A rocky path to cycle paradise

Green lights for Copenhagen’s ambitious cycle goals? It is uncertain if the city can reach the share of 50 percent cycle commuters by 2025. Photo: Thomas Balbierer


Copenhagen wants to become “the world’s best city for cyclists” by 2025. The municipality has an ambitious strategy. Critics say the city invests too little

By Thomas Balbierer

Copenhagen is considered as the example of a bicycle-friendly metropole in Europe. When German city planers and politicians debate about the situation of cycling infrastructure, they most likely end up saying: “Look at Copenhagen!” And indeed, the roads in the Danish capital are paved with cyclists. The bike has an iconic status. Official statistics say that 43 percent of the commuters in Copenhagen go to work or school by bike.

Bikes… Bikes everywhere. It is no coincidence that Copenhagen is full of them. In fact, it is an official strategy to attract even more people to use the cycle. Fotos: Thomas Balbierer

That, however, is not enough for the municipality. It wants to increase the number of cycle commuters up to 50 percent by 2025. The ambitious plan is part of Copenhagen’s bicycle strategy. By 2025 the city wants to be “the world’s best bicycle city”. To reach that goal, the city has to invest between 1,9 and 4,8 billion kroner (254 Million to 643 Million Euro) in infrastructure, the municipality estimates.

Copenhagen invests 75 million kroner into cycling infrastructure next year

On Monday, Sep. 10th, the city presented the budget for 2019. It allocated 75 Million kroner (10 Million Euro) for developing the bicycle infrastructure. The money is used for building new lanes, making existing tracks safer and creating more parking space. According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark (CED), a network that represents Danish bike culture globally, a new bike track increases the cycle traffic by 10 to 20 percent.

The city council praises its efforts to improve the cycle conditions: “With the 2019 budget, the parties wish to continue the high level of ambition, when it comes to investments in the bike infrastructure.”

Cycle-expert Erik Hjulmand doubts that the city can succeed like this

But even in the cycle paradise Copenhagen not everybody is happy. The public investments are not high enough, criticises Erik Hjulmand, head of the Copenhagen Branch in Danish Cyclist’s Federation. He doubts that Copenhagen will reach the 50 percent goal of cycle commuters if it does not spend even more money. “We think, that if the municipality doesn’t invest more money and more willingness to improve cycling conditions in general, the share won’t rise. The best we can hope for is avoiding a decrease”, Hjulmand says.

To a foreign audience the debate might appear as a luxury problem. But, the bicycle is the most important vehicle for Copenhagen’s citizen. It is used for commuting, transporting and leisure. Even in winter most of the Copenhagens continue cycling.


Different from other countries in Europe, Denmark has a very well built out infrastructure for bikes – at least in bigger cities like Copenhagen or Aarhus. Cyclists ride on a separated track, have their own traffic lights and are prioritised road users.

Hjulmand proposes a congestion charge for cars entering and leaving the city

But to evolve from “good to excellent” Copenhagen must do more, demands Erik Hjulmand from the Danish Cyclist’s Federation. Especially for commuters who come from the outside of Copenhagen. “If more super cycle routes leading into Copenhagen were build, if more cycle lanes inside Copenhagen were widened and if a congestion charge for travelling in and out of Copenhagen by car would be introduced, we think that it would be possible to reach the 50 percent goal”, says Hjulmand.

Designer and city planner Mikael Colville-Andersen sees another problem that is getting even bigger with more cyclers. “Congestion on the cycle tracks — even the widest ones — will become a problem unless the city reallocates more road space for the dominant transport form in the city”, the designer writes in an article for “The Wire”.

But looking at the problems, nobody should forget about the high level these discussions rise from. Colville-Andersen’s company Copenhagenize Design regularly ranks the 20 most bike-friendly cities in the world. And who is in the first spot?

Right, Copenhagen.


Here you can find Copenhagen‘s 2019 budget: https://www.kk.dk/sites/default/files/uploaded-files/budgetaftale_for_koebenhavn_2019_-_aftaletekst_0.pdf

Copenhagen’s annual account on 2025 strategy progress (only in Danish language): https://international.kk.dk/sites/international.kk.dk/files/cykelredegorelse_2018.pdf


This article was written for a German audience