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Pressure To Change: how people were brought together in a fight against cars

Podcast review by Carien de Wildt

For a lot of people the Netherlands has always been a biking paradise. With the most bikes per capita in the world and thousands of kilometres of bike paths, it's clear to see why people think that. But it turns out that wasn't always the case. In episode 531 - De Fiets Is Niets, from the podcast 99% Invisible, they explain some of the history behind the movement (yes, there was a movement) that gave us the bike culture we know today.

99% Invisible might already be known to some of you. I "discovered" the podcast in a way I thought impossible: by doing my homework. Year 1, Period 4 we had to listen to two episodes about the Bijlmermeer for Theory and Methodology of Planning and Design. Although both of these examples are about Dutch subjects, the podcast is in English, being produced in beautiful, uptown, Oakland, California. They talk about a range of subjects, on their website indicated by the 8 different categories, but the core is always about the design of things. Almost every episode starts with the main article and ends with a smaller segment, often about something related to the main subject but that didn't quite fit the story of the article. And that's what I like most about this podcast, they create a story. They take all of these facts about something, add a guest speaker or 2, and weave it into this story with ups and downs, twists and turns, all while informing you about the subject at hand.

In this episode, they talk about how the Netherlands got its biking culture. It involves a collaboration between the rich and communists, parents and anarchists, young and old, fighting against car-focused planning. Using phrases like “Stop de kindermoord” (Stop the child murder) and “De fiets is niets” (The bike is nothing), people rallied together: blocking roads for cars, leaving white painted bikes out to be used as communal property and even painting a red bike path in the middle of the night and sending an invoice to the government. In October 1971, a young girl died after getting hit by a car. Her father, Vic Langenhoff, was a prominent journalist at the time. In an article, he wrote about how there was no focus on protecting the safety and health of kids because there was no business interest in pushing to make the roads safer and better. “Is there no pressure group? Then let’s make one!”

In the end, money ended up being a big factor in the decisions that were made. Studies showed that creating the infrastructure needed for the cars would cost billions and when in 1973 the oil crisis hit the Netherlands, the government ended up implementing car-free Sundays to combat the fuel shortage. This showed the country that daily lives could go on without cars and that they might even be better that way.

For the whole story, you can listen to 99% Invisible on most podcast platforms, or read the article that goes along with the episode here: This episode was chosen because of the correlation with the current TOPOS theme: Pressure. and the ongoing events in the Netherlands.

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