As governments and city planners increasingly focus on clean living and low-emission transport, and individuals commit to making healthier life choices, the humble bicycle is only increasing in popularity.
In days gone by, riding a bike in a city centre or an urban environment was a perilous proposition, given the limited laws and a lack of bike-only lanes.
In 2017, however, planners are wide-awake to the possibilities offered by ‘cycling cities’ and are introducing measures so that people of all ages can cycle in safety. If you’re a cycling enthusiast and considering a move abroad, where should you be peddling off to?
In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the best emigration locations for cyclists, with the help of the Copenhagenize Bike Friendly Cities Index.
When Tokyo is mentioned, cycle lanes probably aren’t the first thing that springs to mind.
Japan’s number one megacity might be more closely associated with its enormous population and ubiquitous neon signage, but it is making definite steps to accommodate cyclists in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics.
Tokyo placed 9 out of 20 for the Copenhagenize 2017 index, having previously missed out on a top 20 spot in 2015.
While rail travel is still commonplace around the sprawling city, one in five commuters are using trains to cycle to stations each day.
The Cycling Embassy of Japan (CEJ) has been created to boost cycling across the country, not just in Tokyo. The Embassy’s mission statement is to;
‘Work hard to unite the many small and diverse cycling bodies around the nation, so that their combined voices and opinions can be heard at a national level’.
Among other innovations in Tokyo, the city has ingenious ‘bike vaults’; these nifty devices safely store bicycles underground in secure chambers.
Copenhagenize CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen has said;
‘When the world’s largest megacity can figure out cycling, you know it is possible anywhere’.
On the matter of bike ownership, Japan has seen its share of the increasing trend of ‘dockless bikes’, where riders pay a small fee to ride a bike a certain distance, after which it is set aside to be used by another customer.
While a good idea on paper, bike sharing has not been a universal success. On mainland China in cities like Shenzhen, there have been gluts of unregulated bikesharing programs, which have led to vast piles of dumped bikes being accumulated.
A similar problem has been seen in Australia, where a number of sharable ‘oBikes’ have met a watery end.
Germany may be a dominant economic force in Europe, but none of its cities have managed to take the top place on the Copenhagenize list. The nation does, however, have three in the top 20.
Germany’s lowest placing city is Hamburg. Coming in at number 17, Hamburg is known for its successful bike sharing program.
That said, there has been criticism of Hamburg’s lack of progress on the cycling front, with inconsistent bike lanes being a particular issue.
Slightly higher up the list at number 15, Munich exceeds Hamburg in some areas but does have to contend with other problems.
Although there are a high proportion of bike users, there’s a distinct lack of unified support for cycling-specific lanes.
This may be all set to change in the future, however, as the city is planning to implement an ambitious cycling superhighway system.
The plan to adapt the autobahn model for bikes is certainly well-intentioned, and could push Munich higher up the rankings if it comes to fruition.
Germany’s best city for cycling is the capital, Berlin. Coming in at a very respectable 10th place on the Copenhagenize index, Berlin represents the most unified approach to implementing bike-beneficial infrastructure.
There are plans to make some of Germany’s streets almost completely car-free in the future, which would be a boon for two-wheeled travellers.
Those with no room to house their own bike can also take advantage of the Call A Bike scheme, run by rail company Deutsche Bahn. While availability depends on the city, there is some form of bike share system in most cities across the country.
France is next up on the list of top countries for cycling, but surprisingly the capital, Paris, doesn’t rank too highly for ease of access.
The sprawling city has a widely-used Vélib bikeshare scheme, but is still getting to grips with matching public demand with bike-based projects. A better area for cyclists can be found in Bordeaux on the west coast.
Bordeaux has been adopting ideas from other countries, apparently sending delegates to Copenhagen to see what methods could be employed.
The city voted for a large-scale pro-cycling plan in 2016, which will be implemented over the next three years and represents ‘€70m’ in investment. The aim of the project is to ensure that at least 15% of journeys are made on bikes by 2020.
As well as putting bike share stations across the city, planners aim to introduce secure bike parking across much of the urban area.
According to Colville-Andersen at Copenhagenize, ‘Political will and investment are the keywords in Bordeaux. It needs to last if the city is serious’.
The last French city on Copenhagenize’s list is Strasbourg.
Found right on the eastern border with Germany, Strasbourg has a lot to offer to the cycling enthusiast.
Whether it’s the widespread Vélhop bikeshare system or planned bike superhighway ‘Vélostras’, the city can rightly call itself ‘France’s foremost cycle city’.
The Vélostras superhighway aims to be 130km long and accessible 24/7, allowing cyclists to ride at an ‘average’ speed of around 12 miles per hour.
With the objective of making any bike journey from Greater Strasbourg to the city centre just 30 minutes, Strasbourg has big ambitions.
Just behind Strasbourg in the rankings is the Swedish city of Malmö.
Malmö has benefitted from a number of notable cycling projects, starting with the construction of a bicycle-friendly hotel.
The Ohboy Hotel, which also has permanent apartments, is designed to give more back to the environment than it takes.
It has bikes of all descriptions for those using the space and features what can best be termed a bicycle garage that offers normal and cargo-carrying bicycles.
Another innovation in Malmö is the self-explanatory ‘No Ridiculous Car Journeys’ campaign, which quite simply cuts out the use of cars for short journeys.
On a city-wide scale this has increased bike usage and reduced emissions.
Not content with being a haven for Swedish cyclists, Malmö also has an international link with another cycle-centric city, Copenhagen.
Earlier in 2017, Malmö launched a small bike ferry system between the two cities.
While the Öresund Bridge is an architectural marvel, the international highway is off limits to cyclists so efforts to create a bike-specific ferry have been warmly welcomed.
The Netherlands has managed to place two cities in the top 5 of the Copenhagenize Bike Friendly Cities Index.
The city of Amsterdam allegedly has more bicycles than people.
Although there have been concerns about the influx of mopeds into Amsterdam’s cycle lanes, legislation is being put through to remove this potential hazard.
Amsterdam remains a beacon of what a bike-friendly city should be, but Utrecht to the south has gone a few steps further.
While considerably smaller than Amsterdam, Utrecht is more than pulling its weight when it comes to accommodating those on two wheels.
The city has a personalised speed-based system, the Flo, which monitors cyclists as they move throughout the city.
Designed to help cyclists get through the city without stopping and starting at traffic lights, it advises when to adjust your speed.
As well operating bicycle-only or bike-supportive streets since the late 1990’s, Utrecht has also been hard at work with setting up dedicated bike parking places.
Just across the Öresund strait from Malmö is the top placer on the Copenhagenize index – Copenhagen.
The city has long been considered the world’s best for cyclists and has gone all out to secure its place in 2017.
At least eight bike-friendly bridges have popped up since 2015 and there are more on the way, while in Copenhagen harbour there are routes in place to allow navigation around 13km of the distinctive docks area.
While not quite as sophisticated as the Flo system, Copenhagen also has a bike-exclusive traffic light system, called the Green Wave.
It’s widely claimed that it’s easier to get around Copenhagen with a bike than a car, which is one of the strongest endorsements for pro-cycling cities. In Colville-Andersen’s words;
‘Innovation and investment. That is Copenhagen’s modern bicycle signature’.
We hope you’ve been inspired by this look at the world’s most cycle-friendly cities, get on your bike sometime soon!
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