Denmark – the kingdom of cycling

Luc Williams

You could say that thanks to this Copenhagen residents save nearly EUR 400 million on health expenses annually. This is probably one of the reasons why Bertel Haarder, Minister of the Interior and Minister of Health in the Danish government in 2010–2011, announced that he would “invest in bicycle paths rather than in the construction of expressways.”

Bicycle under the microscope of scientists

Bicycles have become a topic of scientific research. In May 2015, Stefan Gössling and Andy S. Choi, researchers from Lund University and the University of Queensland, conducted a cost-benefit analysis of expanding cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen. They examined the social costs of cars and bicycles in terms of air pollution, climate change, noise, road wear, health and overpopulation in Copenhagen.

The research conclusions were clear: cars have a hugely negative impact on the economy. Stefan Gössling stated that “investments in cycling infrastructure and cyclist-friendly policies are economically sustainable and bring high returns.”

The superiority of the two-wheeler

Thus in Denmark the bicycle comes before the car. Over 12,000 have already been built for two-wheelers throughout the country. km of routes, in the capital itself – 400 km, including 43 km of the so-called ecological paths. The city's cycling strategy for 2011–2025 plans to designate another 26 routes that will literally wrap around Copenhagen. The Danish bicycle fund donated USD 458 million for this purpose in 2022. This is a huge amount, but – as calculated by employees of the capital's health department – it will pay off in a very short time. Scientists predict that thanks to bicycles, sick leave for residents of the Copenhagen metropolitan area has decreased by 1.1 million days. Cyclists reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 20,000. tons per yearand each kilometer traveled by bike instead of by car is 1 euro gained in the form of health benefits.

Horse, car and economic situation

However, cycling as a source of pleasure and a recreational tool has a complicated history in Denmark. Although the world's first bicycle path was designed in Copenhagen in 1892, it was not without turbulence. First, supporters of two wheels had to fight with the strong equestrian lobby for space on the roads, and then cars appeared on them. Already in 1905, the Danish Cyclists' Federation was established. In 1912, there were already 50 km of bicycle paths in Copenhagen, and trams and bicycles dominated the streets. The bicycle continued to be the main form of transportation during World War I due to strict gas rationing.

In the 1950s, as cars became cheaper, incomes rose and the city grew, cars began to dominate Copenhagen. New roads were built without bicycle infrastructure, and intersections became more oriented towards motor vehicles (e.g. turning lanes were introduced to increase the flow of car traffic, which limited bicycle lanes at the intersection). Vehicle traffic increased dramatically. In the 1960s, city planners viewed two-wheelers as outdated and considered removing some existing bicycle paths. The share of bicycle transport in total transport has fallen to the lowest level in history, 10%. in 1972

In 1973, the global oil crisis hit and oil prices quadrupled in a matter of days and… the tables turned. Driving was temporarily banned on Sundays, leading many to consider it the best day of the week. The growing environmental movement encouraged cycling as a practical alternative way of traveling. As the membership of the Danish Cyclists' Federation rapidly grew, it became more vocal and began organizing large demonstrations in Copenhagen, demanding better cycling infrastructure and bicycle safety. Another grassroots group painted white crosses on the streets where a cyclist died. Residents demonstrated in front of Copenhagen City Hall, demanding that cycling be made a priority too. The Danish Cyclists' Federation proposed a city-wide cycling network, and Copenhagen began creating more cycle paths.

New trend

It was in the 1970s that new urbanism began to develop around the world, the main assumption of which was a return to traditional city development. He strives to design compact cities, without extensive suburbs. The communication systems are adapted to public transport, supplemented with pedestrian paths and bicycle paths.

In the 1980s, the city, driven mainly by government officials, developed a plan for bicycle paths and 240 km of bicycle paths, and worked to improve cyclist safety at intersections. Between 1990 and 2000, total cycling distance increased by 40% and cycling-related injuries decreased by 30%.

Ultimately, from the 1990s onwards, the bicycle triumphed in Denmark. This was helped by economics, economic and political circumstances, and above all, social pressure. The cornerstone of a transparent city planning process was the creation of the Bicycle Account – a tool for research, evaluation, promotion and citizen engagement. The account analyzes the city's bicycle initiatives, Copenhagen's assessment as a city for cyclists, and discusses other factors that influence the development of two-wheeler traffic. The first Bicycle Account, established in 1996, included 10 key indicators selected by the city's traffic department and a group of regular cyclists. These included the cycling infrastructure budget, kilometers of cycling paths, modal breakdown (the share of each mode of transport in making trips in a given area), the number of cyclists and accident statistics. Cyclists' opinions about the infrastructure, its maintenance and perceived sense of safety were also taken into account.

Today, bicycles are a permanent feature of the Danish landscape. Everyone knows Danish design: practical, functional and elegant. Marianne Weinreich, in her 2021 article “Cycling Copenhagen: The Making of a Bike-Friendly City,” notes that Copenhagen residents “do not ride bikes because they have some special two-wheeler gene or because they care more about environment than other people. They ride because in everyday life, cycling around the city is safe, fast and easy. They do this because Copenhagen was designed and built with cycling in mind.” Copenhagen, which decisively and effectively develops, improves and complements its network of bicycle paths, also cares about their quality.

A traditional cycle path is one-way, at least 2 meters wide and runs between the sidewalk and the road, from which it is clearly separated by curbs. All these elements are located at different levels (the sidewalk at the top, the path below, and the roadway at the bottom). This ensures cyclists' safety and riding comfort. When the path reaches an intersection, the curbs disappear and the color of the path surface changes to blue, which signals drivers that they must give way to cyclists – the number of collisions at intersections decreases and cyclists' sense of safety increases. To make cycling safer and more enjoyable, in 2000 Copenhagen proposed the creation of 110 km of “green” cycling routes, which would ideally run off-street and through parks and other open green areas, and where necessary along low-traffic streets.

In 2001, Copenhagen introduced its first cycling strategy. It described measurable goals, such as increasing the share of bicycle transport in total transport from 34%. up to 40 percent and reducing serious injuries or deaths by 50%. Goals were also set for safety, comfort and speed. The City has committed to using Bicycle Accounts to monitor progress toward these goals on an annual or biennial basis.

In harmony with nature

In Denmark, very high taxes are imposed on fuel and cars, you pay for parking in the city and entering the center. By the end of 2025, all buses operating in Copenhagen will be electric. In February 2023, the municipalities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg reached an agreement that the last five diesel-powered bus lines in the Danish capital will be electric. Today, 22 lines in Copenhagen are emission-free. It is 57 percent. bus transport. By the end of 2025, another twelve lines will be rebuilt, so that 34 lines, or approximately 90 percent. bus traffic in the municipality of Copenhagen, were electric in nature.

Danish politicians are working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent, constantly striving to improve air purity, reduce noise levels and increase the number of green areas and bicycle paths. The plan assumes that every fifth product purchased by a resident of Copenhagen is to be ecological and every Dane should have access to a green area or water within a 15-minute walk of their place of residence.

Bicycle highway?

A few years ago, 28 municipalities and the Capital Region of Denmark joined forces to create a network of cycle highways providing better conditions for cyclists commuting within municipal boundaries. A cycle highway is defined by both its location and its physical features. Motorways connect areas of work, study and living, as well as public transport hubs, making it easier to combine commuting with public transport. The routes are marked with road signs and orange spots on the asphalt, making it easier for commuters to find their way – just follow the orange letter C.

Since 2020, when cyclists had access to nine bicycle highways, their number has increased every year. The first route, Albertslundruten C99, opened in 2012, the second, Farumruten C95, in 2013, Ishøjruten in 2016, and five more in 2017. In autumn 2020, Farum-Allerødruten opened. In total, over 60 routes with a total length of over 850 km of bicycle highway have been planned in the Copenhagen region.


As urban populations grow around the world, new technologies will play a major role in the future of mobility. Soon we will no longer be surprised by autonomous cars and buses, fast electric bicycles, electric scooters and regular scooters, skateboards and many other new means of transport on city streets. Maas is lurking just around the corner (Mobility as a service) – Mobility as a service, a new cybertechnology that will seamlessly connect different modes of transport in the future. Growing demand for more personalized transportation services, a myriad of new, innovative mobility service providers such as ride-sharing companies, bike-sharing programs, scooter-sharing systems and car-sharing services are creating market space for mobility-as-a-service.

While it is fascinating to watch the development of new technologies, we must strive to control this development in such a way as to achieve the mobility best suited to our society. From a public health perspective, steps must certainly be taken to ensure that technology enhances active mobility rather than perpetuating a sedentary lifestyle, with all its social, economic and human consequences.

The author expresses her own opinions, not the official position of the National Bank of Poland.

Financial Observer – open license /


Luc's expertise lies in assisting students from a myriad of disciplines to refine and enhance their thesis work with clarity and impact. His methodical approach and the knack for simplifying complex information make him an invaluable ally for any thesis writer.