The City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Strategy

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Main actors

City Government, National Government

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 1990/01

Sustainable cities of the future will be ones where transport options other than fossil-fuel powered private vehicles are the norm. Bike-friendly Copenhagen is leading the way, as this case study explores.

Copenhagen has set itself the goal of becoming 'the world's best bicycle city by 2025'. Achieving this goal is also viewed as integral to the city's health plan, to the environmental goal of making the city CO2 neutral by 2025, and to enhancing the livability of the city.

150,000 people cycle each day to work or educational institutions in the City of Copenhagen, representing a modal share of 36% of all trips. Copenhagen’s plan for achieving a greater modal share for bicycles includes increasing the capacity of the cycle tracks to the city centre, in order to accommodate an additional 60,000 cyclists by 2025.

This case study charts the key planning, infrastructure and financing mechanisms that have been integral to Copenhagen attaining the status of a world-leader in cycling and sustainable transport modalities.  

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Copenhagen, Denmark

Size and population development
2011: 1,206,000; 1990: 1,035,000; 2025: 1,397,000; 2010-2015: +1,13%/year

Population composition
77.3% Danish; 8.1% immigrants from western countries; 14.6% immigrants from non-western countries

Main functions
Capital City, economic and financial center

Main industries / business
Tourism, service industry, research and development, home to many international companies

Political structure
Mayor and City Council

Administrative structure
4 municipalities and 14 neighbourhoods

Cycling is widely acknowledged to be a central element of a sustainable transport policy at the municipal level. To support and encourage widespread cycling, infrastructure and planning are critical elements. 

So is a culture of cycling. Denmark in general, and Copenhagen in particular, enjoys such advantages. As is explained on the Danish government's 'Green Living' site, 
"[During the first half of the 20th century], Danish cities became cities of bicycles...People from all social classes cycled on a large scale and several professions also adopted the bicycle - today cycling postmen and home helpers are still a permanent part of street life." 
In common with many other cities in the Global North, Copenhagen experienced a major increase in private car ownership and usage in the three decades following World War II. This brought about a corresponding decrease in bicycle usage. In response to a convergence of factors - a nascent environmental movement, the oil shocks of the 1970s, and public pressure to preserve open spaces and heritage areas from further encroachment by traffic - the city government planners embarked on a strategy to recover and expand the city's cycling traditions.

There have been two main dimensions of implementation: planning and infrastructure. 

Planning is now an integrated feature of urban development and urban governance in Copenhagen. In the 21st century city plans dealing specifically with cycling include: 
  • the Copenhagen Cycle Policy (2002-2012)
  • the Copenhagen Transport and Environment Plan 2004
  • Copenhagen Bicycle Strategy (2011-2025)
  • the Copenhagen Cycle Priority Plan (2006-2016)
The Bicycle Strategy specifies targets, in particular, the key goal of increasing the number of daily bicycle trips in Copenhagen to 240,000 by 2025, from a baseline of 110,000 in 1970 and 150,000 in 2015. The Priority Plan addresses implementation; and Transport and Environment Plan deals with questions of funding for bicycle infrastructure. 
The cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen is extensive, and enhances the safety and enjoyability of cycling considerably. It includes: 
  • a network of bike paths that are segregated from both pedestrians and vehicle traffic
  • dedicated bicycle traffic lights that allow for cyclists to leave intersections before cars
  • separately coloured bike paths where cars and bikes share road space
  • ongoing commitments to create new bike paths and expand existing ones, especially major commuter routes 

From 2010 to 2014, the City of Copenhagen allocated a total 80 million euros to the implementation of its bicycle strategies and infrastructure. The major spends came in 2012, with 25 million euros, and 2014, with 30 million euros. 

From the City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Strategy 2011-2015:
  • 150,000 people cycle to work or educational institutions every day
  • "The number of kilometres cycled [in Copenhagen] has risen by around 30% since 1998"
  • "The bicycle’s modal share for trips to work or educational institutions has risen to over a third [since 1998]"
  • "The bicycle [is now] the most popular transport form for commuting in Copenhagen"

Historically, the main barrier was the rise of the car culture in Copenhagen from 1945-1975. The challenge was how to address this and turn it around, so the culture of cycling became the norm.  The city addressed this through integrating cycling into urban and transport planning and policy, and committing substantial resources in order to make cycling safe, time-efficient and enjoyable. 

To get more cyclists on the road, there is still a need to address issues of safety, especially during peak hour traffic. Additionally, cyclists want to travel at their preferred speed. This will require widening cycle paths and increasing the barriers separating cyclists from cars. 


A key success factor has been the historical organisation of urban and transport planning in an integrated and coherent way under a single Technical and Environmental Administration in the city government. Combined with a collaborative, open and transparent work culture, supported by departmental heads, as well as a long-standing commitment to achieving consensus at all stages of project implementation, this has reduced and minimised conflicts between urban and transport planning.

Political leadership and commitment

Copenhagen achieved a shift from being an increasingly car-centric city in the 1970s to one in which cycling is increasingly the norm for the majority of its inhabitants. And while cycling in Denmark as a whole has decreased by 30% since 1998, in Copenhagen it has risen by 30% over that same period. Promoting a culture of cycling and supporting that with significant resourcing and planning commitments has been central to the success of the pro-cycling strategies in Copenhagen.

Both these lessons are transferable - especially the second; and cities like Singapore are visiting Copenhagen to study its cycling strategies and how they might be transferred to a tropical urban context - see

- Koglin, T., 2015, Organisation does matter - planning for cycling in Stockholm and Copenhagen, Transport Policy, 39, 55-62. 

- City of Copenhagen, The City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Strategy, 2011-2025, available at 

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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