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The World's Top 20 Cycling Cities

How well does your city rate for cyclists on a global scale?

Quite well, if you live in Europe. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are the top cities for cyclers, according to the latest Copenhagenize Index.  Some other high-ranking urban areas – including Seville, Bordeaux, and Antwerp – haven’t necessarily been on the international radar for their cycling efforts much up until now.

Copenhagenize Design Co., a consulting firm "specialising in bicycle promotion, research & marketing and liveable cities," has its roots in the Copenhagenize blog run by Mikael Colville-Andersen, now the company’s CEO. This is the second Copenhagenize Index of top biking cities.

The ranking is based on points awarded for 13 criteria: advocacy; bicycle culture (the use of bikes for transport by the general public rather than a marginal group); bicycle infrastructure and facilities, meaning dedicated road space for cyclists; the presence or absence of a bike share program and how widely such a program is used; ratio of male to female cyclists; modal share for bicycles and modal share increase since 2006; perception of safety; politics; social acceptance; attention given by planners to bicycle infrastructure; and traffic calming. Cities could score bonus points for "particularly impressive efforts or results."

The first one came out in 2011, and three places in the U.S. – Portland, San Francisco, and New York – made the cut. No United States city made the top 20 this time around. This year, says Colville-Andersen, he and his colleagues expanded the field, increasing the number of cities considered from 80 to 150, and the “incredibly tough competition” that resulted pushed the U.S. entries off the list. “There are no cities in the U.S. who can compete with a Bordeaux, Seville, Antwerp, etc,” Colville-Andersen writes in an email. “That said, a number of usual American suspects are lingering in the wings, in the Top 35.”

"The cities that are moving fast are the ones who are keeping bicycle users safe and encouraging them to ride," says Colville-Andersen. "Political will is important, but it's the planners and engineers who need to google ‘Cycle Track Best Practice’ and start presenting these ideas at meetings."

Measured by these standards, the Top 20 list is heavily stacked with European cities, with only Tokyo and Nagoya in Japan, Montreal, and Rio breaking the Eurocentric lock. China, despite its long history of cycling and huge bike-share programs in cities such as Guangzhou, made a respectable showing, but couldn’t crack the highest echelon. "Chinese cities fared well, based not on their new love affair with the car, but their solid base of cycling from before," says Colville-Andersen. "As well as a number of cities now building cycle tracks. Still a tough climb for them. Not enough innovation or political will to rank higher."

For Colville-Andersen, there are several reasons to be hopeful about the ongoing improvement of cycling culture around the world. One is the global alliance of advocates for better biking infrastructure that has been evolving online through social media, and which Copenhagenize tapped to create the latest index. "When I started Copenhagenize.com there were seriously no other blogs focusing on Citizen Cyclists," writes Colville-Andersen. "All the other cycling blogs were sports and rec. Now I don't feel so alone anymore. There is a fantastic chorus out there."

He also sees growing interest in scoring well on a ranking system among municipal leaders. "Cities need rankings," he writes. "They don't have a clue how they're doing, generally, especially with something like bicycle culture. It's still new to many."

Here are the Top 20, with several cities in ties for ranking on the list:

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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