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April 19, 2012

NYC seeks inspiration from Copenhagen's bicycle culture

With just 1% of its population commuting by bicycle, the city of New York wanted to find a way to make Manhattan more bike-friendly, and they turned to Copenhagen for advice.

Denmark’s capital, which has 1,000 km of bike lanes, is known for its cycling culture. In Greater Copenhagen, which has a population of about 1.2 million people, one third of commuters opt to travel by bicycle. That number might actually be even higher according to Copenhagenize, an urban mobility consultancy specialized in cycling.

“Each and every day roughly 500,000 citizens choose the bicycle in Greater Copenhagen,” the Copenhagenize blog explains.

Naturally having somewhere between 33% and 42% of the population cycling each day cuts down on environmental pollution, decreases obesity and cultivates a healthier overall lifestyle. In fact, cycling is so much a part of the local culture that there are street style blogs dedicated to fashionable local cyclists, like CopenhagenCycleChic. The blog is actually the sister site of, both of which include a meter that displays how many kilometers have been cycled in Copenhagen today.

The following video (found by TreeHugger) is from the “official website of Denmark” and features Josh Benson from the New York City Department of Transportation, who describes what NYC can learn from Copenhagen.

As the video explains, the Copenhagen-based consultancy made suggestions like closing off Times Square to cars, adding more cycling lanes on main streets and having official “bicycle Sundays” on Park Avenue. Benson says that such initiatives pay off — when new bicycle lanes are installed in NYC, he says cyclists account for 10% of traffic, impressive in a city with 10 million daily commuters and the convenience of the world’s largest subway system.

In addition to their consultancy and blogs on cycling culture and fashion, the company has launched the Copenhagenize Index of Bicycle Friendly Cities. The top 20 list is dominated largely by European cities, and only four North America cities made it: Montreal was at #8, Portland at #11, San Francisco at #17 and New York just made it on at #20. Surprisingly, Copenhagen was not in first place, but second after Amsterdam.

That’s the list for 2011, but after consulting with Gehl Architects, CPH, an urban research and design consultancy, their standings could be higher in 2012. Gehl came to NYC to discuss the increase in quality of life bicycle culture can bring and the harmonious balance that can be cultivated by each type of commuter.

While NYC likely won’t install tri-level streets to facilitate each type of commuter like Copenhagen has, the Big Apple can still implement cycling-friendly¬†innovations to improve quality of life of its citizens and reduce harm on the environment.

What benefits could you imagine in your city if more bike lanes were added? Would you be be more inclined to bike than drive?