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Buildings and Cities

Bike Infrastructure

Copenhagen is considered the most livable city in the world, in no small part because it is the most bike-friendly. Thirty percent of Copenhageners ride to work, school, and market on 18 miles of bike lanes, and along three bicycle superhighways connecting Copenhagen to its outlying suburbs. Twenty-three more such highways are currently in the works. Like virtually all European cities, Copenhagen was bicycle- friendly for much of the twentieth century. After the Second World War and into the 1960s the city became polluted and congested with car traffic. Citizens pushed back and reclaimed the city for biking. Today, the city is a testament to what bicycle infrastructure can do.

Bicycles are on the rise as cities attempt to untangle traffic and unclog skies, urban dwellers seek affordable transportation, and diseases of inactivity and billowing greenhouse gases become impossible to ignore. Infrastructure is essential for supporting safe, pleasant, and abundant bicycle use, and includes:

  • Networks of well-lit, tree-lined bike lanes or paths—the more direct, level, and interconnected the better.
  • Well-designed intersections, roundabouts, and points of access, where bicycles and cars meet.
  • Access to public transport, secure bike parking, city bike-share programs, and workplace showers.

In the places where cycling thrives, programs and policies complement physical infrastructure. Educational initiatives target cyclists and motorists alike, for example, and stricter liability laws protect those on two wheels. Numbers from the world’s cycling capitals are compelling. In Denmark, 18 percent of local trips are done on two wheels, and in the Netherlands, 27 percent—with virtually zero emissions.

A virtuous cycle is clear: With more infrastructure come more riders. Perhaps counterintuitively, with more infrastructure and more riders, safety improves. And the more bicycles there are traversing a city, the more it reaps numerous returns on investment, including the health benefits of cleaner air and greater physical activity.


Susan B. Anthony [on] bicycling: Macy, Sue. Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2011.

Rob Penn [on] the bicycle: Penn, Robert. It’s All about the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010.

elements that support…cycling: Hull, Angela, and Craig O’Holleran. “Bicycle Infrastructure: Can Good Design Encourage Cycling?” Urban, Planning and Transport Research, 2, no. 1 (2014): 369-406; Buehler, Ralph, and John Pucher. “Cycling to Work in 90 Large American Cities: New Evidence on the Role of Bike Paths and Lanes.” Transportation, 39, no. 2 (2012): 409–432; NACTO. Equitable Bike Share Means Building Better Places for People to Ride. New York: National Association of City Transportation Officials, 2016.

separated from car traffic: Baker, Linda. “How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road.” Scientific American, October 1, 2009.

[importance of] workplace showers: Buehler, Ralph. “Determinants of Bicycle Commuting in the Washington, DC Region: The role of Bicycle Parking, Cyclist Showers, and Free Car Parking at Work.” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 17, no. 7 (2012): 525–531.

Dutch official…cycling tantamount to suicide: Jordan, Pete. In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

In Amsterdam, bikes outnumber cars: Tagliabue, John. “The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power, but a Sea of Bikes Swamps Their Capital.” New York Times. June 20, 2013.

Copenhagen…responsive traffic light system: Jaffe, Eric. “Of Course Copenhagen Is Giving Bicycles Traffic-Light Priority.” CityLab—from The Atlantic. February 19, 2016.

local trips…[Denmark and] the Netherlands: Folbre, Nancy. “The Bicycle Dividend.” New York Times. July 4, 2011.

United States…trips…by bike: Folbre, “Dividend.”

Bike commuting [growth]: Pallardy, Richard. “Urban Bicycling: Year in Review 2015.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016.

trips…less than two miles: Folbre, “Dividend.”

health benefits of cleaner air and…activity: Garrard, J, C. Rissel, and A. Bauman..”Health Benefits of Cycling.” In City Cycling, edited by J. Pucher and R. Buehler, 31-54. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

reduced risk of fatalities: Jacobsen and Rutter, “Health Benefits”; NACTO. Equitable Bike Share Means Building Better Places for People to Ride, New York: National Association of City Transportation Officials, 2016.

Europe’s new bike highways: Schwägerl, Christian. “Moving Beyond the Autobahn: Germany’s New Bike Highways.” Yale Environment 360. February 18, 2016.

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