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June 7th, 2016
Cities • Energy

Cycle infrastructure in Copenhagen

When the City of Copenhagen introduced its Cycle Policy 2002-12, it had already introduced priority cycle lanes and green cycle routes. It wanted to build on these initiatives with a number of aims in mind: greater road safety, a cleaner environment and an improved quality of life. The City set specific objectives in the Plan, for example that 40 percent of Copenhagen residents would be cycling to their place of work or study by 2012. And by 2014 the figure had reached 45 percent, the highest of any of the world’s capitals.

The initiative

In 2000, the City of Copenhagen published its Traffic Improvement Plan of 2000. Within this there was a “Subplan for the Improvement of Cycling Conditions was passed in 2000, including an ‘appropriations bill' earmarking funds for implementation”. [1] Together with “the Proposals for Green Cycle Routes (2000) and the Cycle Track Priority Plan (2001), it formed the basis of the cycle policy and action plan” set out in the City of Copenhagen's Cycle Policy 2002-12. [2]

The Cycle Policy aimed to achieve the following goals by 2012:

  • "The proportion of people cycling to workplaces in Copenhagen shall increase from 34% to 40%. [3]
  • “Cyclist risk of serious injury/death shall decrease by 50%.
  • “The proportion of Copenhagen cyclists who feel safe cycling in town shall increase from 57% to 80%.
  • “Cyclist travelling speed on trips of over 5 km shall increase by 10%.
  • “Cyclist comfort shall be improved so that cycle track surfaces deemed unsatisfactory shall not exceed 5%."

The challenge

Unlike many other major European cities, with the obvious exception of Amsterdam, Copenhagen has a long tradition of cycling as a favoured means of transport around the city.

After the 1950s, the rise in motoring resulted in a relative fall in the use of bicycles, in line with overall trends in Europe. This trend began to reverse in the early 1980s and by the turn of the century cycling had become a more common method of transport.

The public impact

The 2002 Plan resulted in a very speedy improvement for cyclists. The Bicycle Account from 2004 “showed that bicycle traffic had risen by 41% while motorised traffic had only risen by 18%. In general cyclists were happier with Copenhagen as a city of cyclists, the number of cycle tracks, their width, and their maintenance”.

The City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Account 2014 showed that the targets set out in the 2002 Plan had not been achieved, as only 35 percent of Copenhagen citizens cycled to their place of work or study. However, it also showed that by 2014 the target had been exceeded and “45% of everyone who studies or works in Copenhagen cycles to their place of education or workplace”. [4]

Copenhagen now has a total of 454 kilometres of cycle lanes, used by 36,000 cyclists every day, and “the cyclists of Copenhagen cycle 1,240,000 kilometres every day”. [5]

Stakeholder engagement

The main stakeholders in cycle planning are the City of Copenhagen, principally its Roads and Parks Department, whose investment plan investment plan defines the annual framework for cycle path construction .In 2002, when the Plan was published, the “City budget for road construction was DKK60 million, one third of which was earmarked for the improvement of cycling conditions”. [6]

The Bicycle Account is developed and maintained by City of Copenhagen to publish cycling statistics. “The Bicycle Account is a document that is compiled every two years by the City of Copenhagen [currently by the Technical and Environmental Administration]. It is in the form of a census that focuses solely on bicycle use around the city.” [7]

In order to integrate the cycling plan with the public transport networks, it was important to engage other stakeholders in providing bicycle parking: “the three main investors in bicycle parking improvements are the City of Copenhagen, Copenhagen Transport, and Danish State Railways”. [8]

The Cycling Embassy of Denmark and the Danish Cyclists' Federation assisted in formulating, implementing and monitoring the policy, and are the main advocacy groups for the country's, and city's, cyclists.

Political commitment

The City of Copenhagen has long been committed to encouraging cycling, and this has been within the context of an equal level of commitment from the national government.

By publishing its cycle policy, the City was able to “draw attention to the fact that cycling is an environmentally desirable and effective means of transport and also to coordinate initiatives for improvements in cycling conditions”. [9]

It has allocated a significant budget (DKK200 million in 2002) for development plans such as cycle track priority, improved cycle parking and the more recent ‘Green Wave', which improved the average speeds of cyclists in the city.

Public confidence

By 2004, there was still some dissatisfaction among cyclists about cycling conditions, although “four-fifths of the cyclists are satisfied with Copenhagen as a city for cyclists”. [10] In that year only half of cyclists expressed “satisfaction with the state of cycle tracks”. [11] They were even more critical of road maintenance. “Only 30% of cyclists were satisfied with parking in 2004 as compared to previous years where it had been 40%.” [12]

However, that situation had begun to improve by 2008, when 54 percent expressed satisfaction with the state of cycle lanes, rising to 61 percent in 2012 and 63 percent in 2014. In 2012, 76 percent of cyclists felt secure when cycling and 73 percent were satisfied “with cycling culture's impact on urban life”. [13]

Clarity of objectives

The objectives stated at the outset were consistent throughout the policy and maintained throughout the period 2002-2012. They were also measurable, for example the percentage of citizens who cycled to their places of work or study. The biennial Bicycle Account was the mechanism for publishing these statistics, so that they were also transparent.

Strength of evidence

The Bicycle Account was also the means by which policymakers could find the evidence to determine the effectiveness of policies. "The Bicycle Account will be used to assess City cycle planning and to follow up on goals. This may eventually lead to adjustment of the 9 focus areas." [14]

Policy makers also drew the evidence from the various plans that had been implemented before the 2002 Plan, for example, “the Traffic and Environment Plan (1997) mentions a number of elements, including green cycle routes, cycle link-ups through the city centre, safety campaigns, improved bicycle parking facilities, and the extension of the City Bike project to the residential areas surrounding the city centre”. [15]


The financial and legal constraints were evaluated by the City of Copenhagen while planning the policy framework. By considering the Traffic and Environment Plan (1997) and its elements, the City evaluated the feasibility constraints and allocated the necessary budget for the creating cycle tracks and other initiatives. "The subplan may be considered a blueprint for implementing cycling improvements. When the Traffic Improvement Plan was passed, funds were allocated and earmarked for the implementation of specific projects. Quantitative goals for Copenhagen bicycle traffic development were formulated for the first time in the subplan." [16]

The increase in the volume of cycling was predicated on a number of factors, not least of which was that citizens should find motoring a less attractive option than cycling. “A necessary condition for achieving the cycle policy goals is that the objective set forth in the Traffic and Environment Plan, stating that motor traffic may not increase, is fulfilled. It is estimated that the more restricted parking system for cars in the densely populated residential areas and improved cycling conditions in the City Centre will encourage more commuters to cycle.” [17]


The city government and road transport department took step by step approach to resolve the issues (example by considering the traffic environment plan elements etc.) and data driven resolution of issues (data from the bicycle account), hence it is a good example of management.

1. Pragmatic resolution to issues "Overall there is approximately 340 km of bicycle path nowadays (2009). And although this is by and large complete, there is still some degree of expansion every year. In 2008 another 5 km of bicycle path was added (and 4 km hugely improved). According to local planners there is still some 50-60 km to go." [18]

2. Use of data to drive intelligent decision making - ""Cyclists are evenly distributed over all income brackets. Motorist income is high on the average while users of public transport have a relatively low income. Motorists have more children per household than cyclists while users of public transport have fewest. Cyclists often have a higher education than motorists and users of public transport." [19]

3. Based on the information obtained from the Bicycle account database, the stakeholders keep on formulating the strategies over the years."


The impact of the policy has been monitored on the basis of the data obtained from biennial Bicycle Accounts. “The world's first Bicycle Account was published by the City of Copenhagen in 1996. It treated 1995 and since then bicycle accounts have been published … every two years. The Bicycle Account contains key figures and cyclist ratings...The key figures of the Bicycle Account provide an appraisal of the conditions which cyclists regard as the most essential.” [20]

This means that issues such as safety and security have been carefully measured, as well as the number of cyclists and kilometres cycled. "The attention paid to interaction with the inhabitants in Copenhagen cycling policy is matched by heavy monitoring of that policy. In the Bicycle Account biennial developments in bicycle use and safety have been recorded since 1996, as well as facts about the immediate results of municipal cycling policy. However, the most important and most frequently used part of the Bicycle Account is a standard bicycle satisfaction survey.” [21]


The City of Copenhagen has been the main actor, with support from national government and public transport organisations as well as from citizens, particularly the cycling advocacy groups:

  • The City has taken citizens' views into account when introducing the first Cycle Track Priority Plan and a Proposal for Green Cycle Routes and then in developing its 2002-12 Plan. The criteria for the influential Bicycle Account were “defined in collaboration with cyclist focus groups on the occasion of the first Bicycle Account”. [22]
  • Another instance of responding citizens is that of cycle parking. “Only 30% of cyclists were satisfied with parking in 2004 ... To improve this situation, the Roads and Park department [organised] a series of projects such as adding new parking spaces in certain districts of the city.” [23]

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