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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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There is a wide geographical divergence between the usage of cycling for different cities such as the university city of Cambridge or London. It is however still the most important mode of transport in the UK with 76% of all trips under 1 mile. Whilst most people walk on a daily basis, is it an appearance compared to the population. For example, households without a car walk on average 65% further than those with a car. Countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark are often used as a good example of what can also be achieved in terms of quantity, quality and status. The reason for this starts in the cultural difference and policies that have been made by the government. For example, the levels of cycling decreased considerably between 1950 and 1975 in both countries. Only through changes in transport and planning policy in the 1970s and beyond that the current success story was generated. Most urban agglomerations face problems of congestion and air pollution due to high or increasing levels of individual motorised transport, and in particular car use. Therefore, restructuring transport systems is high on the agenda of policy makers. To show the result of these policy changes is the comparison with the United States and Canada where approximately 1% and 2% of urban trips are being made by bicycle in contrast to the higher levels of cycling in The Netherlands with 28% of urban trips made by bicycle (Pucher & Dijkstra , 2000).

Cycling and walking are both widely recognised as environmentally friendly and healthy modes of

transport and the potential for increasing levels is substantial. In the UK and many other places walking and cycling are secondary modes of transport – the environment for these modes and level of provision of facilities is often poor which leads in higher risk levels of injury and they are generally higher than for motorised modes. Also, the perceptions of people are often negative because their status and motivation is generally low and the role that these modes play in society and individual lives have the potential to be substantially increased. Cycling and walking have similarities – both involve the human body as a power system, they are exposed to the weather, both types of user are very vulnerable if involved in a collision with a motor vehicle. However, despite these similarities, the two modes are fundamentally different and have different roles and requirements. Cyclists typically cover greater distances than walkers and usually require a surfaced road. Walking is almost common used and requires little training. Cycling on the other hand is a less common activity, people profound it as an unpopular mode with large proportions, because it needs some equipment and does require a degree of learning and confidence (Tight, et al., 2011). This lifestyle is for the citizens of Copenhagen already implemented for a long time. Numerous accounts in the past century's popular culture of cycles see it as part of street life, illustrate this normalisation of cycling and represent cycling as something authentic and Danish.

Background of a developed cycling city

Cycling has been on the Copenhagen policy agenda for years. Copenhagen introduced its first cycle tracks in the mid-1920s, presented the first plan for a cycle network in 1936, and in 2002 the first individual cycle policy was introduced: Cycle Policy 2002–2012. The Cycle Policy states that in urban plans cycling should be integrated at all levels of the municipal planning. The aim for 2015 is that 50% of work and study related travels in the city happen on cycles, and this aim surfaces across a range of municipal plans and strategies. The recent Copenhagen Cycle Strategy 2011–2025 has a strong focus on five aspects of cycling: urban life, travel time, safety and comfort, and experience, lifestyle and image (City of Copenhagen, Building and Construction Administration, Roads and Parks Department, 2002).

Networks of cycle tracks have since the 1940s Fingerplan been the backbone of the city's cycle initiatives, and by 2011, the network consisted of 350 km cycle tracks (figure 1). Two major initiatives are prominent in the cycle policy; the green cycle track system and the cycle super highway system. The system of green cycle tracks cuts across the city where it constitutes an independent network of travel routes, weaving in and out of neighbourhoods, parks, squares and abandoned rail lines. It aims at offering the experience of greenspaces, the natural climate, urban spaces and quiet and direct routes to cyclists. The green cycle track system brought about the construction of new cycle/pedestrian bridges across the harbour and main roads and was associated with maintenance of greenspaces. The first green cycle track opened in 2008, and by 2012 the tracks stretched over 43 km, with 22 routes planned that cover 110 km of cycle tracks.  

Figure 1 Km of cycle track over time in Copenhagen. Source: Copenhagen Municipality

The network of cycle super highways mainly targets commuters. For example, they cycling more than seven km to work, in order to improve urban environment, decreasing congestions and improve health. Designed to establish direct, easy and safe access routes between home and work, the cycle super highways connect the city centre with the suburbs, and the city council developed the network in collaboration with the 17 neighbouring municipalities and the regional authority. Along the cycle super highways, cyclists find services such as drinking water fountains, and a minimum of traffic lights. Each direction is at least three lanes wide and safe from cars.

The two cycle track systems are among the range of initiatives launched to remould Copenhagen's urban spatiality into be more bearable, liveable urban spaces. The cycling policy stated, in particular the green cycle tracks, in combination with a pedestrian strategy is directly linked to the constitution and improvement of urban life. The initiatives stress how peaceful urban mobilities open up for particular experiences and sensations of the city that stem from the network of links and promenades in the city so that they become safe and enjoyable routes both for pedestrians and cyclists. To further improve the green environment will the municipality plant 3,000 more trees along the streets so cyclists can be constantly in touch with a green environment (Jensen, 2013).

To involve bicyclists actively in the transition process, various efforts to enhance participation are made. For instance, suggestions for change can be submitted through the Internet or by mobile phone. On the mobile phone can an app be downloaded, which identifies the bicyclist's specific geographical location through triangulation, with an option to make suggestions for improvement.

These transitions are processes in which society changes significantly over comparably short periods of time, reaching new dynamic balance. Copenhagen is an example of a city that has gone through two bicycle-related transport transitions, reflecting broader changes in Northern European cycling cultures. It is often referred as the ‘Golden Age', the development of cycling in Denmark and the Netherlands from the 1880s to the 1950s, and, after a period of car dominance, the ‘Renaissance' of bicycle cultures in the 1970s due to the oil crisis and economic recession. This second transition subsequently saw Copenhagen re-defining itself as a bicycle city (Gössling, Urban transport transitions: Copenhagen, City of Cyclists, 2013).

Travel behaviour model

Understanding travel behaviour and to promote further transitions, depends on the activities in which individuals want to participate at their destination or during their travel. Besides that, is it also important to know the options they have to fulfil these needs as has been fulfilled and implemented in the Copenhagen bicycle plan. Therefore, it is important to distinguish three general factors that influence behaviour: needs, opportunities and abilities for explaining behavioural choices. The motivation for behaviour comes from needs and the presence of opportunities in an individual's context to fulfil these needs, like the availability of alternatives in transport and distance to destinations. These individual abilities of a person refer to the available time, money, skills and capacity for multiple travel choices.

The feasibility of behaviour (also called ‘perceived control) is often not in line with the observed or ‘objective' options. People often systematically overestimate the advantages of their own behaviour (like car use), while systematically underestimating the disadvantages of this behaviour. And the reverse: people tend to overestimate the negative aspects of alternative behavioural options (like the use of public transport) and downplay the positive aspects of it. In general, it will be easier to change one's attitudes than one's behaviour. The needs, opportunities and abilities of an individual are (in)directly related to developments in society. Changes in economic growth, changed the demographic structure of populations and households, changes in the values and norms of different groups in society. Besides that, according to van Wee, motivation and affects are both important causes in travel behaviour. Travel behaviours are motivated not only by the instrumental outcomes of this behaviour (e.g. ‘If I drive to work I shall get there faster than if I take the train'), but also the symbolic outcomes (e.g. ‘If I take the public transport to work my colleagues will think I am a loser') and the affective outcomes (e.g. ‘Driving to work is much more fun than taking the public transport). So, it can be said that three types of motives may underlie travel behaviour: instrumental, symbolic and affective (van Wee, Annema, & Banister, 2013).

Changing the mechanism throughout policymaking

Solving urban problems as congestion and air pollution due to an increasing level of individual motorised transport can cause great trouble. The European union suggests that sustainable urban transport systems demand a phasing out of vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs), smaller road passenger vehicles, higher shares of collective transport, and urban mobility and infrastructure designs that facilitate walking and cycling. However, there is currently limited evidence of urban transport systems becoming more sustainable in significant ways. Three general mechanisms to achieve changes in transport behaviour are distinguished, including market-based instruments, command-and-control approaches, and soft policy measures. Market-based instruments include taxes, declining costs for travel. Control-and-command instruments set standards for products and services as well as behaviour, affecting transport choices through urban design and land use planning, or investments in specific transport infrastructure. Soft policy, on the other hand, measures the objective to support decisions that are more socially desirable, relying on the distribution of information on more sustainable transport choices (Friman, Larhult, & Gärling, 2012). Soft-policy measures focus on facilitating more sustainable transport behaviour through education and information, and may include instruments as diverse as travel policies, personalised travel planning based on software or smartphone apps, information and marketing campaigns, campaigns for alternative transport modes, car sharing initiatives or car co-operatives. Various soft policy campaigns appear to have had success in affecting transport behaviour, (e.g. the cultural and infrastructural changes in Copenhagen). All of these measures have in common that their success in significantly changing urban transport behaviour has been limited, in the sense of achieving overall reductions in personalised transport, even though individual measures may have been successful (Gössling, Urban transport transitions: Copenhagen, City of Cyclists, 2013). For example, market-based instruments have included taxes for cars, which in the EU (and so in Copenhagen) have significantly reduced growth rates in cars which makes room for other projects like cycling highways or BRT systems.

Case study: Culture differences in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom are ongoing debates about the impact and effectiveness of cycling-related interventions. Infrastructural interventions (e.g. building separated cycle tracks along roads) are in opposition to promotional or educational campaigns and initiatives, such as providing adult cycle training. The main argument is that these soft policy initiatives have a cultural impact in normalising cycling, and thus can potentially increase cycling levels at a much lower financial and possibly political cost than redeveloping the built environment. Hence in policy debates, culture frequently appears as the contradiction to infrastructure. Therefore, a starting point to explain culture as classic definition: It is as a ‘way of life'; everyday behaviour that often remains invisible because it is what people ‘do'. This fits well with the growing importance attached to ‘habit' in transport behaviour.

And after reviewing all effects of interventions to promote cycling. They still found a lack of strong evidence, with the main argument that it is unclear whether increases in cycling could be achieved at lower cost compared to infrastructural improvements by addressing attitudes and perceptions about cycling. And lack of supportive infrastructure might limit the willingness of people to take up cycling, particularly in areas without an established cycling culture. Research has found that non-cyclists who are surrounded by other cyclists may be more likely to want to cycle and are so more responsive to policy interventions (Aldred & Jungnickel, Why culture matters for transport policy: the case of cycling in the UK, 2014). This means that the very same infrastructure program or policy might have different impacts on cycling in different contexts and on different places.

Now we see, in the UK as a whole, a car culture as dominant, with lifestyles built around the assumption of car ownership. Transport subcultures in the UK might include in some circumstances; variously cycling, public transport use, or walking; in other circumstances it might not. The concept of ‘culture' suggests more what is given to, while ‘practice' highlights what we do (e.g. we get the bus and, in the process, fulfil the expectations of those around us, or we carry out alternative travel practices). Exploring change as well as stability is crucial to understanding transport practices, which are both strongly habitual and subject to rapid change. The examination on how the London Congestion Charge encouraged many individuals to change their behaviour in relatively small ways, leading to a broader shift in the practice of driving within London. These shifts are linked in practice to the cultural changes identified to describe driving as becoming less culturally normalised in the UK capital. Some argue that the bicycle laid the basis for the car, in developing a set of needs, desires, opportunities, infrastructures and priorities that could be better met by motorised individual transport.

There are substantial national differences in the meanings of cycling: The discussion on how cycling is linked to national Danish identity, providing an important resource for many Danish people in supporting their cycling practices. By contrast, in the UK cycling is not linked to national identity, meaning that definition must be drawn upon differently in thinking about oneself as someone who cycles. So cultural interventions are not an alternative to improving cycling environments, but should be seen as complementary, with the potential to multiply or reduce the impacts of other interventions. The very problems advocates have had in achieving continuous and pleasant cycle networks in the UK highlight the importance of ‘meanings' and ‘culture'. It is clear that for cycling practices to be sustained, they must be combined with other related practices. This might include, for example, shopping, going to work, or taking children to school. Where cycling levels have risen recently in the UK, such as in London, commuting has seemed the easiest practice to shift towards cycling, while travel to school has remained relatively resistant (Aldred & Jungnickel, Why culture matters for transport policy: the case of cycling in the UK, 2014).


It is not that easy to change cultural behaviour on travel modes. There is a government needed which is progressive, integrative and multilevel to obtain and shape the development of this transition management. Therefore, the choice of policy instruments based on consensus-guiding visions is very important. The example of Copenhagen, where the vision to become the world's best bicycle city has been communicated strategically as a ‘desirable and sustainable future' with tangible benefits for the individual and society, i.e. including fast, safe and comfortable transport and a healthy (green environment) and prosperous society.

While in Copenhagen environmental concerns are never mentioned as motivation to change their travel behaviour. The communication from the government to the inhabitants was to change their behaviour for a healthier lifestyle because people don't cycle to save the world but for cycling to their work every morning. This made cycling convenient and easy. A typical way of using soft policy measures to change behaviour. Also, content and analyses of the city's bicycle documentation show that policies combine a wide range of command-and-control measures, in particular infrastructure development. And after all the implementations can be said that the Copenhagen situation is different from other urban contexts, as the city has a long-standing cycling tradition dating back to the late 19th century, and because half of the city's current cycling infrastructure already existed in the 1970s (Gössling, Urban transport transitions: Copenhagen, City of Cyclists, 2013). This means that the results are not necessary transferable, as the transport transition has started in an existing bicycle culture and the to be build infrastructure could be based on the current bicycle tracks and lanes.

Thus, the UK has a different history on infrastructure/economy and culture than Denmark. To move on and promote cycling cities it would be helpful to improve the perception of conditions results in increased bicycle use beyond the increases associated with improving the actual conditions, urban bicycle routes should preferably be traced through traffic-restrained areas because cyclists prefer cycling conditions involving less traffic stress and interaction. And at last for further implementation; good design of intersections is essential. Intersections are the most important cause for delays, and most cycling accidents happen at intersections. Specific design elements such as table crossings are recommended to accommodate safely the right of way for cyclists (van Goeverden & Godefrooij, 2011). To conclude this article can it be seen as that more cities can implement bicycle tracks in their current infrastructure. Soft policy making and supporting inhabitants to participate in cycle plans and promote to go to their work by bicycle would be a good start.

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