How do you determine a cycle friendly city? The scientific way is the Copenhagenize Index. It looks at a number of variables including commitment to infrastructure, modal share and gender split. Another is to go from personal experience.
We’ve listed some of our favourites below that are leading the way with the cycling experience and taking it from the domain of the few to becoming the norm.
Lauded in the US as a cycling mecca, Portland is a great place to cycle. The city as a whole has an ethos of alternativism, and it may well have adopted cycling originally as a way of counter the heavy automobile culture in the rest of the country. This is not to say there are no cars in Portland, there are loads, but it is not the only way to get around, as it can be in other major cities.
Portland has been investing heavily in bike lanes and infrastructure, increasing its modal share to just over 7% in recent years. It recently opened a new bridge (one of 12 in the city) which is pedestrian and tram only. There are many, many bike shops and many bicycle companies based in the city. In major shopping and dinning neighbourhoods there are lots of bike racks, and there are public bike tools and pumps dotted all over. From personal experience, cycling in the city just feels normal and generally welcoming.
There is no way you can not include this city on any list of bike love. Cycling is one of the main things you would associate with Amsterdam and is a natural fit for the city. There are bikes everywhere and they seem to dominate traffic and dictate what every other road user does.
What is interesting for other cities is that the bicycle became so popular partly in response to an increase in deaths related to car crashes. The bike had previously dominated and residents felt it should again – this is a really interesting article about this form of bike activism and inclusion in city infrastructure.
As London cyclists we are all too aware of the problems faced by cyclists in London – from the accidents, to bad infrastructure and impatient drivers. However, things have been improving and major new projects are seeing a new wave of cyclists join in on the roads. This includes the cycle superhighways and the cycle hire scheme.
In particular, the recent protected lanes along the Embankment and over some of the bridges are completely packed at rush hour and have already proven their worth in getting people out on bikes who would not normally cycle through central London. 32% of road use during rush hour is bicycles, some road seeing as much as 70% of the traffic composed of bikes. Importantly, it is becoming more ‘normal’ to cycle in London, something that will allow bicycle use and related infrastructure to increase as well, provided there is as much government backing going forward as there has been in recent years.
Often considered the cycling capital of the UK in terms of modal share and bike ownership, Cambridge is more akin to continental cities than it is other British ones. What is interesting is that this has all happened without any real infrastructure. The council is putting in protected lanes and formal cycle parks now, but bikes have always been a stalwart in the city. Bikes are everywhere and cycling to town, the park or the pub is more normal than walking, almost.
The lower levels of formal infrastructure mean Cambridge does not score well on the Copenhagenize Index yet. I think the reason it does well as a cycling city is it’s small size and Victorian street plan which is somewhat inherently bike friendly simply because it is so car unfriendly. That and bikes allow students to get to lectures quickly and get home from the pub.
Minneapolis is often vying for the title of bike capital of the US, although it usually gets pipped by Portland (and most recently New York).
They have had a bike scheme for 6 years now, and many cycle routes through parks. However, they want to increase the modal share for bicycles and unseat Portland. There are lots of disused railway lines in Minneapolis ripe for conversion, and they also intend to put in lots of protected cycle lanes. The government is well behind cycling and this is vital to any city, so it should be an interesting few years for potential cyclists in the city.
A smaller city, Utrecht has bike love and integration down.The modal share for bike use is well over 60% and bikes are prioritised when it comes to urban planning. Bikes are just a normal form of transport, and used somewhat akin to walking around.
In a city with so many bikes, finding somewhere to leave it can be a problem. They are fixing that with mega parking facilities, including a garage to hold over 12,500 bikes.
This city seems to be considered the cycling capital of France. The city planners have long put cycling high in the agenda and it shows. There are over 500km of cycling routes in and around the city. This means it is well connected and allows for good commuting routes into work. The bike share scheme is very popular and can also provide bikes with child seats – something other bike share programs are missing.
A mention should also be given to the actual French capital. Paris has one of the original bike share schemes which is very popular. There are also lots of cycle lanes and infrastructure at busy junctions.
Bike ownership is not very high in Barcelona, and it has not really traditionally been a bicycling city. However, it has one of the most successful and heavily used bike share schemes in the world. The temporary nature of borrowing a bike when needed clearly fits in well with the city. This is not to say that people do not ride their own bikes, its just not a very high percentage compared to other cities in this list – I certainly saw quite a few when I was there a couple of years ago.
Buenos Aires, AR
Buenos Aires seems to have woken up one day and decided it should have some bike lanes, so built 140km of them. They also have a bike scheme to use on them. As the city is pretty flat, it works well for cycling regardless of fitness. Apparently it still has a little way to go, but the unique thing about this city is that when they decided it need modernising, they looked to making it more liveable and cycle friendly, rather than figuring out how to get more cars into the centre.
Last but not least we have the Danish capital. The inspiration for the Copenhagenize Index, the city has been investing in cycling for a while now. Cycling infrastructure is just a natural consideration when it comes to town planning. The great thing about it is that it is uniform and consistent. In other cities the different designs for junctions can be confusing and off-putting. Not so much here. If nothing else, you can just follow the utter hoards of people going the same way as you!
They recently saw a huge jump in modal share – 9% in two years apparently – far more than any other city has seen. It shows that all the hard work has been paying off. It seems that the more attention the city gets for great infrastructure, the more they invest in making it even better. Time for a holiday I think…
What would go in your list of the most cycle friendly cities?