Netherlands was not always like that. It became the cycling ‘nirvana’ just a little over 40 years ago.

After World War II when Europe started rebuilding and the Dutch economy began to boom, the latter, like the rest of the world, was enthralled by motorised transport and began building an infrastructure to cater to cars.

The turning point came in 1971 when the number of traffic casualties reached a peak of 3,300 deaths that year, of which 400 were of children.

These tragedies led to nationwide protests. Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder), at first just a slogan then became a movement and eventually turned into an organisation that began working on developing ideas for safe urban planning. Two years later, another group formed a cyclists’ union demanding more space for bicycles.

A year later in 1973, when Saudi Arabia and the oil exporting countries in the Middle East imposed an oil embargo on the West and Japan and increased the price for supporting Israel in the Youm Kippur war, the prime minister of the Netherlands urged the Dutch to rethink ways of saving energy and cycling came back in vogue.

Over the years the space for car usage continued to narrow such as the introduction of paid car parking in the city centre in the 1990s. — ZTE

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 29th, 2018