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How do the Top Five Bicycle-Friendly Cities Compare with London?

The 2015 Copenhagenize Index - the ‘world’s most comprehensive inventory and ranking of bicycle-friendly cities,’ ranked 122 cities with regional populations of more than 600,000. 

The Copenhagenize Index scores cities on their “efforts towards re-establishing the bicycle as a feasible, accepted and practical form of transport.”

In short, cities are ranked according to how highly they score in 13 different categories. These include, cycling infrastructure, traffic-calming measures, and how safe a city is perceived to be for cycling. Each category helps determine how bicycle-friendly a particular city is.

The top five highest scoring cities in order were: Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Strasbourg and Eindhoven.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Population: 590,184

Average Number of Daily Cycle Journeys: 267,720

Copenhagen has been crowned the most bike-friendly city in the world for the first time, beating 2011 and 2013 winner Amsterdam, into second place. The Danish capital is currently unrivalled when it comes to continued investment in cycling infrastructure.

Among a host of innovative new cycling measures are an elevated 65-metre-high cycle track, an elevated two-way ‘cykelslangen’ or ‘Cycle Snake’ straddling Copenhagen harbour, upgraded ‘super bikeways’ and plans for no less than four new bicycle bridges to add to the existing three.

According to the city’s traffic director, the risks associated with cycling in Copenhagen have “dropped more than 70 per cent over the last 15 years.” With more than 215 miles of raised cycle paths, including the world’s busiest bike lane used by up to 40,000 cyclists per day, and traffic lights that are co-ordinated in favour of cyclists during rush hour, Copenhagen truly is a city built for cyclists.

Travelling by bike in the city is often the quickest way of getting around and a third of Copenhageners commute to work or school by bike. Cycle superhighways whisk cyclists in and out of the city from as far as 15km away and many junctions even have flashing lights to warn drivers about to turn of approaching cyclists.

Like Amsterdam, Copenhagen has more bikes than people. The city was one of the first in the world to launch free city bikes for its citizens and tourists and there are far more bikes to be found in the city centre than cars.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Population: 823,827

Average Number of Daily Cycle Journeys: 519,011

Although Amsterdam has always led the field when it comes to urban cycling, according to Copenhagenize, the city was relegated to second place because it is not doing enough to improve the status quo regarding cycling infrastructure and lacks the political desire to “take things to the next level.”

Needless to say, cycling in Amsterdam is a way of life and the city is regarded as a cycling haven with its more than 800,000 bikes. Cycling is roundly perceived as the easiest mode of transport and the city’s elaborate network of cycle routes and paths are deemed so safe and comfortable that even toddlers and the elderly regularly use them.

Amsterdam is still considered by many as the bicycle capital of the world. But, despite recently announcing that it is to further limit car traffic in the city centre, Amsterdam’s well-deserved reputation as a benchmark cycling city is now perceived as one earned for its past cycling efforts, rather than for what it is currently planning in terms of improving existing infrastructure.

Utrecht, Netherlands

Population: 334,295

Average Number of Daily Cycle Journeys: 113,660

The second of three Dutch cities to be ranked in the top five global bicycle-friendly cities, Utrecht actively promotes cycling and continues to lead the way among smaller urban areas.

The city’s admirable ‘Utrecht Attractive and Accessible’ development plan shows that the city is keen to progress and is closely poised to step out of Amsterdam’s shadow in terms of cycling potential.

Utrecht has fantastic cycling infrastructure. Most of the city’s main streets have separate cycle lanes and there is a network of cycle paths that take riders quickly from the centre of Utrecht away from other traffic, right through to the surrounding countryside and villages.

Like Amsterdam and so many other Dutch cities, Utrecht has acknowledged that due to the sheer number of cyclists in the city, bike parking can be a problem. As such, work is currently underway on the world’s largest bike parking facility – a space for an incredible 12,500 bikes.

Strasbourg, France

Population: 272,222

Average Number of Daily Cycle Journeys: 40,833

Strasbourg’s newly ranked position on the Copenhagenize Index is the result of a generation of city planners who insisted on cycling as a major form of transport. Long regarded as France’s premier cycling city, Strasbourg possesses more than 330 miles of cycle routes in and around the surrounding metro area – the largest network in France.

The Velostras, the city’s existing orbital cycle ‘express-route’ network, is to be joined by a further three orbital and nine radial cycle routes by 2020. This will guarantee that the city’s neighbourhoods are all connected with the city centre. The tracks will be wide enough to accommodate riders cycling two abreast and the cycle routes will take precedence over other traffic.

Strasbourg boasts a unique bike share scheme, the ‘Velhop’ which allows long-term rental practices as well as customised bikes that include baskets and seats for children.

Most promisingly, according to Copenhagenize, there is “consistent political will to at least maintain current cycling levels” and emulate the success of current cycling rates seen across Denmark and the Netherlands. In its own words, “Strasbourg is a city where the bike is King.”

Eindhoven, Netherlands

Population: 220,000

Average Number of Daily Cycle Journeys: 55,000

Together with high-quality infrastructure which includes bike-only streets and numerous protected cycle tracks, Eindhoven’s spectacular 72 metre-wide 'Hovenring', the iconic suspended bicycle roundabout, shows just how seriously the city takes cycling.

Although the city has something of a reputation as a city for cars with its massive surrounding multi-lane one-way gyratory, Eindhoven also has a completely separate cycle network built beneath the city’s roads and 40 per cent of the population regularly choose their bike as their preferred means of transport.

As a result, half of all bike commuting distances in Eindhoven are below 7.5km and it is possible to reach every destination within the city, including the airport, in just 30 minutes.

London, England

Population: 8,615,246

Average Number of Daily Cycle Journeys: 580,000

For the second time in four years, London has failed to even rank in the top 20 bike-friendly cities. This is despite the promised £913m plans to revolutionise cycling in the city. The last time the capital appeared in the index was 2011, when it was placed at 16 out of 80 cities.

In March, London mayor Boris Johnson, unveiled radical cycling infrastructure plans that Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman hailed as: “the most ambitious cycling development and promotion plan in the UK in living memory, perhaps ever.” They included more Dutch-style cycle routes, 33 redesigned junctions and gyratories, and Europe’s longest segregated urban cycle lane - an 18-mile ‘Crossrail for bikes.’ Mr Johnson himself, said: “Cycling will be treated not as niche but what it is - an integral part of the transport network.” So how does London explain not even featuring in the top 20 most bicycle-friendly cities in the world?

Gender Disparity

According to Gil Penalosa, the founder of Toronto-based consultancy 8-80 Cities - a non-profit organisation dedicated to transforming cities into more walking and cycling-friendly ‘people-places’ - female cyclists are the “indicator species” for how bike-friendly a city is. “If there aren’t at least as many women as men, then usually it’s because cycling is not safe enough,” he said. “It’s an indicator that you do not have good enough cycling infrastructure.”

Six out of the eight London cyclists to have been killed so far this year were women. All six died following a collision with a heavy goods vehicle (HGV). Since 1994, the number of daily bike journeys taken in the capital has increased from 270,000 to 580,000. But, according to Transport for London, women make up only 26 per cent of all such journeys, despite representing 39 per cent of all fatal cycling accidents in London over the past six-and-a-half years.

In contrast, female cyclists outnumber men in Denmark at 55 per cent, while in the Netherlands and Germany, they make up 56 per cent and 49 per cent respectively. Put simply, the current London cyclist gender imbalance reflects the widely held belief that the current road environment is too dangerous.

Fear and Lorries

According to the Near Miss Project, cyclists in the UK experience a “very scary incident” once a week. A London Assembly survey conducted last year found that more than 80 per cent of the nearly 6,500 cyclists polled admitted that they were afraid of cycling in London. Poorly designed junctions, too many lorries and the paucity of segregated cycle lanes were all cited as primary reasons for dissuading people from cycling.

At present, the Transport for London budget plan for cycling over the next 10 years amounts to just £11 per person, per year. This is less than half of what many cities in Denmark and the Netherlands spend and not nearly enough to bring about any meaningful improvements to infrastructure and reassure those who say having to share the road with fast-moving traffic is the deciding factor preventing them from cycling.

One of London’s major problems is the city’s antiquated transport system which forces cyclists to clash with traffic. Another is the sheer density of traffic particularly in regard to the number of HGVs used for construction and freight.

Last year, HGVs accounted for 4 per cent of all traffic, but 55 per cent of cyclist and 12 per cent of pedestrian deaths; 21 of the 44 cyclist fatalities between 2011-13 were as a result of a collision with a lorry, and ten of these involved a collision with a lorry turning left. Seven out of the eight fatal London cycling accidents so far this year have been caused by collisions with an HGV.

Although lorries are involved in relatively few collisions with cyclists, when they do occur, they are disproportionately likely to prove fatal. To tackle this threat, the CTC, the national cycling charity, advocates steps to restrict lorries during rush hour, the promotion of safe lorry designs and equipment, notably the use of ‘direct vision’ measures to eliminate blind spots, and stricter enforcement against unsafe drivers and operators.

Can London Ever Become a Truly Bicycle-Friendly City?

Since 1994, the number of daily bike journeys in the capital has risen from 270,000 to 580,000 with 4.3 per cent commuting to work each day by bike, up from 2.3 per cent in 2001.

Cyclists now make up almost a quarter of all rush hour traffic in central London and according to statistics gathered by Strava Insights, of 12 cities surveyed across the world, London logged the most cycle journeys by far with 7 million taken over the past 12 months. This is significantly more than its closest competitor, Amsterdam, which logged 2.7 million. 

Unfortunately, even though the ratio of bike journeys to accidents has dropped, the more cyclists there are on the road, the greater the risk of more cycling accidents. Infrastructure is key and although London is beginning to make progress on more cyclist-friendly measures, there is without question, huge scope for improvement. Without radical new solutions to segregate cyclists from traffic, restrict vehicle numbers and speed, and make London more appealing for people from a broader cross-section of society wishing to take up cycling, casualties are likely to remain stubbornly high. 

Oliver Jeffcott is a personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon in London.

Oliver is a keen cyclist who has written extensively on cycling and road safety for numerous national publications.

For a free consultation about how to claim compensation for a cycling accident injury call freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.

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