It's not just cyclists who win when cities are bike-friendly. Bike-friendly laws, policies, and infrastructure benefit everyone, including pedestrians and motorists. The top bike-friendly cities in the world enjoy a variety of benefits, including economic, environmental, and health benefits.
Benefits of a Bike Friendly City
Depending on who you ask, making a city "bike friendly" is either a great idea or a controversial move. For example, as the city of Philadelphia has moved to make the streets more bike-friendly by adding protected bike lanes or bike lanes in general, there's been a bit of a backlash, as an article on Philly.com points out.
While some believe that bikes shouldn't be on the road or that preference should be given to motor vehicles, the benefits of a bike-friendly city are clear. Enacting policies and laws that make the road safer for cyclists don't just benefit cyclists. It also helps everyone who lives in a town or travels through it at any time.
Being bike friendly is very good for a city's economy, according to Fast Company. It's way less expensive to add a bike lane, even a protected bike lane than it is to add freeways. For example, a highway typically costs $60 million per mile to build, while a bike lane costs just $250,000 per mile, tops. Bike lanes also need less maintenance than roads traversed by cars.
"It's way less expensive to add a bike lane, even a protected bike lane than it is to add freeways."
It's also a lot less expensive to offer parking for bikes than it is for cars. Think about how much space cars take up when parked, then compare that to the amount of space a bike takes up. You can park many bikes in a parking spot that would only hold one car. According to Fast Company, creating parking for 160 bikes costs about the same amount as building a parking space for a single motor vehicle.
Perhaps because it's easier to find parking for a bike, people who travel around by bicycle are also more likely to spend more in their home city than car drivers. One study from Portland, Oregon found that cyclists spent 25 percent per month than car drivers, which contributed to the creation of more than 1,100 jobs in the city's economy.
Being bike-friendly can also affect the market value of homes in an area. For example, according to SmartCitiesDIVE, the median home value in Minneapolis (a bike-friendly city) rose by more than $500 for every quarter mile closer to a bike lane the house was located.
Bikes don't need gasoline to operate, they don't need motor oil, and they don't produce large amounts of greenhouse gases. As YouCanBikeThere notes, the manufacture and production of bicycles also use a lot less fuel, energy, and materials than the production of motor vehicles, even supposedly "eco-friendly" motor vehicles like hybrids.
Plus, the more people you have riding instead of driving a car in a city, the less air pollution will be produced. For example, a small car that gets 35 mpg produces 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide if it drives 10 miles per day, five days a week, for a year, according to YouCanBikeThere.
Health and Safety Benefits
Being bike friendly tends to make a city healthier. For example, Copenhagen, perhaps the most bike-friendly city of all cities, expects to see its healthcare costs drop by $60 million per year thanks to the addition of protected bike "highways," according to Fast Company. In the US, Portland, Oregon anticipates that bike-friendly practices will lower its healthcare costs by $600 million by 2030.
"Portland, Oregon anticipates that bike-friendly practices will lower its healthcare costs by $600 million by 2030."
Encouraging people to bike doesn't just make a city healthier. It also helps to make a city safer. When areas add bike-friendly infrastructure, like protected bike lanes, the number of fatal accidents drops. If cyclists have somewhere to bike where they feel safe, they are less likely to ride on the sidewalks, which makes those areas safer for pedestrians.
Giving bikes a lane that's separate from motor vehicles also helps to protect cyclists from speeding cars, drivers who aren't looking as they pull into traffic, or from vehicles that are pulling out from a parking space into a bike lane. In New York City, for example, the number of total vehicle-related injuries fell by 20 percent after the city added in protected bike lanes.
What Makes a City "Bike Friendly"
Several factors make a city bike-friendly -- not. For examples, some cities aim to improve infrastructure for cyclists, meaning they plan on building protected or separate bike lanes for cyclists. But having bike lanes isn't enough to make a city bike-friendly.
The most bike-friendly cities also find ways to "calm" traffic, that is, to reduce the speed of motor vehicles to make the roads safer for everyone. An example of traffic calming is installing speed humps on the street, so that cars are required to slow down. Traffic circles, raised intersections, and narrow roads are other examples of traffic calming measures, according to ITE.
Some bike-friendly cities have passed traffic laws that improve the riding experience for cyclists. For example, in recent years, several cities in the US have adopted what's known as the "Idaho stop" or "stop as yield laws" for cyclists. Bikers are allowed to yield, rather than come to a full stop at stop signs. The thinking behind such laws is that the faster cyclists move through intersections, the less likely they are to be hit by oncoming traffic.
Another feature that makes a city bike friendly is whether or not it offers a bike share program. With bike share, people can borrow a bike for a set amount of time, usually for just a few dollars, or if they are members of the program, for free.
How We Chose the Most Bike-Friendly Cities
When looking for the most bike-friendly cities, we looked at statistics such as:
10 Most Bike-Friendly Cities
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Plain and simply, biking rules in Copenhagen. While 62 percent of residents bike daily in the city, fewer than 10 percent drive a car. The city has spent more than 134 million Euros over the past decade creating bike infrastructure, such as bridges exclusively for the use of cyclists.
Currently, Copenhagen has nearly 400 km worth of designated bike lanes. It's at work on something called a Cycle Super Highway, which will comprise more than 500 km of bike-only routes and paths all over the city and surrounding suburbs by the time it's completed.
Here's an awesome video from We Love Cycling on the cycling culture in Copenhagen.
2. Utrecht, Netherlands
In the Netherlands, there are more bikes than people, according to the NY Times, so it's little surprise that two Dutch cities have landed in the second and third spots on this list. Utrecht has edged out Amsterdam because of its commitment to building vast amounts of bicycle infrastructure, most notably, a parking garage with space for 33,000 bikes.
3. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam might be the city that comes to mind when people think "bike friendly," but it's just not as bike friendly as its neighbor Utrecht or Copenhagen. The city has 400 km of bike lanes, plus bike-only traffic signals and several laws to keep cyclists safe (like the requirement that bikes have lights for riding at night).
4. Strasbourg, France
About 16 percent of the population of Strasbourg commutes by bike, and the number is even higher in the city center. Like Copenhagen, Strasbourg has plans for a Bike Superhighway, which will connect the city to several neighboring towns.
5. Malmo, Sweden
Surprising, Malmo has more cycling lanes (500km) than its neighbor Copenhagen, according to the Guardian. It also has exciting plans in the work to make cycling more feasible in the city, including "The Bicycle House" (Cykelhuset), which is an apartment building designed exclusively for bike commuters.
6. Bordeaux, France
The city of Bordeaux recently released its Le Plan Velo Metropolitain, through which it hopes to raise the percentage of bike commuters to 15 percent by 2020. It also plans to extend its bike share program by 10 stations each year.
7. Antwerp, Belgium
One thing that hurts Antwerp, Belgium when it comes to bike-friendliness is the political climate. One year, politicians are pro-bike. The next year, not so much. Still, the city has plenty of bike parking, a bike share program and protected bike trails down by the harbor, making it an attractive area for bicycle commuters.
8. Tokyo, Japan
Something like 14 percent of all journeys in Tokyo are made by bike, according to CityLab, even though the city only has around 10 km of bike lanes.
Still, cycling is huge in the city, with 20 percent (4 million) of the population of commuters riding their bikes to the train station each day. Bike parking is ample, even though available bike lanes are limited.
9. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Winter in Minneapolis gets super cold, yet the city remains the most bike-friendly city in the US. It has more than 200 miles of on-street and off-street bike lanes, a bike master plan, and a bicycling advisory committee.
10. Portland, Oregon, USA
Portland might call itself "Bike City USA," but it still comes behind Minneapolis regarding bike-friendliness. It does have the most bike commuters in the US (Minneapolis is second), as well as more than 300 miles of bike lanes and a bike share program.