Choosing the Road Less Traveled: How Cycling Took Hold in Copenhagen

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Copenhagen bicyclists

In the first two decades of the 21st century, Copenhagen has vaulted to international attention for its enthusiastic bicycle culture and infrastructure.

While it is tempting to dismiss this accomplishment as inherently easy because it took place in a city and country known for socially liberal politics, this case—by summarizing the history of cycling politics and policy in Copenhagen since the 1970s—shows that the evolution of Copenhagen as a bike city was neither quick nor easy, and that the city wrestled (and continues to wrestle) with many of the same conflicts that have hampered efforts to promote biking in other cities around the world.

In so doing, the case invites a more nuanced analysis and discussion of the actual keys to Copenhagen’s success.