessary to remediate will certainly be more incremental than the comprehensive, car-limited plans created in the 1970s.

  Image courtesy of     Imgur

Image courtesy of Imgur

This series has provided a history and critique of the actors and events which led to the creation of the Traffic Circulation Plan, a car-limited planning intervention in the City of Groningen, Netherlands.  The plan is largely responsible for creating the conditions necessary for normative bicycle transportation for its residents.  Although Max Van Den Berg and other PvdA members espoused the concept of citizen participation in its official planning documents, there is little evidence to suggest that citizens were involved in the plan’s creation or implementation.  The absence of participation was a central argument among the shopkeepers and business owners who were opposed to the plan.

As the city encounters new bicycle-oriented traffic challenges, its municipal planners are advised to develop a collaborative, multi-actor planning approach as part of an effective governance strategy.  Inviting stakeholders to contribute to the plan-making process is an essential element in creating an effective, sustainable plan.

References: 

Arnstein, Sherry R. “A Ladder of Citizen Participation.”  JAIP, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969. 

Boyko, Christopher.  “Groningen’s Binnenstad: Informed Perceptions on its Design.”  Accessed         10 November 2017.  https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/7035688.pdf

Bruntlett, Chris and Melissa.  2016. “How Groningen gained (and hopes to retain) the title of     ‘The World’s Cycling City’.  Daily Hive Vancouver, September 28.  Accessed 28 October         2017. http://dailyhive.com/vancouver/how-groningen-gained-and-hopes-to-retain-the-        title-of-the-worlds-cycling-city-photos-video

Bruntlett, Chris and Melissa.  2017.  “How Groningen’s Bold Moves Built ‘The World’s Cycling     City’. Modacity, May 30.  Accessed 28 October 2017. http://www.modacitylife.com/blog/        groningens-worlds-cycling-city

CROW Fietsberaad.  “Continuous and Integral: The cycling policies of Groningen and other         European cities.” Amsterdam: Fietsberaad, 2006.

CROW Fietsberaad.  “Verkeerscirculatieplan  Groningen.”  Accessed 14 November 2017. http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/lenvcpgroningen.pdf

Fishman, Robert. “Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd         Wright, Le Corbusier.” The MIT Press. 16, September 1982.

Forester, John.  “Challenges of Deliberation and Participation”  In Readings in Planning Theory.        4th ed. Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

Gemeente Groningen.  “Groningen Cycling City: Cycling Strategy 2015-2025.” Gemeente         Groningen, 2015. 

Golderberger, Paul. “Robert Moses, Master Builder, is Dead at 92”. The New York Times, On         this day. 30, July 1981.

Groningen ImageBank.  Image search, Verkeerscirculatieplan 1977. Accessed 29 November         2017.  http://beeldbankgroningen.nl 

Hellemeier, Clemens, Mahdokht Soltaneihha.  “Implementation and Results of the Traffic         Circulation Plan in the City of Groningen.”  Stockholm University, 2010. 

Homrighausen, Jasper. 2015. Institutional Innovations in the Pursuit of Sustainable Mobility and     the Role of Collaboration and Coalitions.”  Master’s thesis, faculty of spatial sciences.          Groningen, Netherlands, University of Groningen, 2015. Accessed 1 December 2017. http://urbangrolab.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Jasper-Homrighausen-Master-Thesis-        Institutional-Innovations-in-Sustainable-Mobility.pdf

Karsijns, Nico, and Maurits Schilt.  “Groningen en het VCP.”  Presentation slides, University of         Groningen, October 16, 2003.  Accessed 14 November 2017.  http://www.rug.nl/staff/        p.h.pellenbarg/voordrachten/28.%20groningen%20en%20het                    %20verkeerscirculatieplan.pdf

Mans, Bruce Timothy.  2010.   “De binnenstad van Groningen.”  Accessed 4 November 2017.          https://issuu.com/brucemans/docs/groningen

Scott, James C. “Authoritarian high modernism,” Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemese to     Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press,         1988. 

Steinberg, Lior.  2014.  “Making Cycling Efficient and Cool: Groningen’s Smart Routes.”          September 17. Accessed 4 November 2017. https://www.lvblcity.com/blog/2014/9/        making-cycling-efficient-and-cool-groningens-smart-routes

Tsubohara, Shinji.  “Democratic Nature of Urban Development in Groningen in the 1980s: PTT,     Brink, Casino and Museum.”  University of Groningen. 2007.  Accessed 1 December         2017.  https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/files/14433114/315.pdf

Tsubohara, Shinji. “A Traffic Plan to Make Residential Areas Car-Limited.” University of         Groningen.  2007.  Accessed 21 October 2017.  http://www.rug.nl/research/portal/            nl/publications/a-traffic-plan-to-make-residential-areas-carlimited(7b243aed-ccd8-423a-        bc4f-b3d4fa517fb2).html 

Tsubohara, Shinji. “The Effect and Modification of the Traffic Circulation Plan (VCP): Traffic         Planning in Groningen in the 1980s.” University of Groningen.  2007.  Accessed 21 October 2017. http://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-effect-and-modification-of-the-traffic-circulation-plan-vcp--traffic-plannign-in-groningen-in-the-1980s(05114387-d1ba-4eaf-bd03-ded654f86061).html

Tsubohara, Shinji, and Henk Voogd.  “Planning Fundamental Urban Traffic Changes:             Experiences with the Groningen Traffic Circulation Scheme.”  Southampton, United Kingdom: WIT Press, 2004.

Tsubohara, Shinji, and Henk Voogd.  “Policy Network Theory: an Ex Post Planning Evaluation         Tool?”  In New Principles in Planning Evaluation: Urban Planning and Environment.         2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Van der Zee, Renate.  2015.  “How Groningen invented a cycling template for cities all over the         world.” The Guardian, July 29.  Accessed 4 November 2017.  http://dailyhive.com/        vancouver/how-groningen-gained-and-hopes-to-retain-the-title-of-the-worlds-cycling-        city-photos-video

Van Maanen, Gijs. “Deliberative Democracy in the Netherlands: The G1000 Groningen Put in         Perspective.” MA thesis history, migration and global interdependence. Leiden: Leiden         University, 2016.

Velo-City Groningen. “The Cycling Experience: Velo-City 2017.”  Accessed 4 November 2017.         http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/bidbook_velo                 city2017_groningen_press.pdf

Wagenbuur, Mark.  2016. “Groningen: Cycling City of the Netherlands?” Bicycle Dutch, March         8.  Accessed 4 November 2017.  https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/            groningen-cycling-city-of-the-netherlands/

 

The Traffic Circulation Plan: Elements, Implementation, Effects.

This is part two in a three-part series on the history of the Traffic Circulation Plan (TCP) in Groningen, Netherlands. Part one is here, and part three is here. The content was originally an assignment for History & Theory of Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I am a master’s candidate in the College of Urban Planning and Policy.  I’d like to thank Lennart Nout and Chris Brundlett at Modacity for their input and resource-sharing.  I’d also like to thank Vincent Ziols who also contributed to the paper.

The main objective of the TCP was to create barriers for cars in order to block access to the inner city streets. This would substantially increase the right-of-way for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders while minimizing safety conflicts with automobiles.  The TCP would effectively divide the city into four sections, and, along with the rerouting of city streets, prohibit automobiles to cross over between sections. Cars would be limited to few access points into the city, but would be offered an expanded road way that encircled the outer neighborhoods of the city. Figure 1 illustrates the evolution of the ‘ring-road’ network, which was intended to mitigate the traffic created by the block of access through the city center. 

   Arterial road structure for car traffic, approx. 1964, 1980 and 2000. Image courtesy of    CROW Fietsberaad.

Arterial road structure for car traffic, approx. 1964, 1980 and 2000. Image courtesy of CROW Fietsberaad.

Upon the council adoption of the TCP in September 1977, Van Den Berg and city staff were ready to move forward with implementing the plan. On the night of September 19th all 5,000 steps of the TCP were implemented; such a strategy may have arisen out of the need to thoroughly execute the plan, if not to mitigate conflict or opposition. City staff presented flyers and flowers to confused commuters who could no longer cross through the center of the city. After the initial implementation, new bicycle paths were created, trees were planted in now open streets and other development measures of the TCP took place which helped to bolster the effects of the new network system.

  A city official distributes flyers and flowers to motorists, September 1977.  Image Courtesy of Groningen ImageBank.

A city official distributes flyers and flowers to motorists, September 1977.  Image Courtesy of Groningen ImageBank.

  Overnight implementation resulting in a substantial neck-down of motorized traffic.  Image courtesy of Pellenbarg, 2003.

Overnight implementation resulting in a substantial neck-down of motorized traffic.  Image courtesy of Pellenbarg, 2003.

According to the PvdA the TCP and its implementation were largely supported by residents, especially among voting district members. Van Den Berg remarked in a recent article that residents living downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods were “enthusiastic about our ideas”, as “[t]hey saw we were changing things on a great scale.” 

Although many businesses in the central city were vehemently opposed to the TCP, a number of cooperative efforts were conducted in order to facilitate the plan’s rollout, such as participating in a municipal guiding committee and distributing maps to customers. However, after the near-instantaneous application of the TCP, shopkeepers began to organize and rekindle their opposition to the plan. A local newspaper published an open letter written by the “Group of Duped Businesspeople” to the PvdA which stated that “because of the lack of participation by true experts…this Plan not only works poorly, but also seriously undermines the employment and viability of our city.” 

  Business owners react to the TCP rollout.    Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Business owners react to the TCP rollout.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Reports were produced indicating a loss of business, and proposals to modify the TCP were submitted. Additionally, central city businesses submitted a suspension request with the Council of State which included proposals to revert elements of the TCP-affected streets back to their previous condition. The council overruled the suspension request, stating that the shopkeepers did not provide sufficient evidence of a decrease in sales.

Citizen Participation:  inspraak or participatie?

Van Den Berg was one of many young PvdA members who initially advocated for improved accessibility, transparency, and responsiveness between citizens and municipal administrators. He once proposed the creation of neighborhood councils and the appointment of city officials to assist citizens through municipal policies and practices. Despite such participatory concepts being espoused by Van Den Berg and other PvdA members, there is little evidence to support the notion that citizens were actually involved in either the creation or implementation of traffic policy reforms.

Shinji Tsubohara and Gijs Van Maanen distinguish between the use of the words inspraak and participatie in PvdA plans. Inspraak is used to denote situations where citizens are merely asked to provide input on a specific topic, whereas participatie describes the citizen as actively involved and integral to the decision-making process. The PvdA’s 1982 Residential Traffic Plan gives further application on the concepts; Inspraak occurs through a series of public hearings and written submissions on the plan, while participatie can happen as the plan is developed in the context of one’s specific neighborhood. Although these concepts appear to align with the objectives of the PvdA in general and its younger members in particular, they become arguably inconvenient or irrelevant to Van Den Berg through the development and implementation of the TCP.  

  Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation.  Courtesy of Arnstein, 1969.

Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation.  Courtesy of Arnstein, 1969.

Shinji Tsubohara places the PvdA’s citizen participation efforts within the ‘tokenism’ rungs of Arnstein’s ladder. The mandated public hearings scheduled with little time for plan review could be construed as ‘informing’, a one-way attempt to disseminate plan content with little opportunity for citizens to contribute. Inspraak aligns with Arnstein’s concept of ‘consultation’; although the opportunity to give input may exist, the likelihood that such input will be considered or acted upon is minimal.  

Given the strong opposition of the central city shopkeepers and the advent of such concepts as communicative planning, the prospects of implementing a large-scale plan like the TCP today is unlikely.  

 

Limiting Cars, Privileging Bicycles: A History of the Traffic Circulation Plan in Groningen, Netherlands

This three-part series is about the history of the Traffic Circulation Plan (TCP) in Groningen, Netherlands.  Part two is here, and part three is here. The content was originally an assignment for History & Theory of Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I am a master’s candidate in the College of Urban Planning and Policy.  I’d like to thank Lennart Nout and Chris Brundlett at Modacity for their input and resource-sharing.  I’d also like to thank Vincent Ziols who also contributed to the paper.

  Image courtesy of    The Guardian

Image courtesy of The Guardian

The northern Dutch city of Groningen stands as a model of how policy intervention and implementation can incubate a society centered on bicycling. Highlighted among the other major cities of the bike-centric country of the Netherlands, Groningen boasts that sixty-one percent of all trips made by their population (200,000) are with a bicycle. This high rate is largely due to the efforts of political and municipal interventions on the city’s built environment for over forty years.  The city’s latest efforts to enhance and expand the bicycle network include heated paths, smart traffic lights, and a new train station parking structure that holds over 15,000 bicycles. Such developments reinforce the primacy of the bicycle within the city’s culture, and place the bicycle as an integral element of the city’s identity.

  Image courtesy of Hellemeier and Soltaneihha, 2010

Image courtesy of Hellemeier and Soltaneihha, 2010

Groningen’s bicycle-forward strategy and culture has evolved from a central point in 1977 when the city implemented the Traffic Circulation Plan (‘TCP’), a car-limited traffic plan developed by Max Van Den Berg. In the course of one night the city changed routes of inner city roads, blocked access to the city center for cars, and created a network of streets that gave pedestrians and cyclists free and safe access. This plan to mitigate automobile traffic away from the compact urban core of Groningen has grown and developed to the entire metropolitan region. The principles of the TCP have had an immense impact on the transportation equity of the area’s population, which has led to better multimodal access, healthier lifestyles and a more sustainable way of life. 

  Image courtesy of    Modacity

Image courtesy of Modacity

  Vismarkt, 1968.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Vismarkt, 1968.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Groningen’s bicycle-oriented transportation efforts began in the mid-1960s as part of a larger municipal response towards the proliferation of the automobile. Like many European cities, Groningen experienced considerable transportation challenges brought on by the influx of automobile users–congestion, air pollution, parking, and high vehicle speeds–and municipal administrators considered a revision of the traffic policy to either accommodate or limit the automobile. 

  Central City, 1970.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Central City, 1970.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Citizens were reportedly divided on the issue; while some believed that an automobile-friendly city would tailor to regional consumers, others maintained that the mode choices of local residents (namely, walking and bicycling) should take precedence. It is this latter sentiment that was embraced by the Partij van de Arbeid (hereby referred to as ‘PvdA’), the prevailing political party throughout Groningen’s traffic policy reforms in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the late 1960’s the leadership of the PvdA was characterized by young academics who championed civic engagement and participation, particularly within the fields of urban land use and transportation planning. Among those leaders was Max Van Den Berg.

  PvDA party members, with Van Den Berg at center.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003

PvDA party members, with Van Den Berg at center.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003

 In 1970 Van Den Berg was elected by the PvDA party as their political executive of urban planning. Van Den Berg believed a city should be vibrant, lively, and largely absent of the automobile. He wanted to restore city neighborhoods, which he believed were adversely affected by the automobile, and give priority to pedestrians, bicycles and public transportation. Van Den Berg saw Groningen to be a perfect place for his plan, as the city was relatively small, compact, and had the political support of the PvdA and the city residents. 

By the early 1970s, Van Den Berg began developing the TCP with helpful insight from the principles outlined in the 1972 Objective City Center Groningen Plan report. The latter plan’s focus was on the city center having a ‘good function’ of activity, where a large number of people could visit and use the right-of-way of city streets. This plan also recognized the utility of car travel as a way for people to visit Groningen, but called on drastic limits to most disruptions to the built environment. Development plans such as the widening of traffic lanes and extensive parking facilities would be kept at a minimum, so as to keep city streets safe from the ‘space-consuming’ effect of cars.

  Zuiderdiep.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

Zuiderdiep.  Image courtesy of Karsijns and Schilt, 2003.

The PvdA continued to gain power as its traffic plans took shape. During the 1974 municipal elections, the party published the 1974-1978 Municipal Programme which provided the initial framework for the TCP. An excerpt from the Programme underscores the car-limited objectives of the PvdA’s plans: 

“Keeping out through traffic in the inner city and residential neighborhoods must be continued…Public transport and bicycles will acquire a clearly privileged position.  It must be examined which measures…can contribute to a safer and more livable environment for residents.  We will implement subsequently with the help of residents.” 

Despite these claims, there is little evidence to show that public participation in general, or citizen-informed traffic plans in particular, actually occurred. The PvdA remained the largest political party after the 1974 elections, and used their political capital expeditiously on plans included in the Municipal Programme, not least the TCP. The environment was highly politicized and polarized; plan-making was neither a neutral endeavor conducted solely within the municipal administration, nor was it a collaborative endeavor among the other political parties.  

The creation of the TCP happened behind closed doors. Although the administration may have helped shape the plan, members from other parties and the general public did not contribute to the plan. The completed TCP was published in May 1975, just one day before a scheduled public meeting. Not surprisingly, attendees criticized the insufficient timeframe for providing public comments, to which the Mayor responded, “The minister [Van Den Berg] has put us on the spot concerning the available time. We must submit the scheme quickly; otherwise the subsidies come in danger.” The requisite national funding for the TCP was actually put on hold from 1975-1977.  

  Selwerd neighborhood protests, courtesy of Tsubohara 2007.

Selwerd neighborhood protests, courtesy of Tsubohara 2007.

During that time frustrations grew from a poor municipal response to traffic congestion particularly in neighborhoods adjacent to the central city. Public outcry evolved into petition and protest. In October 1975 a group of mothers and PvdA district members from the Selwerd neighborhood blocked a major intersection from vehicle traffic while they collected support signatures for safer streets. This event was certainly not lost on the PvdA and Van Den Berg, who recently completed the TDP months earlier. The first phase of the TCP was not adopted by the city council until September 1977.

Check back this Wednesday, July 11th for part two!