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If you’ve ever been to Denmark, you’ll already know that the Danes love their bicycles. In many Danish cities, bicycles far outnumber cars and cycling is as stress free as walking. In some Danish cities, like Copenhagen, where less than 30 percent of residents own a car, pregnant women have even been known to ride their bicycles to the hospital with contractions when they are about to give birth.
It is no surprise then that the world’s bi-annual bicycle-friendly city index is published by a Copenhagen-based consulting firm, appropriately called Copenhagenize. In the 2017 index, Copenhagen topped Copenhagenize’s list of bicycle-friendly cities, for the second time in a row. The firm's first two lists published in 2011 and 2013, Amsterdam held the coveted top spot. Among the top 20 cities on the list, only one North American cities made the cut in 2017— Montreal. New York, which edged into the index’s top 20 in 2011, has been nowhere to be found since.
To find out where New York currently stands on Copenhagenize’s bicycle-friendly city index and how it can improve its standing, CityRealty talked to Michael Seth Wexler, a Montreal-based urban planner and Copenhagenize’s North American consultant.
NYC's 2016 Bike Map NYC's 2018 Bike Map (NYC DOT)

Where did New York rank on the 2015 index of bicycle-friendly cities?

We choose to only publicly announce the top 20 as an incentive for cities to strive to join the ranks of the best. Our team also spends three months working away at it, so it is already a very big endeavor. New York, among other cities in the United States, have been making impressive gains and strides with protected infrastructure and bicycle-focused efforts on the city streets. In the 2015 ranking, Minneapolis, the only other U.S. city to ever make the index, was a stand out among its American peers for forward-thinking political will, an impressive connected network of trails and focus on infrastructure maintenance, which is incredibly important for so many colder cities.

What factors does Copenhagenize take into account when ranking cities?

The index is a ranking based on 13 parameters where cities are given a score between 0 and 4 for each category and are awarded up to 12 bonus points for uniquely impressive efforts, results or programs. The 13 parameters include the following:
  • Advocacy: How is the city's advocacy NGO(s) regarded and what level of influence does it have?
  • Bicycle Culture: Has the bicycle established itself as transport among regular citizens or only sub-cultures?
  • Bicycle Facilities: Are there readily accessible bike racks, ramps on stairs, space allocated on trains and buses and well designed wayfinding, etc.?
  • Bicycle Infrastructure: How does the city's bicycle infrastructure rate?
  • Bike Share Program: Does the city have a comprehensive and well-used bike-sharing program?
  • Gender Split: What percentage of the city's cyclists are male and female?
  • Modal Share for Bicycles: What percentage of the modal share (percentage of travelers using a particular type of transportation) is made up by cyclists?
  • Modal Share Increase Since 2006: What has the increase in modal share been since 2006?
  • Perception of Safety: Is the perception of safety of the cyclists in the city, reflected in helmet-wearing rates, positive or are cyclists riding scared due to helmet promotion and scare campaigns?
  • Politics: What is the political climate regarding urban cycling?
  • Social Acceptance: How do drivers and the community at large regard urban cyclists?
  • Urban Planning: How much emphasis do the city's planners place on bicycle infrastructure - are they well-informed about international best practice?
  • Traffic Calming: What efforts have been made to lower speed limits - for example, 30km/h zones (~20mph) - and generally calm traffic in order to provide greater safety to pedestrians and cyclists?


What do other North American cities, like Montreal have that New York City doesn’t?

Montreal and Minneapolis, being the two North American cities that made the cut in 2015's top 20, both have unique elements for cities on this continent, but others are definitely catching up. New York has been very active in building protected infrastructure for bicycles, much like Montreal, but needs to make sure it has a connected network for users, which ensures its functionality and convenience. I will say as a resident of Montreal, we commend New York on building one-way protected bicycle infrastructure unlike Montreal's choice for bidirectional cycle tracks for many years.

Are European cities simply more amendable to bicycles than North American cities?

Keep in mind that many major North American cities were built before the car as well, with the presence of many bicycle users and dense streetcar networks, but the 1950s saw an almost fanatical movement towards expanding our roads to facilitate motor vehicles. European cities did not go through the same degree of change (though many also had motorways ploughed through vibrant neighborhoods just like Boston or Montreal) but many have also shifted towards prioritizing life-sized cities, and pushing away the supreme reign of the car. Cities like Oslo in Norway are now talking about a car-free city center, with strong political will to make it happen. North American cities have been late to this game and many are starting to realize that we need to make our cities better for transporting all people—on foot, by bike, with public transport and not only through motor vehicles.

A final question—could New York ever beat out Copenhagen or Amsterdam on your ranking list or is this just impossible?

We believe that with a strong vision and political will to build best-practice infrastructure, New York could see very impressive results. People want to get around a dense and congested city efficiently from A to B and the bicycle can facilitate that. It’s currently far away from the modal split of Copenhagen or Amsterdam but even a small jump in bicycle modal share would have huge impacts to the safety on the street, health benefits for citizens and economic return for businesses and local government. But this has to be an active choice to make this happen by the city.

Additional Info About the Building

Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.