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!


Back to the Future: There's No Place like Home (Rule) - Part 2

As a quick reminder, I’m writing for the exclusive benefit of my peers who were born in 1983 or later. It’s a purposeful filter that is excluding my own husband, just so you know how serious I am about this.

Yesterday we took a brief glimpse into Rockford, 35 years ago. We saw a tiny piece of the context in which Rockford residents chose to rescind a set of powers known as Home Rule. The article I shared mentioned the results of that vote and talked briefly about what prompted a group of citizens to get the issue on the ballot. Again, I was not here at the time, but from what I have learned there were two main reasons for the citizens’ efforts: 1) Local leaders were overreaching in their powers, it was better to return authority to Springfield; 2) Under Home Rule property taxes were going up too fast and would only continue to rise should the power be kept at the city level. These are completely reasonable concerns. The question is, of course, how reality played out.

During our lifetimes, Illinois has made a name for itself in terms of political scandals and fiscal insanity. Governors imprisoned, implausible amounts of pension debt, negative net migration (we’re losing residents faster than any other state in the nation); we’ve just come off a two-year stint with no state budget, and stalemates at the statehouse are the rule rather than the exception. Rockford, now the 4th largest city on the cusp of becoming the 5th, has seen property taxes climb by an inflation-adjusted rate of 79% since 1983.

Add to these challenges enormous uncertainty at the federal level, particularly where the relationships between the federal, state, and local governments are concerned. Certain proposed bills, for instance the President’s infrastructure plan, point to an increase in the responsibility of local governments to fund and implement their own projects. This is not in and of itself a bad thing, in fact it could lead to a much-needed shift from “build, build, build” to “maintain, maintain, maintain”. However, it will require a very different method of governing and leadership at the local level, presenting a new set of challenges that will test the capacity of every municipality. Those “…frustrations of being sure where the answers are” will truly and more fully come home.

My neighborhood association meeting, enjoying a presentation from a member of the public works department.

My neighborhood association meeting, enjoying a presentation from a member of the public works department.

All cities will need to become even more adept at addressing the real-life social needs of their citizens, even more flexible and capable at building partnerships with entities from all sectors, and more effective at building creative responses to local challenges. For Rockford, a city that has yet to fully dig out from yet another recession yet where words like revitalization and rebirth are on many lips, the ability to meet local challenges head on with local solutions is beyond needed, it is vital. If local officials are not working with the full set of tools that are available to them, a set of tools to which 215 other cities in the state have access, we cannot hope to compete, let alone overcome the barriers presented by a dysfunctional statehouse and the uncertainties of the White House.

On March 20, Rockford voters will have the opportunity to vote to return a major tool to our city’s toolbox, specifically: “Shall the city of Rockford, Illinois, become a home rule unit?” Should the voters respond with YES, nothing happens. Seriously. Nothing happens automatically (with the possible exception of an improvement of our bond rating, which is only good news!). Every subsequent action will require discussion and vote by the city council. There are lots of options, some of which can help diversify city revenue and lesson the property tax burden, some of which improve flexibility and resources for our public safety entities, and some of which can improve economic development opportunities and impact quality of life. There are, in fact, so many options I won’t get into any more specifics here, but you can read more about them at

And here’s where the message for you, my lovely young friends, gets really important.

Fur sure, Maggie wants you to vote!

We, you and I, can reverse a 35-year reality, to bring back options that have not been available to our city leaders in our lifetimes. But this cannot happen without your voice and your participation in the effort to return Home Rule to Rockford. This effort cannot be won on the backs of those who are retired, or of those who were already adults in 1983 and who want to see a different reality, because ultimately, we are the ones who will be around for another 35 years to see what unfolds. We are the ones who will finish degrees, build careers, raise children, and make a life in this city.

So, my message is threefold:

1. Volunteer 3 hours between now and March 20 as a phone banker or a canvasser for the Home Rule campaign. Just three hours of your time will make an incredible difference. Email me at to get connected.

2. Go vote on March 20, and vote YES to return Home Rule to Rockford.**

3. REGARDLESS of the result of the election on March 20, it's up to us to ensure that 35 years from now we aren't still frustrated, waiting for some answer from above, to change the course of our city. Find an issue that you want to see advanced in this city and put your voice and your energy behind making it happen. The barriers to entry are low, the need is high, and unless we step up to work alongside the generations ahead of us, a new reality is ours to lose. I promise, you can do this. If there’s a way I can help you make a connection or anything else, email me.

This March, don’t send me a birthday card (seriously it will just remind me how old I’ve gotten), give the gift of your vote, your voice, and your service to our city.

**If you need to register to vote or to change the address at which you are registered, visit the Board of Elections at 301 S. 6th Street. Their phone is 815-987-5750 and you can also find them at, where you can also find your polling place. Early voting begins February 21.

Back to the Future: There's No Place like Home (Rule) - Part 1

The post today is written with a specific audience in mind, so if you’re not part of that group you can just go take a walk or something, ok? Log off for a bit, get some fresh air, next time the sweet content will be more inclusive. But in the next two posts over the next two days I want to talk for a bit to a specific group of people – my fellow Rockford residents who were born in or after 1983. If you are even a DAY older than that and read beyond this paragraph, so help me…

That's me, circa 1984. 

This March I’ll turn 35, which means that I myself was born in 1983. It feels substantial to me personally – there’s no way to deny I’m in my mid-30s (old lady status), and it’s a significant biological mile-marker after which if I choose to get pregnant I’ll be considered “geriatric” – but it’s been made more momentous by its correspondence with a primary election. And not just any primary election! This March, Rockfordians will have the opportunity to change a local reality that has been in existence for, you guessed it, 35 years.

Some brief historical context: in 1970, Illinois enacted a new constitution. The constitution included provisions for municipalities larger than 25,000 people called Home Rule powers. This allowed Home Rule communities to exercise any local power not expressly denied by the constitution. These local powers could include the ability to raise revenue (through taxes, fees, licensing), and address various local issues related to economic development and quality of life through local ordinance. The constitution also included the provision that municipalities smaller than 25,000 could gain Home Rule powers through a balloted referendum, and that the reverse could also occur.

In 1983 a group of Rockford residents collected the 10,000 signatures necessary to put Home Rule powers on the ballot. These residents were spurred by two main reasons: to remove the local powers that Home Rule provided and return control to state leadership, and to return local property tax rates to non-home rule levels and avoid potential future local property tax rate hikes. On April 12, 1983, 54% of voters cast their ballots in line with these arguments and Home Rule powers were rescinded.

And for the next 35 years, Rockford grew in wealth and stature and every resident lived happily ever after.

Looking east from State and Wyman. 

Ok, it’s really not fair for me to devolve into snark. As with most issues, neither choice will result in complete destruction nor complete glory. And while I don’t find it practical to get into arguments with anyone about what something was or wasn’t like over 35 years ago – WAY too much has changed since that time to think the same action would automatically have the same result – it is important that we have some sense of the context that led to Rockford being one of only four cities in the state that has voted away its Home Rule powers.

Those of us who were born in or after 1983 will never know what it was really like living in Rockford then. To catch a glimpse of the challenges the city faced in post-recession (yes, my young peers, we were post-recession in 1983 as well), as hopes for a return to the days of manufacturing glory dwindled away, you may wish to read this Washington Post feature on the city of Rockford from June 1983. Titled “Rockford Lowers its Sights” it paints a grim picture of the then second-largest city in Illinois, where 87 people competed for every available job and 4- and 5-year-olds were dropped from the WIC food program in order to stretch dollars for more, younger children. In the words of Chad Brooks, then editorial page editor of the Rockford Register Star:

"This was a community that celebrated the Reagan election enthusiastically, a community that really thought all it had to do to solve all our problems was elect Ronald Reagan and everything would be wonderful. And when it didn't happen, when it resulted in the recession with Rockford all of a sudden having the highest unemployment of any community in the country, a lot of faith and confidence was shattered. That hasn't led to a lot of bitterness about Reagan. It has led to frustrations of being unsure where the answers are."

As I read further into the article I continued to be struck by a gnawing sense of déjà vu, for instance when it stated: “The problem for Rockford, and perhaps the country, goes far beyond a recognition that present economic problems are not going to be solved easily. The tension comes from clashes between basic American values that are so typical of this city--between a desire to have more and a willingness to settle for less, between gratifying immediate needs today and accepting necessary changes tomorrow.

These conflicts are visible everywhere: in debate over improving public schools and in reluctance to pay for them; in the vote to strip home rule powers from the city and in the recognition that better city services are necessary for citizens' basic needs.

Is your heart in your throat like mine? Does it make you feel crazy, crazy sad, that we as a people haven’t settled these “conflicts” yet?

To be continued… tune in tomorrow and learn more about why the heck I’m even writing about this subject, and what it means for you.

**If you need to register to vote or to change the address at which you are registered, visit the Board of Elections at 301 S. 6th Street. Their phone is 815-987-5750 and you can also find them at, where you can also find your polling place.

Can Incrementalism Fill Sidewalk Gaps?

“In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks to children learn...the first modicum of successful city life: people must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other.” - Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

I was recently appointed to the traffic commission for my city (Rockford, Illinois), and have come across a dilemma that I could use your input on.  


Pictured are sections of East State Street along a three-block stretch.  I recently noticed foundations poured for large, auto-oriented, “old timey” streetlights, and reached out to the city’s traffic engineer to see if sidewalks were being poured as well.  


The pictures show a couple things: 1) The clear “desire lines” where people are already walking, and 2) the bus stops with no concrete pads, shelter, etc.  This section only gets worse in the winter; I have seen mothers pushing their kids in strollers through mounds of snow piled up by the plow trucks.  It is literally a de-humanizing experience.


Not surprisingly, this stretch of East State Street has been dangerous for pedestrians.  This past July, a visitor from Indiana was hit by the driver of a car precisely within this three-block stretch, and died as a result of his injuries.  There are at least two other pedestrian -v- vehicle collisions that I can recall on this street in the past eighteen months.  

After reaching out to the city’s traffic engineer I was told that, despite staff being keenly aware of the situation, funds are not allocated within the 2017-2021 capital improvement plan and therefore sidewalks are not being poured in tandem with the streetlights.  Searching for a more timely intervention, I asked if I could place an item on the agenda that would include temporary infrastructure (e.g. pea gravel) until a permanent alternative could be installed.  I was told that this is a state DOT road, and that any improvements would need to be ADA compliant, therefore no temporary solutions are available. 

I am awaiting a response from IDOT to see what options we have here.  In the meantime, I would appreciate your input:  What does incrementalism look like here, at this stage, in this context?  As Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns says, this approach is both smart–we’re not getting actual sidewalks anytime soon–and chaotic, and I’m willing to embrace both.  I want to believe that there is room for quick, tactical responses, but it is difficult to assign those adjectives to a state DOT.   And the resources alone make even an “illegal” intervention difficult.  I can don a vest, throw cones down, and paint a crosswalk.  Three blocks worth of pea gravel?  A bit more difficult. 

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Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 8.39.05 AM.png

We spent $1,400,000 from our CIP for those streetlights, and allocated not one cent for pedestrian infrastructure.  So it’s time to step up.  What do we do?  What’s the next increment here?