Cycling Copenhagen: The Making of a Bike-Friendly City

European Mobility Atlas 2021

Providing people with the options to safely walk, bike or use public transportation is paramount not only in creating a green and sustainable city, but also a liveable, people-friendly city.

Direct, Fast, Safe (Copenhagen)
Teaser Image Caption
Cycle superhighways, as an add-on to local cycling infrastructure, are beneficial on various levels: decreasing congestion, lowering the amounts of CO₂ and NOx and improving health.

Over the last 60 to 70 years, cities have been designed around the car, trying to get as many cars as possible into and through our cities. Nowadays, the vehicle that was supposed to provide freedom in mobility is stuck in traffic, taking up a lot of space in cities, polluting the air, contributing to climate change and making people sick from both noise and lack of exercise.

Cities are realising that we need to change the paradigm and focus on allowing as many people as possible to live and move through our cities in a sustainable way. This means redesigning streets and cities, and prioritising public transport, cycling and walking.

Copenhagen is known for being a city of cyclists. Its residents do not ride bicycles because they have some special cycling gene or because they care more about the environment than other people. They ride because it’s safe, fast and easy to get around by bike in the city in their daily lives. They do it because Copenhagen is designed and built for cycling.

This is linked to the fact that Copenhagen has had, and still has today, politicians with visions of a liveable, people-friendly, sustainable and CO-neutral city and who have thus invested accordingly in cycling infrastructure and facilities and have created policies that favour bicycles.

Distribution of transport in Copenhagen
The bicycle has become the most important means of transport in the Capital Region of Denmark and numbers keep on growing.

In the 1970s, Copenhageners demonstrated outside City Hall in Copenhagen, demanding that cycling also be prioritised after the car had become more and more dominant during the 1950s and 60s. Authorities and planners listened and the bicycle subsequently began to be an important part of traffic planning in the city.

This has resulted in a steadily increase in cycling over the ensuing decades. The goal is for 50 percent of all trips to work and education in Copenhagen to be made by bike by 2025. In 2018, they reached 49 percent. Out of all trips made to, from and in the City of Copenhagen, 28 percent were in 2018 made by bicycle (32 percent by car, 21 percent walking and 19 percent public transport). In the inner city, bicycles outnumbered cars in 2016.

The backbone of a city designed for cycling is a network of protected bike lanes. In Denmark, unidirectional bike lanes are separated from both the pavements and the road by a kerb. Protected bike lanes are a must when the volume and speed of vehicle traffic is high. Without them, women and children are less likely to cycle, meaning cycling will never be for everybody.

Every cycling trip ends with a parked bicycle and thus it’s very important to make sure bicycle parking is available everywhere in the city. The facilities can vary in quality depending on how long the bicycles are parked at a specific location. The longer, the more cover and service needed.

The bicycle and public transportation are a match made in heaven. Bikes bring people to and from public transport and public transport adds distance to your reach as a cyclist. To make the match successful, it’s important to make the transition from one mode to the other easy and pleasant.

Small design features like footrests at intersections, tilted garbage bins, cyclist counters and bicycle air pumps cater for cyclists in the urban space and make cyclists feel welcome. Waves of successive green traffic lights and other Intelligent Transport System (ITS) solutions make for smoother, faster and more enjoyable cycling through a city.

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 turned out to be a window of opportunity for cycling. Cities and transport providers around the world are redesigning the streets and public transportation to adapt to the new situation in which we have to keep our distance to avoid spreading the virus.

In order to avoid ‘carmageddon’ and provide people with alternatives to public transportation, cities around the world are widening the pavements and closing streets to cars to make space for pedestrians and people queuing outside. So-called pop-up bike lanes have been rolled out across the world to provide people with the option of cycling for transportation.

In just three weeks, the City of Berlin put in 12 km of new protected bike lanes. They are designed like road works, which makes it possible to avoid the normal administration processes. Met with overall positive feedback at an early stage, time will tell if these efforts can be maintained and made permanent in the future.

Car-free and carefree
Copenhagen is leading the way, but citizens everywhere are starting to push for car-free cities as well.

Sources for data and graphics: Der Tagesspiegel, Ein Fünftel der Deutschen steigt öfter aufs Fahrrad, Jutta Maier,; Office for cycle superhighways, Cycle superhighways,; Københavns Kommune, Cykelredgørelse 2020,