Copenhagen: a target for shifting commuters to bicycles

17 Jul 2013

City planners in much of the world have long worked with quantitative forecasts of traffic flows, which are needed to calculate future transport and infrastructure needs. Because of concerns about air pollution and greenhouse gases (and more recently, about physical fitness), an increasing number of municipalities also track modal share — the percentage of trips made by car, by public transit, by walking or by bicycle.

In the case of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, there is a modal share target that has received considerable attention at home and abroad: the city plans to ensure that by 2015, 50 percent of commuting trips are made by bicycle.1 In fact, Copenhagen has had cycling-related targets since at least 2000, when it committed to boosting the modal share of cycling from 34 percent to 40 percent (by 2012).

The city also has targets for cyclists’ feeling of safety, for comfort (in terms of the state of cycling lanes and paths) and for travel times. To increase commuting speeds by bicycle — and to relieve bottlenecks on major cycling routes — the municipal government is investing in a network of extra-wide cycling “super highways”.

Interestingly, it appears Copenhagen may not have met its initial modal share target for 2012. However, having a widely available and discussed cycling plan with numerical targets has helped ensure the role of bicycles in local transport has a high profile in public debates, provoked discussions about various obstacles to increased cycling (such as traffic jams and lack of parking), and may have made it politically easier to scale up public investments in cycling infrastructure.

It is also worth noting that Copenhagen (along with Amsterdam, in the Netherlands) is widely cited in discussions about bicycle commuting around the world, with municipal leaders from several countries going on fact-finding tours of the city to look for inspiration — and sometimes copying the idea of a modal share target.

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1. City of Copenhagen. Good, Better, Best: The City of Copenhagen’s Bicycle Strategy 2011-2025.

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