FUTURE CAPE TOWN | World’s largest study on cyclist behaviour: Copenhagen to Cape Town

“We truly believe that well-designed infrastructure leads to better behaviour from cyclists

Copenhaganize Cycle Study 001

Copenhagenize Design Co, the international consultancy specialising in bicycle urbanism are launching a new project that will span continents and use their unique Desire Lines Analysis Tool.

Copenhagenize Logo
The Desire Lines of Cyclists – The Global Study – is described as “the natural evolution” of the original Desire Lines analysis of cyclist behaviour and how cyclists react to urban design called The Choreography of an Urban Intersection. The results of that analysis were unveiled by CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen at Velo-City 2013 in Vienna.  The study from which took place in Copenhagen in 2012 was based on video-recorded observations of 16,631 cyclists during a 12 hour period. Copenhagenize explored the anthropological details of bicycle users and how they interact with other traffic users and the existing urban design. Three categories of cyclists were identified: Conformists, Momentumists, and Recklists.

Choreography of an Urban Intersection and Copenhagenize fixes

Based on this study a new methodology to analyse urban life: the Desire Line Analysis Tool seeks to decode the Desire Lines of cyclists. The main purposes of the analysis is to get a thorough understanding of bicycle users and to rethink intersections to fit modern mobility needs. Like William H. Whyte, Copenhagenize want first to observe people and hence employ anthropology and sociology directly to urban planning – something they feel is sorely lacking.

With increasing focus on re-establishing the bicycle as transport in cities around the world, understanding the behaviour and, indeed, the basic urban anthropology of bicycle users is of utmost importance. Rethinking the car-centric design of intersections and infrastructure is necessary if we are to redesign our cities for new century mobility patterns.

Desire Lines of cyclists turned into a permanent lane in Copenhagen

Desire Lines of cyclists turned into a permanent lane in Copenhagen

For Copenhagenize there has not been any concrete way of mapping cyclist behaviour. Copenhagenize Design Company’s techniques utilise Direct Human Observation in order to map cyclist behaviour – and gather a motherlode of valuable data from it.

 In the last two years at Copenhagenize, urban planners, anthropologists and urban designers have worked on testing, improving and realising new studies in Copenhagen. Using the city as an actual-size laboratory, they observed, analysed, mapped thousands of cyclists’ behavior. They then went to Amsterdam, a city considered as a model for many urban planners, and in  collaboration with The University of Amsterdam, Copenhagenize Design Co. worked on nine intersections and 19,500 bicycle users.
Watch the video here, and read the studies here, here, here, here, and here.
Copenhaganize Cycle Study 002

The proven methodology will now be expanded to other cities around the world and compare different approaches of bicycle urbanism focusing on the way cyclists react to urban design. This study will take us to Europe, South and North America, Asia and Africa. Cycling is booming everywhere in the world and municipalities are investing in infrastructure across many cities. Nevertheless, data is still lacking and a deep understanding of cyclists’ behavior and expectations is required. I

The global study will start in the two world-wide bicycle friendly cities, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, and use them as references of the study. Then the study will study intersections in Cape Town (South Africa), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Mexico City (Mexico) and finally onto, New York City (US), Paris (France) and Tokyo (Japan).
Copenhagenize Desire Line Global Study

Copenhagenize will compare all these cyclists and figure out the balance between the behaviour due to varying infrastructure – or lack thereof – and the bicycle culture/habits of the inhabitants. They will highlight both the cultural differences and the universality of human behaviour.

We truly believe that well-designed infrastructure leads to better behaviour from cyclists – whereas the lack of consideration for cyclists when municipalities design bike infrastructure leads to negative behaviour.


In each city Copenhagenize will team up with a local partner including the organisations Future Cape Town, ITDP Brazil and 3×3 Design in New York City. Copenhagenize will seek close cooperation with local authorities and has already get the support of the municipalities of Paris and Amsterdam. Our local partners and us are searching for financial support to make the most of the project in each city.

The results will be presented using maps, statistics, qualitative analyses and appealing graphic representations. The study will reveal how people respect or disrespect infrastructure, how they interact with pedestrians and motorists, what are their normal trajectories and Desire Lines. According to Copenhagenize, all bicycle-friendly cities should have a perfect knowledge of the evolution of the number of cyclists, but also a sociological big picture of them and a deep understanding of their behavior.

This post is an adapted post from the post which originally appeared at Copenhangenize on 27 May 2015