THE MOST BICYCLE-FRIENDLY CITIES OF 2019
AS TRENDS COME and go, simple design stands the test of time. And nowhere is that more evident these days than in urban mobility. With everything from autonomous cars to dockless pogosticks vying to be the next big thing, the bicycle continues to shine as the most efficient, practical, and reliable solution to urban mobility. Many cities are taking note, building infrastructure and expanding facilities to accommodate the bicycle as an everyday mode of transportation while improving urban livability.
Some more so than others.
To track the pro-cycling efforts and initiatives taken by cities around the world, we present the Copenhagenize Index, a comprehensive and holistic ranking of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities. For this fifth edition of the Index, published biennially since 2011, we have evaluated and ranked over 115 cities from around the world using 14 parameters that focus on ambition, culture, and streetscape design. (Read about our methodology here.)
The three-horse race at the top is as close as ever, and while Copenhagen retains the top spot, Amsterdam has knocked Utrecht out of second place with recent bold steps. All three remain role models for all of the friendly competition below. And it’s no longer only the Danish and Dutch cities that are really taking the bicycle seriously. The second pack sees a tightening gap between Antwerp, Strasbourg, and Bordeaux. Behind them, Oslo has shot up in the ranking over the last four years, and Index newcomers like Bogotá, Bremen, Taipei, and Vancouver are showing other cities how possible it is to make urban centers better for the bicycle. Just outside the Top 20 sit a number of cities all on the cusp of breaking through, each requiring sustained investment and implementation of bicycle innovations to see better rankings in 2021.
Until then, though, these are the world’s 20 most bicycle-friendly cities.
The Lowdown: The numbers make things easy: 62 percent of inhabitants’ trips to work or school are by bike. Copenhageners cycle 894,000 miles every day. More than $45 per capita in bicycle infrastructure investments. Four bicycle bridges built or under construction. One hundred and four miles of new regional cycle highways. And as we saw in the 2018 municipal elections, parties running on a pro-car platform don’t stand a chance. Now we just need someone to remind the Lord Mayor.
The Fixes: A series of political decisions, at all scales, have put the future of Copenhagen’s cycling reputation in question. Municipal spending limits imposed by the national government have impacted infrastructure expansion, and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, strong political leadership on sustainable mobility has been absent since the latest election, resulting in a lower priority to invest in cycling. Lower in priority, even, than car parking. The city will need to find a way out of this mess if it wants to serve as a global inspiration in years to come.
The Lowdown: It’s 2019, and Amsterdam is back in the game. Having dropped down to third place last time around, the Dutch capital shows us how a city can recognize when things are slipping and pull themselves back up. Since the last index, the city has released an ambitious new plan for 2022 that focuses on improving bicycle parking and existing bicycle infrastructure. With 11,000 new inhabitants every year, Amsterdam is creating new “royal routes” to accommodate more bicycles. To reduce stress during rush hour, they’re widening existing cycle tracks to more than eight feet, building more low-speed cycle streets, and redesigning major intersections to allow for more protected cycling space.
The Fixes: With all of this planning and political repositioning, it is now time to see the city follow through and implement this vision for the Amsterdam of the 2020s. Perhaps with additional connections for bicycles, wider facilities, clearer wayfinding, and stricter enforcement of mopeds in the cycle tracks, Amsterdam can kick Copenhagen off its perch in 2021, and take back the throne.
The Lowdown: It’s hard to stand out as a bicycle-friendly city in the Netherlands, but Utrecht shines with a willingness to embrace innovation and push boundaries. As with many Dutch cities, Utrecht benefits from world-class cycling infrastructure, high bicycle modal shares, convenient intermodality, and riders of all stripes. But where the city really impresses is in innovation and political will. A significant portion of the increase in bicycle modal share comes at the expense of car use. Politicians in this growing city pursue cycling as a mode of transportation to the fullest potential, prioritizing pedaling over driving, aiming to double bicycle commuting traffic by 2030.
The Fixes: Utretcht’s infrastructure isn’t always intuitive for visitors. Improving the consistency and intuitiveness of on-street infrastructure by way of an improved wayfinding system could benefit commuters and visitors alike. And while the new parking at the central station has filled a huge demand, there’s an increasing frustration among residents at the lack of bicycle parking spaces in the city center.
The Lowdown: Over the past two years, Antwerp has built upon its well-established reputation as a bicycle-friendly city. The trifecta of visionary grassroots initiatives, professional expertise, and municipal action have driven the city forward. The city’s recent bicycle plan has focused work to improve and connect the cycling network through intersection improvements, traffic light management, and an aim to lower speed limits to 30 km/h (18.6 mph) on 95 percent of all streets. Targeting commuter trips, Antwerp has expanded bicycle parking at train stations and is working to expand a network of cycle highways connecting to the wider region. And these strategies and investments are making a difference: Antwerp’s bicycle modal share rose from 29 to 33 percent from 2014 to 2018, with a slight majority of female bicycle commuters.
The Fixes: It's time for the political parties of Antwerp to finally acknowledge the role of cycling as a modern and efficient mode of transportation, prioritizing it over single-occupant vehicles. A continued and expedited push to upgrade the cycling network as laid out in the recent bike plan is much needed. This is made obvious by a number of tragic crashes involving trucks or cars severely injuring or killing bicycle riders, and making headlines, in recent years.
The Lowdown: Strasbourg has long been recognized as France’s premier bicycle city. And as other French metropolises have taken note, it has maintained its top-ranking status by setting its sights beyond a centralized urban cycling network. The city’s new bicycle strategy focuses efforts on encouraging new riders, modernizing the existing network, expanding the Vélostras cycle highways into the surrounding suburbs, and tapping into the potential of cargo bikes.
The Fixes: The problem with that new strategy? It’s underfunded and contentious. Politicians need to recognize the importance of the bicycle and the needed investments to increase cycling throughout the city.
The Lowdown: Bordeaux remains in sixth place on this year’s Index, as it continues to innovate and maintain the bicycle as a high priority for transportation planning in the city. The last two years saw the banning of cars from the historic Pont de Pierre bridge, allowing for a 20 percent increase in bicycle traffic along the corridor. Strong political will has kept Bordeaux a city to watch in France, as the administration continues to remove car space in the core for sustainable transport options.
The Fixes: Bordeaux’s bicycle facilities do not follow a uniform consistency, which can confuse users. There is a need for more protected facilities as well, since only 22 miles of cycle tracks exist in contrast to the 60+ miles of painted lanes. In the near future, cycling must remain a high priority on the political agenda if things are to continue to improve, with higher-quality cycling links to farther-off communities within the metropolitan area.
The Lowdown: Norway’s capital jumped into the Top 20 in 2017 and surged into seventh position this time around. Oslo sets an example for all cities that have ever said they are too hilly or snowy to take bicycles seriously. With a concerted focus on the inner city, officials made the bold move in 2017 to ban cars from a chunk of the urban core, and significantly invest in traffic calming throughout the city while removing over 1,000 car parking spots between 2017 and 2018 for better biking and walking.
The Fixes: Although the city is constantly adding its signature red bicycle lanes, there are still far too many unprotected corridors, which is reflected in a poor perception of safety for new users. Oslo must continue full steam ahead with its commitments and investments if it is going to become a truly bicycle-friendly city in the coming years.
The Lowdown: After years of relying on shared bus and bike lanes to make up a significant part of its network, Paris is finally getting into gear and building out dedicated cycle tracks—including protected facilities on the Champs-Elysées. This new shift has bumped Paris up five spots from our 2017 Index. Against fierce opposition, local politicians have stood firm as they have opened new cycling facilities and seen impressive results, like cyclists representing 30 percent of traffic on the Rue Rivoli, and more children riding their bikes than ever before.
The Fixes: Although new infrastructure is key, more attention needs to be paid to the details of the facilities—how they connect at intersections, and how they cater to users of all ages and abilities. And enough with the confusing bidirectional cycle tracks. Additional funding should be put towards clear communication of the benefits of cycling for Parisians, supported by a strong brand identity for this amazing city. This goes hand in hand with helping to educate street users of all types on how to enjoy these new facilities.
The Lowdown: Vienna rocks into the Top 10 this time around by building upon its strengths. While the city continues with modest investments in on-street cycling infrastructure, the Austrian capital really stands out from the pack through innovative and constructive communication efforts and policy. Its 2018 campaign, #warumfährstDUnicht? (#whydontYOUcycle?) featured relatable people and clean graphic design to flip common excuses on their head. Even Vienna’s contemporaries in the Index could learn a thing or two about communications from this work.
The Fixes: It’s hard to see how Vienna could rank any higher without significant investments in safe and reliable cycling infrastructure. Expecting bicycle riders to share the lane with buses and taxis is outdated and unrealistic. You wouldn’t ask a pedestrian to walk down the middle of Neustiftgasse at rush hour, why should bicycle riders?10. Helsinki
With the ambitious goal of being the world’s best metropolis of sustainable transport, the Finnish capital, much like Paris, had set its sights set on a bicycle modal share target of 15 percent by 2020. Now at 11 percent with nearly equal gender split, it’s well on its way to becoming a northern leader. With over 800 miles of bicycle infrastructure and 12 miles of cycle highways (another 87 miles planned!), the city is targeting important corridors in the central core for a bicycle-oriented facelift like Hämeentie, a major boulevard to be reconstructed by 2020.
The Fixes: Despite the positive developments, Helsinki lacks a strong advocacy voice pushing the administration yet further and holding them to account. Inadequacies in funding could spell problems for all of Helsinki’s bold planning to meet 2025 goals, as a recent proposal to increase annual bicycle funding from 10 to 20 million euros was not achieved. Helmet usage is also very high, with messaging from the national government focusing on finger-wagging over increased funding for infrastructure. Additionally, the hugely popular bike share shuts down in the winter months, even though people continue to cycle.
The Lowdown: Bremen slides into the number 11 spot this year, boasting the highest bicycle modal share in Germany (25 percent), an expanding network of physically separated cycle tracks, and an innovative “bicycle district concept.” And we’re not alone in recognizing Bremen, as a recent national survey found the North German city to rank at the top of its class among cities of its size. With 418 miles of physically separated cycle tracks, residents can count on the bicycle as a convenient mode of transportation for everyday trips. The latest Green Mobility Plan passed in 2018 calls for continued growth, with eight premium cross-city cycle routes planned for 2025.
The Fixes: Despite the well-connected and far-reaching network of cycling infrastructure, many of the lanes still leave something to be desired. At just about 5 feet wide, they hardly accommodate passing, and can quickly become uncomfortable, even unsafe.
The Lowdown: An exciting city to watch roar into the Top 20 this year is the Colombian capital. Although still very much car-congested metropolis suffering from poor air quality, Bogotá most definitely deserves the points it has gained on this year’s Index. As a leader for people and bicycle-focused initiatives in South America, it has become world famous for popularizing the Ciclovía, a weekly Sunday activity that sees over a 60 miles of city streets closed to cars for citizens to romp around on foot or by bike.
The Fixes: For all of the positive pushes by city government, there is still a strong push for helmet usage by officials, probably due in part to the intensity of car traffic. Bogotá must make sure to follow through with many of its ambitious plans if it wants to see that modal share continue to rise, including a new wayfinding system for cyclists, new bicycle public policy, and new street design guidelines for cycling infrastructure.
The Lowdown: Despite a slip in this year’s ranking, the Catalan capital continues to serve as a model of urban mobility innovation. An expanding network and improved bike share scheme coupled with a willingness to experiment through pilot projects cements Barcelona into the top 20 for an eighth year in a row. Its recently updated Urban Mobility Plan strives to more than double its cycling network up to 190 miles by the end of the year.
The Fixes: It’s time to focus in on consistent, comfortable, and connected design standards. Update and widen some of the older bicycle lanes and ditch the unintuitive lanes running along sidewalks, and everyone will feel more comfortable. There are also still many gaps in the cycling network. Provide cycling routes along the coastline industrial area at the foot of Montjuïc and unlock a whole new potential for urban connectivity.
The Lowdown: Although the Slovenian capital city slid down a number of spots on the Index this year, it still most certainly deserves its space among the Top 20 in 2019 for its continued push for innovation and bicycle-friendly development. At 13 percent bicycle modal share, Ljubljana is a small city that continues to enjoy a cycling population of all ages and abilities, as a mainstream transport form for many.
The Fixes: Looking at where Ljubljana needs to pick up the pace if it hopes to stay in the Top 20, we see a number of issues surrounding bicycle parking across the city. Secured parking spaces, especially near transit and schools, can be hard to find, creating a barrier to entry for new riders. Outside of the center there are a number of interruptions to the cycling network, lacking design standards for protection and width, and maintenance problems through winter. These are no small things, but Ljubljana must address them if it truly wants to become bicycle friendly.
The Lowdown: The 2015 Volksentscheid Fahrrad was a much needed upset for urban mobility in the German capital. With more than 100,000 signatures, the 2015 referendum legally forced the Senate to build a more bicycle-friendly city. And now, Berlin hopes to live up to the ambitious decision with an updated bicycle plan.
The Fixes: We’re still waiting to see the results of the referendum come to fruition. The bike plan’s ambitious targets follow relatively vague timelines, awaiting more detailed strategies. The disjointed mix of bicycle infrastructure designs resulting from years of planners trying to squeeze bikes into a car centric paradigm needs to be updated with consistent and intuitive design standards. And in doing so, accommodate the growing armada of cargo bikes with sufficiently wide lanes.
The Lowdown: Tokyo has been a city of cyclists for many years, not because of the infrastructure or the official planning narrative, but rather because of its people. In the world’s largest metropolis, millions and millions of people bike, using their Mamachari utility bikes to carry goods, children, and themselves to the store, school, or train stations. Tokyo remains part of the cohort of the world’s best cycling cities this time around but has slipped a number of points while other cities push harder and innovate with greater strides.
The Fixes: Tokyo’s political establishment must recognize the merit of planning for the bicycle as transport and build out a badly needed protected network. This is a city with major demand and insufficient supply.
The Lowdown: Taiwan has long been the manufacturing center for the cycling industry, earning the title ‘the bicycle kingdom’. But it has only recently begun accommodating this chief export as a natural choice for urban mobility, breaking into the Top 20 for the first time this year. Taipei really picked up momentum in the last decade, launching the successful YouBike bike share scheme in 2009, starting to build a network of cycling infrastructure, and becoming the first Asian city to host Velo-City Conference in 2016. Now, with support for cycling from Mayor Ko, an observed equal gender split, and plans for tripling bike lanes in the city center by the end of the year, Taipei edges out the competition.
The Fixes: Air pollution is still one of the main issues facing residents. The expanding metro network and relatively few bike lanes have made a dent here, but if Taipei really wants to improve its air quality, diesel scooter and car traffic must be regulated more effectively.
18. Vancouver (tie)
The Lowdown: A new Top 20 entrant this year, Vancouver ties it up with Montreal as one of the few North American cities to push the boundaries and steadily innovate over the past few years when it comes to bicycle urbanism. While the bicycle culture in this laid-back Pacific metropolis is often associated with sport, things are steadily changing as recent administrations have made a concerted effort to focus on bicycles as transport, incorporating an all-ages-and-abilities design framework. With the highest city-wide bicycle modal share in Canada, Vancouver has been adding to its protected downtown bicycle network year after year, prioritizing major street corridors and heavy traffic bridges despite loud public bikelash.
The Fixes: Outside of the city centre, protected infrastructure on major corridors is practically nonexistent. Riders must rely mainly on a network of bicycle boulevards and cut-throughs. These are generally comfortable routes and some improvements are being made outside of the downtown, but many major corridors remain unprotected from high vehicle volumes.
18. Montreal (tie)
The Lowdown: As the only North American city to feature in our Index every year since 2011, the economic and cultural hub of French Canada has teetered on the edge of the Top 20 for a number of years now due to a lack of innovation. In 2017, Montreal went through a political upheaval with Mayor Valérie Plante winning a sweeping election on positive messaging surrounding bicycle infrastructure and new public transport investment.The new administration has put forward the boldest bicycle-focused project that Montreal has ever seen. The Réseau Express Vélo, would lay a network of 114 miles of protected uni-directional cycle tracks across the island, on top of the 50 or so miles of protected facilities today.
The Fixes: A majority of Montreal’s current facilities follow a design standard unchanged since the 1980s. Other parts of the network are also significantly lacking, with poorly painted bike lanes that have faded, protected facilities that evade important corridors for bicycle users, and the ongoing saga of Montreal’s terrible road surface conditions. How the new administration follows through in the coming years with its big vision will be the real test.
The Lowdown: Hamburg falls three spots this year, not necessarily by lack of effort, but by being beaten out by the competition. Germany’s northern metropolis is showing signs that it’s tired of the status quo and ready to take everyday cycling to the next level. At first glance, Hamburg’s inner city neighborhood’s give the impression of a true cycling city. With traffic calmed neighborhoods and a high concentration of bike share stations, one would be forgiven for thinking they were in a Dutch or Danish city. But look beyond, and the city struggles with sprawl, inconsistent infrastructure design, and the characteristic car-centric planning so familiar to German cities.
The Fixes: New bicycle parking, air pumps, bike share fleets, and off-street regional routes are all worthwhile investments. But when residents are polled, more than half respond saying that poor bicycle lanes keep them from riding. Sooner or later Hamburg will have to take space from automobiles for an expanding network of on-street bike lanes.