Where is the most cycle-friendly city in the world?
"A study shows that for every km cycled, society enjoys 16p profit while driving the same distance produces a loss of 10p"
The Dutch and Danish cycling utopias of Amsterdam, Groningen, Utrecht and Copenhagen are high up the list – but what about the rest of the world?
The future of cycling in the UK was dealt a bad hand when George Osborne’s Spending Review revealed a new commitment of £300m to cycling investment to 2020/21. While that might sound like a lot, it equates to around £1.40 per person per year in England (outside of London), and a significant step backwards from previous commitments to minimum funding of £10 per person per year. To put this in perspective, the average investment in the Netherlands is around €30 (£22) per person per year.
But while the UK government may be limiting the chances for British cities to become the most cycle-friendly in the world, across the globe many metropolises are taking huge steps to improve conditions for people on bikes. One Danish study reveals that for every kilometre cycled, society enjoys a 23 cent (16p) profit, while driving the same distance produces a net loss of 16 cents (10p). Of course, cycling also increases fitness, tackles stress levels and one less car on the road will help to lower pollution levels.
Cycling accounts for 48% of journeys in Amsterdam. Photograph: Giorgio Fochesato/Getty
Notable success stories come from the hailed Dutch and Danish cycling utopias, where investment into cycling is highest. But even they’ve had their share of problems. During the urban modernisation of cities after the second world war, cars became a dominating force on the streets of Copenhagen, and modal share of bicycles fell to as low as 10% before the city sought to tackle the problem through a combination of car-free days, the removal of parking spaces and pruning areas for pedestrian use. Today, Copenhageners on bikes account for over 50% of trips within the city centre; in Amsterdam, it’s 48% in the urban core, and in the university city of Groningen, bikes are used for 61% of all trips (rising to 70% of trips made to educational institutions). These cities are all obvious contenders for the most cycle-friendly crown, but there are other factors to consider besides numbers.
A study shows that for every km cycled, society enjoys 16p profit while driving the same distance produces a loss of 10p
Since 2011, Copenhagenize Design Company has analysed cities’ efforts to improve bikeability across a variety of factors including advocacy, infrastructure, social acceptance and modal share to create a biennial bike-friendly city index. “The rankings are based on data from the parameters, but we add added bonus points for things such as political will … [Parameters] plus expertise provides a more ‘now’ vision of what’s happening in a city, not just data,” says Mikael Colville-Andersen, chief executive of the company. Developed as a tool to determine the most effective initiatives for re-establishing the bicycle in the urban landscape, this year Copenhagenize scrutinised 122 cities with a population above 600,000. There are a few exceptions to those analysed, and less populated places with national significance – such as Malmö and Ljubljana – were included to provide a more well-rounded spread, and to limit Dutch and Danish cycling utopias from dominating the list.
Unsurprisingly, those cities still come out on top, and the Danish capital itself takes Copenhagenize’s first place, with Amsterdam and Utrecht running in close second and third. Copenhagen claimed Amsterdam’s spot at the top this year, after the city’s bike modal share jumped by 9% between 2012 and 2014. The city can also boast 5.2 bikes for every car in the city, and bonus points were awarded for the continued investment in cycle infrastructure, including the new cycle “superhighway” that’s currently under way to connect residents of surrounding areas to the capital.
Portland has a cycle modal share of 7.2% and over 319 miles of bike lanes. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP
Back to looking at the hard statistics again, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) have produced US city rankings based on commuter modal share. Davis, California comes out on top with a 23.2% of total commutes made by bike, making it the most cycle-friendly city in the US. As a small college town of 66,700 people, they have it much easier than the country’s bustling metropolises. At almost 10 times larger than Davis, Portland, Oregon has achieved a bike modal share of 7.2% thanks to over 319 miles (and rising) of bike lanes. Over the years, this infrastructure has cost the city around $60m (£39.7m) – the same cost of constructing 1 single metre of urban freeway.
Across the country, however, the modal share still hovers below 2%, but many municipalities are making big waves to shift the focus away from the dominating car, and back down to a more human level. In Detroit, home of the motor car, over 170 miles of cycle track have been introduced on the roads since 2006, contributing to a 400% rise in the number of cyclists on the roads since 2000, and a weekly bike ride around the city regularly draws in over 3,000 people. Cincinnati, too, has felt a 350% increase, but both cities are struggling to push the percentage of total bike commuters above 1%. “It’s incredible how communities throughout the country are able to leverage their unique circumstances to improve conditions for bicyclists,” says LAB policy specialist Ken McLeod. “Sometimes communities that have lost population and have overbuilt roads give some of that space to bicycles”.
Similarly to the rust belt cities, residents of Christchurch, New Zealand took to cycling as a more efficient mode of transport when roads and routes were blocked or diverted after the 2011 earthquake destroyed large areas of the city. When presented with the opportunity to contribute to the rebuild plan, better cycling infrastructure featured top of the list for many residents. While only 3% of all trips in New Zealand are made by bike, in Christchurch – once known as the “Copenhagen of the south” – 7% of people commute by bike. Results elsewhere on the continent are not so promising. Australian census data shows that Canberra has the highest percentage of people who commute by bike at 2.8%, while other cities struggle to see this rise above 1.9%, with Sydney seriously lagging at 0.9%.
London’s £100m Mini Holland scheme aims to transform three boroughs with Dutch-inspired segregated bike lanes. Photograph: Anthony Hatley/Alamy
For cities such as Detroit and Christchurch, it may be easier to fly ahead when you’re starting from the bottom, but the message of their success is clear – build it and they will come. Buenos Aires has also gone from zero to hero thanks to its implementation of over 140km of protected bike lanes (“bicisendas”), and a highly successful bike-share scheme, putting it in 14th place on the Copenhagenize list this year. Seville, too, has jumped up the ranks with the number of people on bikes multiplied 11-fold in the past few years, thanks to a combination of segregated lanes (80km in one go) and bike-share schemes. And in the Canadian city of Calgary, an entire bike-lane network was launched at once, rather than slowly trialling a handful of small pilot lanes, and was an overnight success. Other than quadrupling the number of cyclists on the routes almost immediately, the project also gets gold stars for finishing C$1.35m (£650,000) under the projected $7.1m budget.
It’s not about promoting it to lycra-clad riders. A strong voice is needed to encourage regular citizens to cycle
With most cycle-friendly rankings heavily stacked with European representatives (only three of Copenhagenize’s Top 20 were not from the continent), are there many Asian and African cities making waves with bikeability? One study found that bicycle use in the Chinese capital had fallen from around 60% in 1986 to 17% in 2010, while a new love for the car has seen ownership more than quadruple since 2000. But while there may no longer be 9 million bicycles in Beijing, the government hope to restore the people’s faith in this now out-dated concept through infrastructure improvements and bike-hire schemes.
Tokyo holds one of the highest modal shares for bikes in Asia, with 16% of journeys made on two wheels. But after appearing in fourth (2011) and12th (2013) place on the index, the city dropped off the list this year after bike-centred planning came to a stand-still.
For African cities, the data is much thinner on the ground. Data from the London School of Economics shows that non-motorised transport accounts for more than 70% of trips in some African cities, but this figure includes walking, riding a scooter and animal-drawn transport as well as bicycles. One 2014 study shows that cycling in Johannesburg accounts for only 0.2% of all trips in the city, while a rather outdated study suggests that the modal split for bikes in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Harare also fails to reach above 3%. In Cape Town, 1% of residents get around by bike, but the city is working to drive the development of non-motorised transportation through improved cycling infrastructure, integrated transport options and grassroots empowerment for bicycle culture.
While the hard modal share stats might provide a clear indicator of the world’s most bike-friendly city, perhaps less quantifiable factors such as gender split, perception of safety and attitude can aid other cities to understand how they might get there. Take the attitude towards cycling, for example. Studies carried out by Danish researchers show that many Danes don’t even consider cycling exercise – for them, it’s a mode of transportation and not a workout activity. This also ties into political will, Colville-Andersen explains: “It’s not about promoting it to lycra-clad riders. A strong voice is needed to encourage regular citizens to cycle.” Having a high proportion of women riding bikes may also be a sign of a cycle-friendly city. In Copenhagen, women make up 55% of those cycling, while the traffic-clogged streets of Manhattan hold only 20% female riders, reflecting the lack of infrastructure in New York.
Looking at the success of these cities – be it through modal share, the number of female cyclists or attitude towards biking – could it be as simple as just transplanting their models from one city to the next, Copenhagen to Jakarta, perhaps? Colville-Andersen thinks so: “What is a city? It’s just a bunch of homo sapiens living together and having to move from A to B … Take any city on the planet, it doesn’t matter about climate or topography. Best-practice infrastructure has been around for decades … It’s just copy and paste.” In London, this “copy and paste” method is taking form through the Mini Holland scheme, which will see three boroughs transform into cycle-friendly spaces through the £100m funding of Dutch-inspired segregated bike lanes and human-scale infrastructure.
So, while it may be possible to name the “world’s most cycle-friendly city” based on modal share figures and other indicators, do these rankings really serve any purpose? Does Buenos Aires’ 14th place on the Copenhagenize index really make it more bike-friendly than, say, Munich, which failed to feature in this year’s top 20, despite over 14% of its residents getting around on two wheels? Maybe not, but what these examples do show is that efforts are being made around the world to make urban centres – big and small – more friendly for people on bikes, for businesses and for the community at large.
The Gaurdian 05-01-2016