Save money on petrol while cycling – and how the Dutch cycling infrastructure was paid for with… petrol
Cycling activists in Oslo, Norway erected a banner at a supermarket gas station stressing that cycling runs on cornflakes. The banner, erected next to the column with exorbitant fuel prices, features a bicycle icon next to 00.00.
If you drive a gasoline-powered car, you won’t need to remember that automobile costs are currently rising due to the global oil shocks partly caused by President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
There are calls from across the northern hemisphere for 1970s-style speed limits to be introduced to save gas. Such reductions were introduced in the United States and the United Kingdom following the OPEC oil crisis of 1973.
The potential fragility of mass motorization was highlighted for the Dutch at this time, as the Arab oil embargo affected the Netherlands far more than any other European country. The Netherlands has been targeted because it is home to oil company Royal Dutch Shell.
Faced with dwindling oil supplies, the Dutch national government decided that the best way for the nation to save fuel would be to limit driving on Sundays. All of the country’s 3 million motorists have been instructed to stay home on Sunday, with the exception of diplomats and 16,000 motorists belonging to “essential professionals”, such as doctors.
To promote a mode of transport that does not require oil, Prime Minister den Uyl cycled around the grounds of his official residence in front of the press cameras. The first car-free Sunday was November 4, 1973.
The cities fell silent; people were having picnics on the highways. Car-free days were then discontinued, but people had magically gone without their cars for entire days with no ill effects, and they had also enjoyed cycling.
During the oil crisis, bicycle sales doubled.
The following year, a new pressure group was formed to rid Amsterdam of cars. “Amsterdam Autovrij” – Amsterdam without a car – organized a mass bike ride in May 1974, and 1,000 cyclists showed up. The following month, 2,000 showed up. In October 1974, a “die-in” took place, with a minute of silence in honor of the cyclists and pedestrians killed.
Three thousand runners showed up for the event in 1975; it attracted 4,000 in 1976. On June 5, 1977, 9,000 Amsterdammers organized a “die-in” in front of the Rijksmuseum, the national museum.
Fifteen thousand runners participated in the 1978 event. Four days later, newly elected city council members said they thought the city’s traffic plan focused too much on the private automobile, and in November 1978 a new plan was adopted – this provided for the reduction of car traffic and parking spaces in the city centre, with more space reserved for cyclists.
“In the years to come,” the revised plan says, “policy should focus strongly on improving conditions for cyclists.”
A variety of earlier protest groups had played a role in creating a culture of street-level awareness for everyday cycling. It slowly changed minds and influenced policies. From the mid-1970s, more investment was made in cycling infrastructure in much of the Netherlands, with the introduction of federal policies that allowed municipalities to receive payment for 80% of the costs of new cycling infrastructure.
But where did the Dutch get the money to expand the country’s network of cycle paths? From Groningen, it is there. Or, more precisely, from below the region surrounding the city of Groningen.
A gigantic reserve of inland natural gas was discovered near the city in 1959. The Groningen gas field turned out to be the largest natural gas field in Europe. His discovery was a boon for the Dutch government and Dutch citizens.
After its commissioning in 1963, gas from Groningen was very expensive, including the famous Dutch welfare policies. The National potverteren– or “spending pot” – also helped pay for most of the other huge infrastructure projects of the period, such as the Delta Plan flood defenses and the expansion of the highway and cycle path networks of the country.
With the gas revenues – and the influx of overseas investment cash – the Dutch got richer and bought more cars, but they also bought more bikes. In 1960, 527,000 bicycles were purchased in the Netherlands; by 1972, that number had doubled to 1,086,000.
Today, the city of Groningen has one of the highest cycling modal shares in the country: up to 60% of journeys are made by bicycle.