Ranking cities for cycling

City rankings can be motivational but are unlikely to help city planners prioritise investment decisions for cycle infrastructure. Still, city rankings remain popular. If we are to compare Canberra with other cities, we should be benchmarking ourselves with the best cycling cities. European cities have some of the highest cycle participation rates in the world, and the Netherlands amongst the best cycle infrastructure.


  1. Basket models
  2. World Economic Forum ranking
  3. Copenhagenize Index
  4. US style ranking

Basket models

Think of going shopping every week and always buying the same things. If we kept track of what we spent each week, we would note the rise of prices, even though the price of individual items varies from week to week. This is how inflation is measured.

Basket models are good for comparing things and are commonly used for ranking cities. We find lists for the most liveable city, clean air and cycling, too. They are not without bias, as they only take count what they include and not what they leave out. The ranking can change depending on how the basket is defined.

Rankings help little with the prioritisation of investment. Prioritisation is always a problem with infrastructure investment. Particularly in low cycling countries where the infrastructure is poor, we have a thorny question of where to start. City planners need to triage investments, and to do this, we need a prediction of the impact of that investment. To that end, the UK developed the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT).

World Economic Forum ranking

A ranking of the best cities for cycling. Utrecht in the Netherlands tops the list. Rankings are popular for comparing cities for cycling. This one uses a basket model. It depends on how it is done, but the cities in the Netherlands always rank highly.

The best cycling cities in the world.

“But a recent study shows that some cities are better suited to a life behind bars – handlebars, that is – than others.”

These are the world’s best cities to be a cyclist, Johnny Wood Writer, Formative Content, The World Economic Forum COVID Action Platform, 06 Jun 2019

The best cycling city

It does not matter how you measure it, however, European cites are always on top of the list. Politicians and officials sometimes go to the US to study active travel cities. This makes little sense. The best cycle infrastructure is in European cities where mode share for cycling is high. The English speaking countries – USA, Canada, UK, NZ and Australia – have a very low cycling participation rate in comparison.

The list

Some cities are better than others. Only one city in the top 10 is not in Europe.

But a recent study shows that some cities are better suited to a life behind bars – handlebars, that is – than others. Bicycle Cities Index 2019
These are the world’s best cities to be a cyclist, Johnny Wood Writer, Formative Content, The World Economic Forum COVID Action Platform, 06 Jun 2019

Copenhagenize Index

The Copenhagenize Index is another index of city ranking. More cities are added each year.

What is it?

Active transport is regarded holistically as a combination of infrastructure and other measures.

Early in 2011 a discussion arose at Copenhagenize Design Co. about which cities really are the best cities for urban cycling. Professional curiosity was the catalyst for developing this Index. We work with a diverse many cities to help them improve their bicycle friendliness, and thus wanted to be able to offer an international benchmark in order to determine the best and most effective methods for reestablishing the bicycle on the urban landscape.

THE 2019 COPENHAGENIZE INDEX of bicycle-friendly cities, accessed 16/3/2021

The 2019 Copenhagenize Index shows the world that it is no longer only the Danish and Dutch cities that are really taking the bicycle seriously. Through a combination of ambition, culture and better streetscapes, cities all around the world are starting to push the envelope for what it means to be bicycle-friendly.

THE 2019 COPENHAGENIZE INDEX of bicycle-friendly cities, accessed 16/3/2021

Copenhagen was in then top spot in 2019. Here is the reasoning.

1. Copenhagen

The Lowdown: The numbers make things easy: 62 percent of inhabitants’ trips to work or school are by bike. Copenhageners cycle 894,000 miles every day. More than $45 per capita in bicycle infrastructure investments. Four bicycle bridges built or under construction. One hundred and four miles of new regional cycle highways. And as we saw in the 2018 municipal elections, parties running on a pro-car platform don’t stand a chance. Now we just need someone to remind the Lord Mayor.

The Fixes: A series of political decisions, at all scales, have put the future of Copenhagen’s cycling reputation in question. Municipal spending limits imposed by the national government have impacted infrastructure expansion, and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, strong political leadership on sustainable mobility has been absent since the latest election, resulting in a lower priority to invest in cycling. Lower in priority, even, than car parking. The city will need to find a way out of this mess if it wants to serve as a global inspiration in years to come.

The 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities on the Planet, WiRED, accessed 16/3/2021

The Ranking

Here is the latest ranking from 2019.

  1. Copenhagen
  2. Amsterdam
  3. Utrecht
  4. Antwerp
  5. Strasbourg
  6. Bordeaux
  7. Oslo
  8. Paris
  9. Vienna
  10. Helsinki
  11. Bremen
  12. Bogotá
  13. Barcelona
  14. Ljubljana
  15. Berlin
  16. Tokyo
  17. Taipei
  18. Montréal
  19. Vancouver
  20. Hamburg
Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

US style ranking

Bicycle Transport Analysis is a basket model for scoring cities for the suitability of cycling from the US. Canberra does very well in this ranking, but the first impression is deceptive as we are comparing ourselves with another LOW cycling country and not a good one like the Netherlands.


Bike Transport Analysis (BTA) looks good at first but the methodology and assumptions are not optimal. Here are the biggest issues but these will be discussed in more detail in other articles on canberra.bike.

  1. Any analytical study is as good as the data that it uses. This model uses OpenStreetMap data as it is free. OpenStreetMap was never conceived for this purpose. The mapping and nature of OpenStreetMap is discussed here. Most importantly the way the world is represented in OpenStreetMap is not standardised but varies greatly from city to city. Also, while the data in some cities may be good it certainly is not in others. The data set for Wollongong is almost certainly incomplete.
  2. The model is for ranking cycling infrastructure developed by one US city. The transport infrastructure in the USA is not a world standard. Traffic infrastructure varies greatly from one country to another. Further, the USA is a low cycling country (less than 1% of the population cycles) and this means the infrastructure is extremely underdeveloped and neglected, as it is in Australia. It is not surprising that where the infrastructure is poor that people do not cycle. Recommended industry practice, and medicine too, is benchmarking, when you compare yourself against the best practice – against the benchmark. The best cycling infrastructure is found in high cycling countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark. The features of networks in high cycling countries such as these should be the measuring gauge of the infrastructure. We need to reinvent cities for cycling and these cities are not likely to look much like car-friendly cities in low cycling countries.
  3. A basket model may allow cities to be ranked, however imprecisely, but as the outcome is aggregated, it is of little to no help for city planners to help them to improve the infrastructure in a timely and cost-effective way. See the discussion of basket models above.
  4. Finally, the city rankings are not for all cities but rather a small and arbitrary selection of which the vast majority are in the USA. With such a small sample and the methodological limitations, the ranks are, at the best, only suitable to rank US cities and not suitable in the global context.

With these many deficiencies in mind, here are numbers. In later articles two other analytical methods for city infrastructure planning will be discussed and why they are better.

View in numbers

Bicycle Transport Analysis has been adopted by We Ride Australia. The graph below is for selected cities. A few European cities have been added for comparison.

  • Canberra is the highest-ranked city in Australia
  • Of the Australian cities study, Wollongong was the worst but that is likely due to poor OpenStreetMap data.
  • Belgium’s cities have a higher ranking than Australia.
Bicycle Transport Analysis, accessed 15 March 2021

Canberra compared to Melbourne and Brisbane

Good things are happening in Melbourne and Brisbane. The next table shows Canberra in comparison. The colours are green for best and red for worst of these three.

The first tables shows where Canberra is strongest.

Bicycle Transport Analysis, accessed 15 March 2021

All categories are shown in the table below. Melbourne would appear to be better than Brisbane.

Bicycle Transport Analysis, accessed 15 March 2021

Map representation

Bike Transport Analysis shows low and high stress streets in blue and red respectively. The map below shows the Inner North of Canberra. The blue wiggly lines top left are Bruce singletrack. The blue lines on the left are management trails on Black Mountain. Similarly, the management trails on Mount Ainslie are visible, but most of these tracks cannot be ridden. The ANU is bike-friendly as is the 40 km/h zones in the Civic. The Sullivans Creek bike path to Dickson is a nice blue. Braddon looks good too. Sadly, Bike Transport Analysis regards the most of the suburban streets in the Inner North as less than optimal.

Inner north, Canberra, Bicycle Network Analysis high and low stress
Inner North, Canberra, Bicycle Network Analysis high and low stress

Another weakness of the Bike Transport Analysis is that it seems to lack a Digital Elevation Model. A Digital Elevation Model is a digital topographical map with height and elevation data. It tells us where the hills can be found on an otherwise two dimensional map. The map below is an example of the OpenRouteService isochrone map for a ride time of 30 min from civic, showing distance covered in 10 min intervals. The shadow effect of Black Mountain, Mount Majura and Lake Burley Griffin is clearly visible. The gradient of routes can be derived from Digital Elevation Model and this factored into the calculations. OpenStreetMap, interestingly, does not include a Digital Elevation Model.

OpenRouteService isochrone map - 30 min ride from civic with 10 min intervals. Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
OpenRouteService isochrone map – 30 min ride from civic with 10 min intervals. Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

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