THE BICYCLE MAKES sense in cities. With rising urbanization, our cities need modern mobility solutions, and moving around on two wheels proves time and again that it can offer results.
Investment in bicycle infrastructure is a modern and intelligent move. Plenty of research shows the social, economic, environmental, and health benefits of urban cycling. Studies from Denmark tell us that for every kilometer cycled, society enjoys a net profit of 23 cents, whereas for every kilometer driven by car we suffer a net loss of 16 cents.
Many cities get this. Many don’t. And many more are somewhere in between, wavering on how much to invest, where to invest it, and how, exactly, to make themselves welcoming to cycling and the benefits it brings.
The 2015 Index
With each edition, the Copenhagenize Design Company’s Index of the most bike-friendly cities in the world evolves. In 2011 we ranked 80 global cities; in 2013 we ranked 150.
This year, we considered cities with a regional population over 600,000 (with a few exceptions because of their political and regional importance, and to keep things interesting). We ranked 122 cities. The top 20 are presented here.
As with the two previous indexes, this year offers surprises. Copenhagen and Amsterdam continue to dominate, but new cities storm into the top 20 at the expense of others.
Buenos Aires stomps the competition and nails the South American continent, at the expense of Rio de Janeiro, which seems to have lost interest. Europe continues to have a strong presence, though Germany is slacking—Berlin falls, Munich slips off the list entirely, and Hamburg is hanging on by a thread.
Asia is relaxing—not in a good way—with Tokyo and Nagoya exiting the list. Montreal clings desperately to 20th and now has North American competition in the form of Minneapolis, which makes its debut on the index. We can see other American cities fighting their way north.
You can read about our full methodology here, but the key to a top spot is clear. You need serious advocacy, bike facilities, social acceptance, and a general perception that cycling is safe. You get extra points for a higher modal percentage—the share of residents who get around by bike as opposed to car or public transit—and for a 50-50 gender split among cyclists.
Of course, infrastructure is key. In Denmark and the Netherlands, a set of rules has evolved over a century. Tried and tested and proven to work, this established best practice is the model for cities everywhere. It includes making protected, one-way bike lanes that aren’t shared by cars, buses, or pedestrians. It means designing streets to limit the number and speed of cars in city centers, making public spaces safe and welcoming for everyone, not just drivers.
So we are excited and proud to release the Copenhagenize Index 2015—our comprehensive inventory and ranking of the world’s 20 most bicycle-friendly cities.
2013 Ranking: 2
With regard to a uniform network of urban design for bicycles, Copenhagen is unrivaled in the world. The clear leadership we missed in the 2013 ranking is once again in place with the election of Morten Kabell as head of transportation.
Clear visions have emerged, and the city is again moving forward.
Copenhagen’s base score remains largely steady, with one notable exception. The city’s modal share leaped from 36 percent to 45 percent between 2012 and 2014. We’ve never seen that kind of jump in such a short time.Add to that continued investment in new infrastructure. A bicycle bridge over a motorway north of the city. Two new bridges over the canal opened in December 2014. Thefamous Cykelslangen (“bike snake”) elevated bike ramp has captured the citizens’ imagination and provided an important mobility link across the harbor. Four new bicycle bridges are on the way. Cross-town routes are being upgraded.
You simply can’t keep track of the new bicycle urbanism stuff in Copenhagen. High points in modal share increase and a good harvest of bonus points for that, as well as infrastructure and political will pushed Copenhagen into first place. Innovation. Investment. Improvement.
You know more space is the key to continued growth, so now is the time to be bolder than ever. Build wider cycle tracks and bicycle boulevards. People in cars who don’t even live in the municipality continue to enjoy free passage down your streets. It’s time to stem the tide. Learn from the lesson of the Greatest Urban Experiment and maintain the current rise in cycling levels after the Metro is finished.
2013 Ranking: 1
Amsterdam must act to show the world how to continue developing, otherwise other cities will take over the innovation role. Instead of constant grumbling over all those bikes, see it as an opportunity and a unique selling point.
It is time to tidy up. A more uniform network of bike infrastructure based on the best-practice strategies you know but fail to implement is the next long-term step. The same challenges face Amsterdam and Copenhagen regarding increasing cycling levels and creating the modern bicycle city. Copenhagen doesn’t have the key just yet, but at least it is investing and thinking long and hard about it. Amsterdam twiddles its thumbs and doesn’t really know where to go. Political will is required to move the city into the next level. If the city gets serious about proposals like these, it will be back on track.
Thinking about how to take cycling to the next level is Copenhagen’s trademark, but there is no reason Amsterdam shouldn’t be able to compete. Copenhagen’s investment in many new bridges over the harbor should be direct inspiration for Amsterdam to do the same. Fixing the ragtag spider’s web of curious infrastructure styles into something that is more intuitive is also a must.
2013 Ranking: 3
Utrecht seems to understand how to mix necessity with headlines, something that Amsterdam is still figuring out. The world’s largest bike parking facility, with space for 12,500 bikes, is under construction and brilliant. When the city figures out how to get rid of the long stretches of brain-rattling cobblestones and to make a more intuitive and uniform infrastructure network, it will certainly step out of Amsterdam’s shadow.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Speaking with city planners, the same thing is said in Utrecht as in many Dutch cities. Bikes—and in particular bike parking—are a “problem”. When Utrecht realizes that it is a “problem” that other cities are begging for and sees it as an opportunity, the city has the potential to redefine an urban landscape where bicycles are king. The step toward a legendary bike parking facility shows the city is keen to be a leader, but there is more to it than parking spots.
2013 Ranking: New
What Strasbourg has achieved is the result of a generation of planners who insisted on cycling as transport. Cycling in Strasbourg is a pleasant affair and, as it should be, the quickest way from A to B. There are 333 miles of cycle routes in the city and surrounding metro area, and the city has a unique bike-share system: Vélhop lets you get a bike from docking stations but also has long-term rental.
We don’t think we’ve seen a city with so many bike-share bikes on the streets, including many customized with kids’ seats and baskets. The city enjoys 15 percent modal share in the city center and 8 percent in the metro area. It is unique in that there are more cargo bikes than in most cities in Europe.
There is consistent political will to at the least maintain current cycling levels. What remains to be seen is whether the city can take things to the next level and achieve the cycling rates seen in the Netherlands and Denmark. France—indeed every country—needs a leader to follow. One city that insists on improving and provides inspiration for the rest. Strasbourg has rested on its laurels for a number of years. Now is the time to go further.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]The foundation for Strasbourg’s success is the fact that it has borrowed freely from German cities in the region. The Germans are, however, not exactly the best role model when it comes to bicycle infrastructure. If Strasbourg wants to move to the next level, it’s time to look long and hard at the Netherlands and Denmark.
The network, a strange combination of infrastructure styles, only makes sense if you live there. When uniformity is brought to the equation and serious decisions are made, there will be no reason why Strasbourg shouldn’t be able to fly through the 30 percent modal share barrier.
2013 Ranking: 8Floating Roundabout captured our imagination, and we are looking forward to seeing what else the city can produce that is functional and iconic.
Eindhoven’s upward swing in this version of the index is due to the lack of innovation by the cities above it, rather that its own efforts. The classic Dutch status quo is firmly in place in the city. Eindhoven can take solace in the fact that other, smaller Dutch cities, like Nijmegen and Groningen, are not included in the ranking.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]We said it in 2013, and we’ll say it again: If the city could pull the Floating Roundabout out of its hat, there should be no limit to what else it can achieve.
2013 Ranking: 9
A highlight since 2013 was the opening of a bicycle parking facility at the train station that makes even Copenhagen look awkward. Since 2013 there has been continued focus on investment. Many of the city’s projects over the past few years remain impressive when measured against global competition. Its “No Ridiculous Car Trips” behavioral campaign is still a benchmark for communication.
The city remains balanced on helmet promotion, in contrast to Stockholm and Gothenburg, which serves to encourage cycling. Despite a rise in the ranking, we have heard of a waning interest from politicians to keep moving forward. Investment risks being reallocated and plans for more visionary projects are becoming fewer and farther between. When you come this far, you don’t stop.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Still, Malmö insists, in some places, on substandard infrastructure solutions that do not encourage the development of a coherent network and, by extension, an increase in cycling levels. More investment will ensure Malmö’s leadership role in Sweden, as well as among cities of a similar size in the rest of Europe.
Not capitalizing on that would be silly. When a city has been so visionary, it is a harder fall when the wheels stop rolling.
2013 Ranking: 6
We’re impressed by the efforts from the city and the diversity of projects it has implemented. Not just infrastructure but services and a clear collaboration with local associations. The city is also dedicated to traffic calming, which only serves to make cycling a more attractive option. The main boulevard is now virtually car-free for through traffic, and the city has put in a demonstrative cycle track down the middle.
It’s certainly not anywhere near best practice, but the iconic value is important. It is clear that the city is putting its money where its mouth is. Where scores of other cities around the world are content with baby steps like putting in one cycle track on one street, Nantes is going all in. It understands not just the necessity of modernizing its transport for rising urbanization but also the branding value of being a city that is changing fast for the future. It’s chasing Strasbourg and competing with Bordeaux for becoming France’s best city for cycling. Momentum provides a tailwind.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Nantes will not increase its modal share further without a commitment to best practice infrastructure. It gets so many things right apart from this. French planners and traffic engineers are simply not equipped to plan for cycling and, as in many large countries, they are reluctant to seek inspiration across borders.
Cycling in Nantes is confusing and not very intuitive, due to the variety of infrastructure designs. When the city decides to seek uniformity, it will advance further down the bicycle urbanism superhighway.
A clear hierarchy between traffic users is needed city-wide, and bidirectional cycle tracks only serve to make things confusing for all citizens. The city needs to make the bicycle the fastest transport form from A to B—it’s not quite there yet—and only then will it harvest the fruit.
2013 Ranking: 8
What it has achieved in the past few years is still remarkable. A firm investment in infrastructure and facilities has given Bordeaux a brilliant bicycle urbanism boost.
Bordeaux continues to take bicycle transport seriously. Its investment in several tram lines has helped boost cycling by providing a traffic calming effect. The VCub bike-share system rolls on, and Bordeaux is still focused on marketing cycling to the mainstream as opposed to the subcultures through effective advocacy. A great gender split rounds off a respectable score.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]The rapid success of Bordeaux as a cycling city has waned slightly. A great baseline has been established, but it seems the focus on taking it further is lacking.
Connecting up the network with better infrastructure and continuing to calm traffic are obvious steps for City Hall to consider. With other French cities getting their game face on, Bordeaux has every reason to take a leadership role.
2013 Ranking: 7
Clear influences from across the border in the Netherlands have given the city an impressive modal share for bicycles, and the bicycle as transport is embraced by all ages and wages. There are ample parking facilities around the city, and the train station parking remains one of the best in Europe. The citizens have excellent opportunities to use bike-share systems.
But the positive politics that came out of City Hall up until the last index in 2013 have dried up with the last election. There is actually talk from current politicians about how to get more cars into the city center. Seriously. In 2015.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Like everywhere else, Antwerp has urbanization challenges. That increasing cars in the city is even being discussed is as sad as it is comical. There is no reason the city couldn’t reach cycling levels that would rival Amsterdam and Copenhagen. All the pieces of the puzzle are in place. It wouldn’t require much imagination to make it happen.
2013 Ranking: 4
The foundation that was laid is still in place, but Seville slips to a respectable 10th place from a lofty fourth. The status quo that affects all manner of cities seems to have slowed the development pace. Shooting for 15 percent or more shouldn’t be a problem, and should be a priority.
Seville is still interesting, but by resting on its laurels it will lose momentum, and the world will seek out inspiration elsewhere. One positive note is that the rest of Andalusia is looking to copy Seville’s success and hopes to roll out an impressive regional network of cycling infrastructure. That doesn’t help Seville in this ranking though.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]We are aware that local politics factor into the equation in Seville, like anywhere else. Cycling for transport should be a cross-party goal. Seville needs to make a clear plan for how it can take its hard work and push it forward.
It needs to find the momentum again, and that comes from political will and investment. Seville is in a position that cities around the world are begging to be in. Keep building, developing, and investing. Don’t be that city that did something great once. Be the city that keeps doing something great.
2013 Ranking: 17
The city has employed a mixture of traffic-calming measures and infrastructure to make it great to choose a bicycle for transport. It is one of the cities in the world with the largest swathe of 30 km/h zones, and while the bicycle infrastructure network is far from complete, it is usable and frequented.
The city’s bike-share program is one of the best on the planet as measured by usage rates, and it has helped boost cycling levels across the board. There is a high standard of intermodality in the city and surrounding metro area. The city’s “Superblocks” initiative may not be focused on bicycles, but it will certainly do wonders for cycling in the neighborhoods.
Barcelona is interesting to larger cities around the world who don’t find inspiration in smaller urban centers. It’s a big city, and when big cities do things they get noticed, which is brilliant for showing the world what is possible.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Barcelona’s development has slowed, but it certainly hasn’t stalled. There is continued focus on development of bicycle infrastructure and facilities.
What the city desperately needs is a plan to connect up the many bits and pieces of infrastructure and to truly make the bicycle the fastest way from A to B. The city would be well served by adopting best practice infrastructure instead of many half-hearted solutions. Traffic calming has positively affected cars, but the problem of scooters remains. Infrastructure is key.
2013 Ranking: 16
The cycling population is mainstream, with few visible subcultures and a healthy gender split. A high city-wide modal share is punctuated with neighborhoods that exceed 20 percent. Cargo bikes abound in the city, a great indicator of growth. Berlin continues to toe the line with its place in the index.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]There is still an insistence in Berlin on investing in old-fashioned car infrastructure, particularly outside the city. For a fraction of the price, the city could upgrade its bicycle infrastructure and create much needed uniformity in its network.
Traffic calming is on the agenda, and Berlin should look to Paris and Barcelona for inspiration on this front. And more bike racks, please.
2013 Ranking: New
New developments have infrastructure planned in from the beginning. The city’s bike-share program helps make the bicycle a staple transport form for the citizens. We see serious political movement in Ljubljana to establish itself as one of the world’s great bicycle cities. The current 12 percent modal share is impressive, and with 83 miles of bike lanes and 45 miles of cycle tracks, Ljubljana is well positioned for further growth.
All the talk of becoming a green capital is great, but the bicycle will—as it always has—lead the way. Better infrastructure, better network. Think bicycle first.
14. Buenos Aires
2013 Ranking: New
In a shockingly short amount of time, the Argentine capital has succeeded in modernizing itself to include bicycles as transport. In the past three years, over 87 miles of bicycle infrastructure has been implemented—much of it protected—along with a bike-share program.
Buenos Aires proves the success of Seville was not a one-off. It has showed that with the right political will and investment, a large city can transform itself for the new millennium. It’s not all about the bike. Buenos Aires is focusing on the big picture, becoming a more livable city in general. Bus rapid transit lines, traffic-calmed streets, all good for city life and all good for putting the bike back on the landscape. At the moment, Buenos Aires is the city to watch.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Let’s be clear. Buenos Aires is very much a work in progress. Many of the protected bike lanes are narrow, bidirectional stretches along the curb, not the best part of the asphalt. Like in many emerging bicycle cultures, photos of obstacles in the bike lanes abound on the internet.
The seeds have been planted, the garden is growing, but now the city must cultivate it. The bicycle is competitive as a transport form but to go from here, the city needs to invest in high-quality infrastructure and best-practice solutions. More space for bicycle infrastructure, better facilities, and a better connected network are the next steps.
2013 Ranking: 10
Dublin seems to be suffering from the same apathy as other cities that have made impressive progress, sliding a few places down the index. What Dublin has achieved over the past few years is fantastic. The perfect cocktail of politicians who get it, investment in infrastructure and facilities, traffic-calming measures, and an epic bike-share system accelerated the city’s journey to urban modernization. You can’t take that away from Dublin, but you could wish for another period of concerted effort.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]The National Transport Authority has been putting its back into it, but the City of Dublin hasn’t been lifting its share. Building upon its successes is of paramount importance. Choosing substandard infrastructure along the quays is not exactly the way to go. The bike-share program rocks, but now a comprehensive network and bicycle strategy should be developed and followed to the letter.
2013 Ranking: New
Vienna has been slowly but steadily working towards making the city better for cyclists. Outside the traffic-calmed center, there are cycle tracks and facilities that put many other cities around the world to shame. The competition is tougher in Europe.
Vienna means well and acts upon that, but further development could easily be accelerated, especially given the positive attitude at City Hall. With that said, the city is one of the best on the planet to market urban cycling for the mainstream and to host events that appeal to regular citizens as opposed to subcultures.
Other points worth mentioning: The cargo bike armada is growing in numbers each year, the city is experimenting boldly with traffic-calmed streets, and there is a broad cultural acceptance.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Yes, we know the joke: When the world is ending, go to Vienna. Everything happens 50 years later there. We get it. But do we seriously have to wait 50 years for you to expand and upgrade your bike-share system? Or force your engineers to look up best practices for bicycle infrastructure? It can move quicker than that. You have the foundation; build on it.
2013 Ranking: 20
Few would have believed that Paris could have pulled it off, but it’s doing just that. The Vélib’ bike-share system firmly placed the bicycle back in the city and was embraced by the citizens. Traffic calming like 30 km/h zones and removing last-century car infrastructure helped continue the charge.
Paris lacks knowledge about designing infrastructure for cyclists, and its engineers and planners often choose substandard solutions that don’t make much sense. Nevertheless, the city is on the cusp of becoming a great cycling metropolis. Its modal share inside the ring road is 8 percent when measured by people arriving at work and school.
Cargo bikes are gaining in popularity, including logistics solutions for small-goods delivery. The city is keen to experiment—something that Copenhagen has benefited greatly from. The current mayor, Anne Hildalgo, has been talking the talk. She boldly declared that Paris will be the best bicycle city in the world by 2020. That won’t happen. Not by a long shot. But many aspects of Paris’ achievements are inspirational for other cities, and a Top 10 finish is within reach.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Paris doesn’t understand bicycle infrastructure well enough to make it the world’s best city for cycling. That point alone is its greatest weakness. There is no uniformity to its fledgling network.
A huge redesign of the intersection next to Montparnasse Tower, with wider sidewalks for pedestrians, completely ignored the needs of the modern urban cyclist. The city needs better intermodality, parking facilities, and links with the suburbs. If they want to be the best, they must think bicycle-first. It’s as simple as that.
2013 Ranking: New
The city boasts 120 miles of what it calls “on-street bikeways” and 90 miles of off-street lanes. The latter is less interesting for urban cycling, but Minneapolis is quickly becoming the go-to city in America for building infrastructure. An impressive (for America) modal share helped push it onto the index, and we like the political will coming out of City Hall.
A respectable bike-share system is helping cement the bicycle in the transportation foundation of the city. Seeds have been planted and a garden is growing. American cities—often content with baby steps—are in desperate need of leadership, and Minneapolis has emerged as a contender.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]We know Minneapolis is proud of its winter, and we love that a snowy American city is the one that makes the Top 20. Better infrastructure maintenance during the winter is key. Prioritize snow clearance on the bike infrastructure above all else.
What will help the city is to stop talking about the winter and to focus on getting a massive rise in ridership during the rest of the year. Minneapolis would do well to increase its commitment to protected infrastructure and to focus on making the continent’s best on-street network, and the first city NOT to feature sharrows. It’s hard to think out of the box in America regarding transport, but somebody has to do it. Why not Minneapolis?
2013 Ranking: 15
We have actually heard a city planner say that he doesn’t want to have protected bike lanes. With a straight face. The city is seemingly content with its status quo of weird infrastructure that alternates between road and sidewalk without any logic, and that isn’t maintained in the winter.
The city received bonus points for traffic calming with its plans to make the center car-free in the coming years, which helped it stay on the list. As far as modal share goes, there are few cities outside Europe that can compete.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]Fix your bizarre infrastructure, Hamburg. Keep cyclists safe with the best-practice solutions that are to be found just to the south in Amsterdam and to the north in Copenhagen. Your bold goals for a car-free city center are great—if you pull it off—but you need to construct a solid and sensible network of infrastructure for bicycles to lead there.
2013 Ranking: 13
The city continues to impress, despite slipping in the rankings. A strong gender split—unusual for North America—and stretches of decent infrastructure with impressive numbers of cyclists using them each day keep Montreal’s baseline firm. A great bike-share system and consistent advocacy adds to the cocktail. Montreal is hanging on to its spot, but it won’t take much to slip further now that so many cities around the world have their game faces on.[button style=’yellow’ icon=’iconic-right’]Getting Better:[/button]The brilliant visions that have come out of the Plateau borough have failed to replicate across the city at large. Politicians need to force planners and especially engineers to improve and to plan a network that makes sense for the next 100 years.
Again, best practice is often ignored, which is regrettable. Better winter maintenance is a must, cycle tracks along main arteries should be a no-brainer (especially with the shocking state of the asphalt on the roads), and feel free to borrow traffic-calming inspiration from Paris and Barcelona.
This feature originally appeared in Wired.