Copenhagen: A model for cycling-friendly cities

Group of cyclists together on the road in Copenhagen (c) Flickr/Martti Tulenheimo
Our public affairs officer Tomos Owens talks us through his recent trip to Denmark and how its cities can be a blueprint for the future UK government on how to restore cities and towns into places for people, not cars

Mouth-watering pastries, world-conquering interior design, culture-defining fairytales and dream-worthy bike paths. Where am I describing? Ding ding player number one, it’s Denmark!

The cycling capital

In May, I spent a week exploring and enjoying Copenhagen, the wonderful capital city of Denmark. When it comes to cycling-friendly cities, Copenhagen really feels like it sets the gold standard. It’s often ranked as one of the most bike-friendly cities globally, and it’s easy to see why. 

The city has been able to create the safe and welcoming environment for cyclists of all ages and throughout the city, the cycling infrastructure is intelligently designed, with the innovative Green Wave system a good example of this. Furthermore, the integration of cycling with public transport means that bikes are welcome on trains and buses, making multi-modal travel seamless.

Reclaiming the streets

It wasn’t always this way. During the mid-20th century Denmark, like many Western cities, saw a growing infatuation with the car. Similar to here in the UK, cycling levels began to drop from historic highs during the 1960s as cars became more accessible to the masses.

This move away from the bike and into the car brought with it the obvious downsides of pollution, congestion, conflict between the remaining cyclists and the new wave of drivers.

The growing recognition that Denmark’s cities needed to be reclaimed from car-minded urban planners led to the reversal and cancellation of road projects. The pedestrianisation of Strøget was a prime example of this change.

This shopping street is the longest of its kind in all of Europe and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Copenhagen – I highly doubt this would be the case if cars were still flying down it, at 30 miles per hour or locked bumper-to-bumper up this narrow street!

What I saw and enjoyed in Copenhagen is the result of an impressive cross-cutting political desire to restore cities and towns into places for people, not cars. Cycling is a huge element of that success, but exceptional public transport and intelligent development also played their part.

A large car free zone full of pedestrians in Copenhagen (c) Flickr/Jim Bahn

The opportunity of the UK general election

It’s this cross-spectrum understanding of giving people the freedom to choose how they travel that I’m hoping we can achieve in the next parliament here in the UK. With the turnover of MPs likely to be very high in the next election, it’s an important time for us at Cycling UK to build a new group of supportive MPs to add to those that have helped and supported our work over many years.

The upcoming election presents a unique opportunity for voters to tell candidates how important it is that they support pro-cycling policies and initiatives if they are elected. The policies we have set out in our manifesto are key to transforming our cities and countryside, ensuring that cycling becomes a viable and attractive option for all.

Our manifesto

One of the most significant takeaways from Copenhagen is the impact of sustained investment in cycling infrastructure. The city’s success did not happen overnight but is the result of long-term commitment and financial support.

During this general election, and beyond, we are campaigning for increased investment in active travel, ramping up to at least 10% of the transport budget within five years. This level, and security, of funding is crucial to develop and maintain the infrastructure needed to support a cycling culture in the UK.

Two women cycling on a path in a park with a shipping container on their left

Integrated transport

Denmark’s approach to cycling includes integrating bike lanes with public transport, creating a cohesive network that makes it easier for people to choose sustainable travel options. We think the UK should adopt similar strategies to reduce reliance on cars and give people real choice in how they travel.

By producing an integrated transport strategy, the incoming government can provide better transport choices, reduce traffic, and improve so many parts of our lives from physical and mental health to air quality and safer streets.

Ensuring that new homes are built with excellent cycling and walking networks is a cornerstone of sustainable development. It’s clear that in Denmark, urban planning is consistently incorporating cycling infrastructure, making it an attractive and practical option from the outset.

This integrated planning ensures residents are given real transport choice and aren’t locked into car dependency by poor transport links. We’re calling for next government to improve the planning system by making sure that all new developments include proper provision for cycling and walking.

Safer streets

Safety is a primary concern for potential cyclists. That’s why we think that the next government should support speed reduction measures across the country. Whether in an urban or rural setting, reducing vehicle speeds makes our roads safer for all, pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists.

While our speed limits need updating, so do our failing road traffic laws. We would like to see a review into road traffic laws commissioned by the next government within its first twelve months to make sure these laws are correctly punishing dangerous drivers and keeping other road users safe.

Woman cycling in the distance with a close up of cycling traffic lights which are set to green

Better access to nature

Finally, we think the next government should be helping everyone to spend time in nature by increasing responsible access to the countryside by extending public open-access rights.

We want more and better-connected green spaces for everyone and a simplified system for changing the status of public right of ways to build a network fit for the future.


As we head to the polls, although there are many issues in the front of voter’s minds, I think it’s important to vote for candidates who support Cycling UK’s manifesto.

Copenhagen’s cycling infrastructure offers a powerful example of what’s possible with the right investment and planning. We have the chance to build a strong voice in the next parliament for policies that will enhance our cities and countryside, making cycling a viable and attractive option for all.

These policies not only benefit cyclists but also contribute to a healthier, more sustainable, and more connected society. Please read our full manifesto – we intend to keep the pressure on politicians to keep cycling on the agenda.