Encouraging the use of bicycles



Country: a) Northern Europeb) Denmark
Type: Policy, 1
Area: City/Town, 100,000 - 1 mill.
Actors: Local government
Funding: Local government
Topics: Cycling resources
Objectives: Increase non-motorised mobility
Increase public awareness
Reduce car mobility
Reduce car parks


Since the 1980s the city of Copenhagen has established new bicycle routes in order to encourage more people to use this environmentally friendly mode of transport. The extension of the network is planned to be completed in the year 2000. In addition, a project of free city bikes was initiated which aims to increase bicycle use in the city centre. This policy can be regarded as an example of good practice for the following reasons:

Background and objectives

Copenhagen is a city with a long cycling tradition. Cycling is regarded as a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to other modes of transport. Contrary to previous approaches the present infrastructure for cycling is based on cycle tracks along both sides of the main roads. At the beginning of the century, cyclists either had to ride on the edge of the bridle- tracks or on uneven cobblestones, together with horse-drawn vehicles, omnibuses and a slowly growing number of cars. As the city expanded, the population grew and traffic changed and bicycles and trams dominated the streets of Copenhagen. By the 1950s the network of cycle tracks was expanded to 200 km. When post-war bicycle traffic in Copenhagen reached its absolute maximum around 1950, some of the main streets served so many cyclists that there was not enough space for tracks.

However, in the following 15 years mobility patterns were reversed, a dramatic fall in the number of cyclists and a rise a car traffic occurred. This is mainly due to migration of inhabitants from the central parts of Copenhagen to suburbs and, in consequence, travelling distances increased. Although a new suburban train system was built, a growing number of people made themselves dependent on a car.

The role of the cycle track gradually changed when transport planners argued that cyclists have to be kept clear of the roadway in order to give way for car traffic. Safety and security problems grew. Especially at intersections, capacity problems occurred, and cycle tracks which used to run all the way up to the intersection were shortened by some 20-30 metres to give room for cars turning right. Cyclists had to mix with cars, which was not a very safe situation, however no more dangerous from a statistical point of view.

Building of new cycle tracks decreased in the 1960s and 70s, and solutions using back streets were suggested to avoid interfering with car traffic on the main roads. However, none were implemented. Many Copenhagen citizens, especially younger people, were opposed to such a policy as they thought that the bicycle still had potential as a daily means of transport in the city. After huge demonstrations organised by the Danish Cyclist Federation and pressure from citizens, bicycles were again on the agenda. The politicians in power were not very eager, but gradually, building cycle tracks on main roads was taken up again in the 1980s. Since then the main objective has been to strengthen the commitment to issues of cycling in municipal transport planning. The policy to offer free city bikes was included in the local transport policy in the mid-1990s.


Project date and status

The improvement of Copenhagen's cycling infrastructure is an on-going project which started after the policy U-turn at the end of the 1980s. In addition the city's free bike project was started in 1995.


Attractiveness of cycling mainly depends on the infrastructure available. The City of Copenhagen has therefore adopted a strategy to put into practice a number of innovative measures. The following principles have been applied:


Activities are directed in three directions: building new cycle routes, improvement of safety and security and expanding the city bike scheme:

  1. a network of 'green' cycle routes is being planned and the first 1 km opened in Autumn 1997. The green routes are as independent of other traffic as possible, also offering cyclists going long distances a more quiet environment. The green routes will supplement, but in no way replace, cycle tracks along roads;
  2. some of the very busy streets which were formerly thought to be impossible to provide with tracks were reconstructed, amongst other things by incorporating new sewage systems and moving the kerbs. These projects were rather expensive, but meant a major improvement of cyclists' situation;
  3. public awareness campaigns in favour of cycling as an environmentally friendly compatible mean of transport will be initiated (e.g. yet unidentified needs for company bicycles, highlighting new infrastructure for bicycles, e.g. cycle parking at public transport terminals).


Copenhagen is actively participating in a network project, the Car Free Cities Network. This network is open to all European cities and already includes more than 50. Amongst a number of working groups one has bicycling on the agenda. The idea is to exchange experience between the cities involved.

Financing and resources used

The main source of funding is from the municipal budget for transport. In the case of cycling there has to be re-allocation of funds previously used for measures to improve car driving. So far the total investment might be regarded as a lot of money, but compared to the costs of a few kilometres of motorway, a ring road or a tunnel, it is only moderate. There are estimation that the construction of the cycling infrastructure from scratch in the City of Copenhagen (½ million inhabitants in the central municipality), would cost DKK 1 billion (DM 250 million/ECU 100 million).

Results and impacts

Currently, the free 'City Bike' project has a stock of nearly 2,000 vehicles which can be obtained from stands all over the city by paying a small deposit of 20 DKK. The project started with 1,000 cycles in 1995 and the final goal will be 5,000 bicycles.

Currently there exist altogether 300 km cycle tracks. In the next 15 years, 50 km more are planned. By the year 2000 22 km of new cycle paths should be completed.

In 1995 34% of home to place of work trips were made by bicycle.

In densely-built areas, having cycle tracks on both sides of the road (instead of a two-way bicycle path on one side) is preferable from a safety point of view.

Barriers and conflicts

The city of Copenhagen has had some bad experience with 'back street' solutions. In 1995 an experiment was carried out when a bicycle route was implemented using back streets in a high density residential area. As it was not possible to 'move' at least some of the cyclists from the main road, this solution was abandoned as a new general principle for further improvements for cyclists in Copenhagen. Niels Jensen from the City of Copenhagen's Road Division gives the following advice to other cities: "The routes must be direct to busy main streets. It is a mistake to hope the routes will be used if the back streets are not made safe and secure. This may include measures such as speed reductions for cars and restrictions on car parking to give room for cyclists. However, facilities along busy main roads are in my opinion the best solution for cyclists." (EA.UE 1998: 67)

Lessons learned And transferability

Niels Jensen from Copenhagen City Council's Road Division draws the conclusion that it is not very easy to transfer local practice to another city, in particular if cycling is less accepted as a mode of transport: "A bicycle infrastructure as in Copenhagen may be very difficult to introduce in cities with no or little cycling tradition, as in many eastern and central European cities. It may even be difficult to build a few cycle routes, as space is limited and there are no cyclists to take over the space. On the other hand, it is not possible to build up cycle traffic until safe and secure facilities forming a basic network are available.

The common situation will often be that bicycling infrastructure has to be financed entirely by a city itself. That implies a long term plan and typically just a few routes for a start. A survey may show areas with some bicycling, and one or a few such areas may be chosen for a pilot project. A pilot project may help to gain experience on how the bicycle infrastructure will be accepted and may help to avoid wasting money. Routes could, for example, be built from housing areas to the nearest stations/tram stops, including also providing protected bicycle parking. Another possibility could be to select working areas where a bicycle path could offer good conditions for commuting in a limited area. Schools or universities could be yet another goal, as the only individual means of transport for children and young people is the bicycle. Money should be spent in selected places offering good facilities and not be wasted by painting a lot of cycle lanes which will not be respected by car drivers." (citied from EA.UE 1998: 67)

In summary, the following basic lessons are worth sharing by cities which would like to improve their infrastructure for cycling:

Source of Information

City of Copenhagen / City Engineering Directorate, (ed.) 1996: Copenhagen traffic - Plans and visions, Copenhagen

City of Copenhagen / The Lord Mayor's Department, (ed.) 1997: Traffic and Environment Plan for Copenhagen, Copenhagen

EA.UE 1998: Urban transport in central and eastern Europe. Policy handbook, Berlin

The Car Free Cities Network, (ed.) 1996: Report from the Car Free Cities' Conference 96 in Copenhagen, Copenhagen


Telefon:+45 / 33 / 66 45 69
Telefax:+45 / 33 / 66 71 03
Address:City of Copenhagen
Road Division
Islands Brygge 37
DK - 2300 Copenhagen


Copenhagen :

The City of Copenhagen covers an area of 88.2 square kilometres. It is a densely populated city with 5,316 residents per square kilometre. The Copenhagen Municipality is the seat of the Government and Parliament, as well as of a number of supervisory institutions. It is the centre of finance and commerce.

After the dissolution of the Greater Copenhagen Council in 1990 the municipality of Copenhagen has assumed responsibility for certain regional tasks for the central parts of Greater Copenhagen and the neighbouring areas of the region of north-eastern Zealand. The City has a considerable proportion of older and small-sized houses which were built before 1945. Housing areas consist mainly of residential blocks, while single-family houses only have a share of 7% of the buildings. The population of Copenhagen consists of a relatively high proportion of elderly and young people. The number of households is 265,850.



Project was added at 01.12.1998
Project was changed at 01.12.1998

Extract from the database 'SURBAN - Good practice in urban development', sponsored by: European Commission, DG XI and Land of Berlin
European Academy of the Urban Environment · Bismarckallee 46-48 · D-14193 Berlin · fax: ++49-30-8959 9919