Learning from the 2013 Index of Bicycle Friendly Cities

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Ever wondered where you need to live in order to be considered unusual if you don’t ride to work? To have urban planners fighting over how to make the city as friendly a place as possible for you, the cyclist? To be a car driver so amazed by the cycling facilities on offer to leave your car at home and join in? To be a pedestrian enjoying breathable air while two wheels pass by next to you?

Well, unfortunately right now, you probably need to move to Europe… But maybe not for long.

This year’s Copenhagenize index of bicycle friendly cities is bigger and better than the inaugural edition of 2011: 80 cities were upped to 150, all assessed along 13 criteria to definitively reward those cities who are “Re-establishing the bicycle as a feasible mode of transport”.

Copenhagenize– the organisation behind the index- only releases data on the top 20, so who knows, perhaps Cape Town was 22nd?! But in this top 20, Europe dominates. Only 4 are non-European, and the top 10 all come from 6 European countries.  But why should the benefits of bicycle transport only be accruing in Europe? Why shouldn’t Capetonians also feel the benefits of spending less on transport, better health, reduced air pollution, and safer streets?  Despair not! Cape Town should take inspiration from the index.

Get inspired Cape Town: Things move quick

Yes, the top two look extremely familiar. Amsterdam and Copenhagen remain the leaders. The bicycle Mecca’s command modal shares of 34% and 37% respectively (that’s 37 in every 100 journeys by bicycle!). Yet the index suggests that others are being more innovate and catching up. And it’s this speed of movement which should inspire Cape Town. Seville increased its modal share from 0.5% in 2006 to 7% in 2012, and Bordeaux’s city centre from 2% in 2006 to 10% today.  According to the creators of the index, getting to 5% is a magic moment: reaching it is difficult, but once you get there, momentum makes it much easier to get to 15%+.  Of course, things take longer to get going in large, developing country cities still overcoming the spatial legacy of apartheid, but the precedents are there: change can happen, fast. And with a modal share of just under 1%, alongside a fast-growing bicycle sub-culture, the time is now in Cape Town.

Get inspired Cape Town: Big cities can do it too

While predictably smaller and historically compact cities dominate the list, big metros are also holding their own. Tokyo keeps its place in the top 20: showing vast, densely populated metropolises can still retrofit space for bicycles. In Rio de Janeiro, in as the 16th city, a new bike sharing scheme set-up in 2011 is enjoying success. The city is expanding its modest bicycle lane network and has big ambitions. Rio is one of the few cities to actually improve its ranking despite all the new additions making this year’s index much more competitive. One of the key ingredients for Rio’s climb up the rankings? Political will (perhaps driven by the Olympics), innovative projects, and increasing social acceptance of the bicycle.


Veggie Bike

A bike, made of vegetables


So how to break into the top 20, Cape Town?

Cape Town can learn from good and bad practice; there’s a wealth of experience out there. From the velo-city conference, to the EcoMobility alliance*, to the partnership on sustainable low carbon transport , Cape Town can learn. The ingredients for success are not rocket science, and are rooted in the indexes own criteria: how do you make cycling attractive (encourage a bicycle culture), how do you make cycling easy, enjoyable? (provide facilities & infrastructure), how do you use urban planning and traffic calming efforts to promote sustainable transport and make cycling safe?

But the solutions will have to be specific, endogenous to Cape Town. Maybe we’ll need cycle lane security guards? Specially designed wind tunnels to channel the good Doctor to power journeys? A minibus taxi “adopt a cyclist” scheme?!

We know in Cape Town we are heading in the right direction: the integrated transport authority, bikes on buses, bikes on trains, and the willingness to work with community and activist groups are all good signs. The City government’s very own brand new CBD bike-sharing system is an example of leadership.

But we have a long way to go to up that modal share above 1%. Copenhagenize says it all:

“The Emerging Bicycle Cities are not just transforming their own urban landscape, they are inspiring cities around the world in showing what is possible in a short amount of time. These are the visionaries”.

Let’s be visionary, Cape Town. Let’s Copenhagenize, Cape Town style.


*Disclosure of interest: the ecomobility alliance is administered by the author’s employers global Secretariat.

About Steven Bland

Steven works with local governments across Sub-Saharan Africa on urban sustainability issues, but writes in a personal capacity. He is new to Cape Town and sees the city through the spokes of his bicycle. Likes: geography, natural wonders, apple crumble Dislikes: smoking, inequality, nuts