Periodic stripe patterns are ubiquitous in living organisms, yet the underlying developmental processes are complex and difficult to disentangle. We describe a synthetic genetic circuit that couples cell density and motility. This system enabled programmed Escherichia coli cells to form periodic stripes of high and low cell densities sequentially and autonomously. Theoretical and experimental analyses reveal that the spatial structure arises from a recurrent aggregation process at the front of the continuously expanding cell population. The number of stripes formed could be tuned by modulating the basal expression of a single gene. The results establish motility control as a simple route to establishing recurrent structures without requiring an extrinsic pacemaker.