Monday 24 January 2011

"The busiest cycle street in the world" ? Why do we keep hearing exaggerations about Norrebrogade / Queen Louise's Bridge in Copenhagen?

An industry seems to have grown up around promoting Copenhagen as the world's top cycling city. Sadly, some of the claims made do not stand up to much scrutiny.

For instance, Nørrebrogade is claimed to be "the busiest cycle street in the world". It's certainly the busiest cycle street in Copenhagen. Being 3 km long and taking a straight line path right through the city, it and the bridge on it are a funnel for cycle-traffic which uses this as one of the most direct routes to several locations. Very many of the photos of cyclists from Copenhagen are shot on this road because it's the busiest.

Counter on Dronning Louises Bro / Queen Louise's Bridge
Norrebrogade Copenhagen. The claims made for counts
of bicycles here do not stand up to scrutiny.
A recent widely reproduced press-release from the city claimed that 36000 cyclists use the road every day. Some websites go further and claim 38000 per day. Usually you have to assume that such printed figures are correct, and that's what I did too. However, in this case someone pointed to me that it's unusually easy to check it for yourself. This count was made on the same street as a famous public bicycle counter which many of you will already have seen photos of. The counter displays both the current date and the number of cyclists who have passed since the 1st of January, so a a simple calculation can be done by dividing one number by the other. Take the photo on the left as an example (click on it to see it in greater size at its owner's website). It shows 1559492 cyclists had passed by the 4th of June 2010, which was the 155th day of the year. That's just 10060 cyclists per day on average by half way through 2010. It is a respectable figure, but not close to the claims so often put forward for the street.

So what's going on here ? I don't know. It's surely good marketing to have "the busiest", but don't we need a bit more than that ? Before Christmas I emailed the two people who were responsible for a document about the street to find out where the numbers came from, but have not had an answer (see below).

Counters in many different places in the Netherlands record higher numbers than this. For instance, eight locations in Utrecht have more than 10000 cyclists per day, and one of them has more than 22000 cyclists per day. In Groningen, six different places have counts greater than 10000 per day, two of those are above 14000 per day. Bear in mind that Copenhagen's population is more than three times that of Utrecht and six times that of Groningen. Counters in larger Dutch cities almost certainly record higher figures.

It's just marketing.

Danish professionals, including the Cycling Embassy of Denmark give a slightly different perspective.

This is the inside back cover of one of their recent publications, giving some numbers. The Danes now cycle for 16% of their journeys. Sadly, this is lower than the 18 or 19% measured just a few years ago and which I have quoted in the past. The difference is significant. It's equivalent to one in eight cyclists giving up. This is not something to celebrate - it's terrible news. We need to know the cause of the decline and work out what can be done about it.

Some of the other figures are also interesting. 36% of Danish adults ride a bike to work "at least once per week". The percentage of daily commutes is not given, but it will of course be lower. 45% of Danish children "often" bike to school. Clearly this isn't the percentage who cycle every day, which again is not given and will be lower. "Often" is open to interpretation but could be less frequent than once per week. This is a startlingly lower rate of school cycling than is seen in the Netherlands, and that's important. Cycling has to start with children.

Note also the claim that 2/3rds of children under 11 use helmets when cycling in Denmark. This is not something which would be highlighted if it wasn't thought to be important. However, it is again very different from the Netherlands, where despite occasional ill-judged campaigns, helmets are still only rarely seen except on sport cyclists. It's another sign of cycling under pressure. People are scared for the safety of their children, and perhaps this has some connection with the reduced rate of cycling.

Lastly, note that 2.2 metres is the new standard width of cycle lanes in Denmark. That's somewhat narrower than the 2.5 metres which is standard here for single directional cycle paths, and it's again a thing which puts cyclists under a little bit more pressure.

It all adds up to a bit of a murky picture, similar to what I pointed out before. Copenhagen, and in the wider sense, Denmark, has a relative lack of subjective safety and this is stifling bicycle use, even in the top city of the world's second cycling country. Helmet promotion campaigns like this are only likely to contribute to the decline in Denmark.

I'm not happy about any of this. Cycling is extremely fragile, even in the two great cycling nations of the Netherlands and Denmark. It doesn't take much to stop people from cycling. If care is not taken, cycling in the Netherlands could also decline. We need ever better standards for cycle provision and no negative marketing. We all need to be able to learn from what has caused the decline in Denmark.

Why has cycling in Denmark declined since 1992, while it has continued to rise in the Netherlands ? Why is this question not being asked more widely ? This graph ends at the "18%" point. Since that time, the proportion of journeys by bike has dropped further to 16%

It's clear that Danish cycling policies are not succeeding as we all wish they would. This problem of declining cycling has not occurred in the Netherlands, and that is as good a reason as any why The Netherlands remains the best place in the world to turn to if you want to see what successful policies look like.

Update 25/1/2011
There's been quite a lot of discussion in the comments below this blog post of the discrepancy between counts which made up the first part of the post. Copenhagener got close to the answer by finding the cycle counts for a day in September 2009. However, I was also sent very helpful emails from Klaus Grimar, Project Manager, and Soren Zebitz Nielsen, Student Assistant, both of the Center for Trafik (Department of Traffic) in Copenhagen, explaining the numbers. They gave permission to reproduce the first long email, and also a shorter summary which you will find in italics below:

The survey that resulted in the number of 37.000 cyclists on Norrebrogade on the bridge where the counter is placed was conducted manually in early September 2009. We know that early September is a peak period for cyclists with good weather and due to the start of the academic year for the universities in the city. The number of 37.000 cyclists represents the average number of daily cyclist on a normal work day in both directions on the street during the peak season.

As an average in both directions on a normal working day throughout the year, the daily total number of cyclists on the street is around 28.000.

The counter relies on a sensor placed below the asphalt on the bicycle path only. We know that during the rush hour some faster cyclists overtake slower cyclists using the road, and some even the walkway. We find that the counter does not register all cyclists when the bicycle traffic is dense. It is our experience that the automatic counter generally counts around 10% less cyclists than the actual number during the peak hours and around 5% less in normal hours.

The idea of the counter is not to be an official measurement, but more to give the cyclists an idea of the approximate magnitude of bicycle traffic on the street as they pass by and a feeling that each individual cyclist contributes to make Copenhagen a City of Cyclists. The numbers counted by the automatic counter cannot be relied upon for academic purposes.

However there is no doubt that there has been an increase of around 7000 cyclist daily on the street of Norrebrogade as a consequence of the project there, since the manual surveys of bicycle traffic before and after the project were made using the same method and the traffic was counted at same time of the year in the surveys before and after the project was initiated.

Thanks to Klaus and Soren we now know that the widely reported "average" picked up by the marketing people and the media was actually a peak, and we also know the official average for a working day over the year, including a compensation for the cyclists missed by the automated count (other places could perhaps use the same compensation), but still not the average for all 365 days of the year. I'm of course very pleased to see that the improvement in conditions for cyclists on this street resulted in an increase in cycle traffic in this location. However, it has to be viewed alongside the unfortunate decline in cycling overall in Denmark.

See previous articles about Copenhagen. There are also previous articles about helmets, and particularly amongst them, this one which points out that the "danger" of cycling really has been blown out of all proportion next to that of driving. Others have pointed out that a lack of sufficient investment could be behind the lower cycling share in Copenhagen vs. Dutch cities.

September 2012 update

This year, some people I know from Cambridge visited Copenhagen and wrote about their experiences.

They also took some photos, including the one on the right, which while it's supposed to be representative of a street along which "up to 35,000 cycle trips per day" are made, actually shows that something unpleasant has happened on the "busiest cycle street in the world". The photo shows the state of the sign  on the 27th of May 2012. By that date, the 148th day of the year, 1261731 cyclists had passed the sign. In other words, in the first five months of 2012, the number of cyclists riding past this point averaged 8525 per day.

This number is not only a long way short of 35000, but compared with the numbers which I used to make the calculation at the top of this blog post, it's evidence of a 15% decline in cycling in Copenhagen compared with a count from two years previously. Both counts were made by the same permanently installed counter in the same place and both over the first five months of the year. This 15% difference cannot be explained away as an artifact caused by just a few days of bad weather - it's equivalent to 22 days of cycling being lost in just half of one year.

A 15% decline over two years in the busiest street in the city sounds catastrophic. Why has this happened ? Why did Copenhagen choose to hype the cycling rate on this street if it were actually in decline, and why do they continue to hype the amount of cycling in this street in the light of such a decline ? A 15% drop is in line with an acknowledgement by the Cycling Embassy of Denmark last year that cycling had dropped from between 18 and 19% to 16% of journeys within Denmark, but they were referring to a different decline which had happened over a much longer period than two years.

The article from Cambridge also reports a statistic that "Copenhageners make half of their urban trips by bike". However, this has no basis in fact either. We need to start with a little history:

All trips within Copenhagen 2002.
Bicycles "slightly less than one
fifth", cars just over half.
In 2002, "slightly less than one fifth" of journeys within the city were by bike. A target was set in the same year to increase commutes only to 40% by the year 2012. This target was missed. There was some reported growth in that official figures show that commuting by bike rose from 32% in 2002 to 35% in 2010, but instead of acknowledging that the 40% target for 2012 wasn't going to be achieved, Copenhagen instead announced a 50% target for 2015. It would take an extraordinary and unprecedented growth in just a few years to achieve this.

The 50% target sounds great of course, and that is what is supposed to do. It's an artifact of marketing for Copenhagen, not of the real cycling modal share. At best it's only a target, and it's a target not for all journeys but only for commuters. No-one should reproduce this figure as an achieved modal share, because it has never been any such thing. In 2009 when I estimated that Copenhagen's true bicycle modal share was around 22%, the head of Copenhagen's bicycle programme wrote a supportive comment on this blog. If the same rate of growth has been continued for the last three years then we would expect that the true modal share for Copenhagen in 2012 is around 23-24%. However, this is rather difficult to determine because the numbers are no longer easy to find.
All trips within Copenhagen 2010.
33% for bicycles, 40% by car, 27% public
transport. They missed out walking.

While the figures for 2002 (in this document) were truly for all modes, the figures issued for 2010 which appear to show dramatic growth do so in large part because they have omitted to mention the approximately one fifth of all journeys within the city which are made by walking. Assuming that around a fifth of journeys still being by foot, the diagram on the right would indicate that approximately 26% of journeys are now by bike in Copenhagen, which is more in line with my estimate. However, note that these figures are for trips "starting or terminating in" the city and we don't know how this phrase is defined nor how the figures were calculated. We have to be wary of tricks, especially when we're looking at figures from a place with a history of exaggeration.

Any claims for growth in cycling in
Copenhagen have to be judged against the
steady decline in Danish cycling since 1992
People from other countries looking for inspiration are often drawn to Copenhagen because of the deluge of publicity from the city. However, they need to look further than headline figures ("half of their urban trips" etc.) which form part of a marketing effort from Denmark. There was a time when the annual bicycle reports and policy documents from Copenhagen were the envy of the world, and a time when they presented good data which could be compared one year with the next. However, these official documents are no longer what they once were.

The Danish people deserve much better than this. Selling the "cycling city" of Copenhagen as a brand does not help people to cycle in the city. From the evidence that is available it appears that cycling is dropping and not rising, both in Denmark as a whole and on some main streets of Copenhagen if not across the whole city. Less hype, more substance and maybe even a little humility is required before Copenhagen can achieve its potential. More investment is needed to give the city any chance at all of meeting the old target, let alone the new one. The environment needs to be transformed to be truly safe for cycling.

Bad infrastructure designs need to be abandoned and no longer presented to the world as something to copy. In particular, the "Copenhagen left turn" is not, and never was, a good design. Drivers turning right should not be encouraged to merge with cyclists as they approach traffic lightsAdvanced stop lines (aka "bike boxes") are not advanced cycling infrastructure - they create conflict which should be avoided and they should not be promoted. Unfortunately these ideas are still being presented to the world as something to emulate.

Not just Copenhagen
These days, it is not only Copenhagen which is doing this. Earlier this year, Amsterdam also presented numbers which excluded pedestrians to make the figures sound better (I wrote about that too). In the last few days I read an impressive claim from someone in Utrecht about a claimed commute only cycling modal share for people who both live and work within the city of around 60% (though the actual cycling modal share for all journeys within the city is apparently around 26%).

Many cities across the world publicize commute only figures. This includes Cambridge in the UK and Portland in the USA. Neither of these cities gets remotely close to the modal share for cycling which is normal in the Netherlands, nor to the wide demographic of cyclists which is not only a curiosity of Dutch cycling but necessary for any place to achieve a high modal share.

Why exaggeration is harmful
Cambridge's campaigners were left wondering how it was that a city where infrastructure "does not seem to be of the same elevated standard found in Assen" should have achieved the high modal share which Copenhagen claims. The answer unfortunately is very simple: they haven't. Rather, they are telling impressive sounding stories which are not necessarily based in fact.

Wherever it is done, playing with statistics in this way harms us all. Without reliable figures, how can any comparison be made between countries or even within the same city on different years ? If facts are obscured by smoke and mirrors, made up figures are shouted from the rooftops, half the audience is distracted by photos of pretty girls on bikes, and a good many people are simply more interested in a nice sounding story than whether what they are being told is factual, then how can anyone tell what works from what does not work.

Extraordinary claims need to be looked into and challenged, wherever they come from. Exaggeration needs to stop.

Update December 2013
A Danish newspaper reports that cycling in Copenhagen has "stagnated" and that the 50% target for 2015 can't possibly be met.

The only way to a higher cycling modal share is to build better infrastructure. We are still willing to help Copenhagen to "Groningenize" itself.

Update 2014
Earlier this year I read reports of how Copenhagen and Denmark in general had learnt from their decline and were changing course. I wrote about this change of direction because of it being extremely good news for Danish cyclists. It is only by recognizing a problem that it can be fixed and it appeared that the Danes had learnt their lesson and were going to fix their problems.

Independent EU statistics for cycling
in Copenhagen for 2010 and 2012.
Cycling dropped from 31% to 26%
Car usage rose from 29% to 33%.
Unfortunately, only a few short weeks after that happened, Copenhagen started fresh claims of having "the busiest cycle street in the world". This time they claim to have over 40000 cyclists per day travelling over the bridge. I'm not going to link to a source because frankly this sort of hype does not deserve any encouragement at all. Copenhageners: Please stop exaggerating your achievements. This is particularly unhelpful when independent figures show a decline between 2010 and 2012.

In any case, a high number of cycles in one spot is not actually a sign of success. It's not something to celebrate. The funneling effect indicates that there are a lack of routes and may actually put people off from cycling.

When similar things happen in the Netherlands, there are other routes which cyclists can be encouraged to use. This is possible because of the high quality grid of cycling infrastructure which covers the whole country. The importance of this has been understood since the 1980s and this is perhaps the most important lesson from the Netherlands yet to be learnt elsewhere.

International marketing of Copenhagen needs to take second place to actually solving the problems facing cyclists in Denmark.

High cycle counts can be indicators of a problem:
A lack of bridges to cross a river forces people to
make detours and creates queues of cyclists. Lots of
bikes in one place may look impressive, but it's a
sign of failure not of success. Don't celebrate
traffic jams for bikes! Read more about funneling.
Update July 2016
The hype over this location and of Copenhagen in general, continues. Five and a half years have passed since I debunked the claim that 37000 cyclists per day ride over the Dronning Louises Bro in Copenhagen and in all that time, no-one has been able to provide a justification for that claim. Rather than attempting to justify the previous claim, the same players have moved on to claim a rise to 42000 cyclists per day passing over the same bridge. Exaggeration doesn't help Copenhagen's cyclists and it doesn't help anyone else either. What is happening is that the facts are being obscured.

What's more, even if the claims were true, they're not necessarily something to be proud of. Thousands of cyclists forced into a detour to take the same route because there are relatively few options available to cross a river may make for nice photographs and good headlines, but it does not make for efficient cycling.

Funneling is bad for cycling. It's better that cyclists can choose from a finely spaced grid of high quality routes which enable each person to choose a relatively lightly trafficked and more direct route to their destination. That, though, is of less use if your primary goal is to market your city internationally by use of impressive looking photos and ever more exaggerated figures.

No-one celebrates traffic jams for cars. They shouldn't celebrate traffic jams for bikes either. Big queues of bicycles are a sign of failure. A comprehensive cycling grid allows more efficient journeys to be made.


Anonymous said...

For starters, you have to multiply the number by 2 - as in 2 sides of the street. That puts the figure over 20,000 per day.

Edward said...

David, living as you do in what I refer to as Utopia, Danish cycling infrastructure and its cycling modal share would both look inferior. However, looking at Denmark from most parts of the Anglosphere it is a shining example of what can be achieved.

I find it useful for advocacy purposes because its wide streets look like ours in Australia. The raised cycle paths and painted intersections look like something that is achievable and so in my experience people tend to take notice when you show them.

Of course, as we all know, the Netherlands shows how to make cycling safe and attractive for everyone. The problem I find is that when you show pictures of cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands, it is so good that it almost seems unachievable. That is nonsense of course but convincing people here in an environment that is so heavily car-based is very difficult. That is why Denmark is such a great example.

I think Michael Colville-Anderson would probably agree with some of the things you say, especially about the recent misguided focus on helmets. That is I think something of which all countries should not take note.

You have seen Crap Cycling in Waltham Forest. For the equivalent in my home town, have a look at:

Relatively speaking, Denmark is a nirvana for us. While it is not perfect, the numbers of women and children cycling there (while low by Dutch standards) show that they are doing something right.

Anyway, ramble over. I think you are right but credit where credit is due.

Anonymous said...

In my experience last fall -- riding from Copenhagen to Amsterdam -- the bicycle lanes ended about thirty kilometers from the Danish capital. This came at some surprise, as the reputation for bicycle friendliness gave me to believe I'd have a separate lane the whole way. Northern Germany, which took me across to the Dutch border, was actually better equipped, with only a few instances of non-separated infrastructure. Of course, nothing compares to the Netherlands, where lanes, paths, and whatnot criss-cross the country.

Paul Martin said...

My heart sinks when I see bicycle use under threat in DK or NL. We're really struggling here in Australia.

There is no problem with the sport side of cycling in Australia but only 1.3% use their bicycles to get from A to B. Things are changing but not quickly enough. The Dutch Cycling Embassy I hope will be a powerful voice and I hope they spread the word around the world.

Do the Dutch realise just how great they have it? I suspect not - probably a modest lot :)

Anonymous said...

I think the counter does only count the bikes on one side of the road, so it should be 20.000 cyclists in total. Am I right? But that’s still significantly less than the claimed 36.000.
Thanks for being the voice of reason once again. :)

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous, Zweiradler: I'd go along with the idea of doubling the count. It's the closest we'll probably get to knowing what the total traffic is on this street.

Unfortunately, though, this still leaves it a long way short of the claim.

Also, I have to point out that it's not always the case that roads are used equally in both directions. Sometimes layout is such that it's easier or more convenient to return by a different route. I don't know if that is the case here.

Copenhagener said...

A counter counts the cyclists passing by! According to you, Nørrebrogade is 3 km long. I am pretty sure that all cyclists using Nørrebrogade are not passing by the counters - both standing closest to the city center - but perhaps only uses Nørrebrogade for one kilometer and then doesn't get counted...

David Hembrow said...

Copenhagener: The same limitation is true of all counters in all places in the world so will affect all other counts in the same way.

What do you propose instead ? To count every person as they join and leave the street along its entire length ? I'm sure it would lead to a higher figure, but it's hardly practical and most importantly the results would be completely meaningless in comparison with all other counts made elsewhere.

If one is to make a dramatic claim about "the busiest cycle street in the world" and then send press releases everywhere to say so then it ought to be possible to back up the claim without inventing a new method of counting to justify it.

Copenhagener said...

Hmm, I really don't know anything about how to count traffic - and I don't know how they do it in Copenhagen - but I don't believe they have invented a new method. I imagine that a count in one end of a street is multiplied with a factor of some kind. Otherwise it isn't an accurate picture of the amount of traffic.

David Hembrow said...

Copenhagener: I don't know what the explanation of the larger quoted number is, but would like to know.

I find it hard to believe anyone would seriously suggest multiplying by a factor, and I will be extremely surprised if it turns out that Copenhagen does this.

If it is true, then they have indeed invented "a new method of counting".

The raw figure is the most accurate and reproducible figure you can get. It's the only thing that can be compared with elsewhere.

Note that the figures from last week for Utrecht are also from long cycle routes. Here, just as in CPH, cyclists will have joined and left the routes between counters so won't be counted. However, the Dutch just present the raw numbers and let you decide. What's more, you'll only see those figures if you're interested enough to look for them. You also won't have seen press releases sent to news agencies around the world to boast about these figures.

It's not about marketing, it's about trying to get the most honest analysis possible of the cycling rate so that progress can be made.

Frits B said...

Jumping boys, that's what the Danish use!
Some time ago, a reader of Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on her Sunday jogging round in I believe Delft noticed a group of young boys jumping up and down around one of the newly installed counters on a bike route. When she came closer it became clear that the boys took turns in triggering the counter's sensor, so at 11:00am on a quiet Sunday morning this counter already clocked 2,000 cyclists.
Now I do not suppose that this is general practice :-).

wuppidoc said...

re examinedspoke:

Northern Germany had these cycle paths alongside trunk roads (or roads in the country) for decades. You were right to notice that. Separated cycling facilities on main roads are a MUST!
We lived near Flensburg for 9 months 30 years ago and sent our 9 year old son to school on his bike: 3 km alongside the main road, no problem, no fears.
Sad that Denmark seems to miss out on this, hopefully they start building more out in their countryside.

But the situation in Anglo-Saxon countries is appalling, there are only very little exceptions: Hardly any cycling infrastructure and consequently only 1 to 2 % of all trips in Great Britain are made on bikes. The new Tory-Lib government is now cutting money to support cycling but investing into classical mistakes.
I honestly do not understand, why they do this. Policy for cycling is much cheaper than policy for cars.

ibikelondon said...

The fragility of cycling is the key point to consider here - if rates can drop in Denmark, or even indeed in the Netherlands, imagine what could happen here in the UK where cycling budgets are being slashed, Councils are laying off their cycling officers and so little has been achieved with even less so far to date. Bleak doesn't really describe it.

David, can we all come and be bike refugees and stay with you please?? :o)

David Hembrow said...

Frits: If it attracts more funding for cycling, then more power to the jumping boys ! However, it also shows something else.

A single day count can be inaccurate for many reasons but a yearly average will smooth things out.

"Sky-Ride" in London has attracted over 50000 people to ride past the same point on the same day, but generalizing about it would be a bit silly.

The power of division is quite amazing. Hopefully those boys in Delft found something more productive to do for the other 364 days of the year. Their extra 2000 counts sound quite extreme, but only work out as 5 a day averaged over the year of the count.

Copenhagener said...

I found this recent bike count: Traffic count - Nørrebrogade. It's in Danish, but the count shows around 30.000 cyclists, but the everyday traffic (HVDT) is estimated to 36.000...

Michael S said...

David, I'm with you when it comes to take the figures for granted that are provided by the counters (doubled though) and to doubt the marketing figures as long as no further information is given. A counter is a counter. Sure, whenever you do a count on a single day only manually, you will have factors to be applied to compensate for the day of the week, for the weather, for the season etc. The obtained figures will then be a good guess, not real figures. Marketing with unrealistic figures will strike back on you, when your opponents find out about it. Another example for brushing up the figures is the biking "commuters" figure in Cph. which is around 36% or so. Hardly anywhere else you will find this figure, instead only the overall percentage is given - and that percentage is around 25% in Cph.

On the other hand, I would support Edward: Copenhagen seems to be the most feasible model to convert existing car dominated infrastructure and it is brilliant to market the success they have had in the past. Why not see it this way: People in the NL are used to cycle with good infrastructure for so long, that it is just normal to them. No need to jump and sing and tell the world, just do it. People in Copenhagen are so proud of their recent success, that they want to jump high and sing loud. And that's just fine. :-)

David Hembrow said...

Copenhagener: Thank you for your investigative work !

It's a little difficult to understand. I had to resort to google translate, and then was left with acronyms which don't mean anything to me.

However, it appears to be a single day count for both directions, on a dry September day with light wind and temperatures between 17 and 22 C.

As Frits' anecdote shows, single day counts can be extremely misleading. However, even discounting the influence of small boys jumping on the sensor, a Thursday in September is never going to be the same as a Sunday in January. You can expect that the count on this day is considerably higher than an average count taken through the year, and that's what we are seeing.

September is a good month for a high bicycle count in any city with a university. Picking a warm and dry September day to do a single day count is a good way of achieving a high count.

Rather than being close to an average count, this will represent the high end of the scale, yet the resultant figure still seems to be somewhat lower than the claim.

Like you, I still find it hard to understand where the even higher "HVDT" number comes from.

It still seems somewhat like "a new way of counting", compared with setting up a counter for the year and dividing by 365 to find a true average.

Michael S said...

David, Copenhagener: Please note, that the counting only refers to 07:00-19:00. I guess therefore you will find a higher total figure. What the figures tell more is indeed a heavy difference depending on which way you go (fra byen/mod byen).

I don't know of any such bike counters in Germany, but I know that bike traffic counting normally is done by real people, sitting there on the spot all day. Then all the parameters like weather, temperature etc are recorded and compared to spots where you have a lot of data under different conditions. The same is true for other traffic and when all traffic is counted and estimated in a similar way, the figures should be useful anyway. What is striking in this example is, that you have a real counter (giving a lower average number) and obviously a human control count, giving a higher number on a single day. So promoting these figures should refer to: "Up to 36.000 bikes per day" or "An average bike rate of 20.000 per day" This fine distinction is going lost when marketing experts are working

David Hembrow said...

Michael S: I think Copenhageners should indeed be proud. Compared with most of the world they've done extremely well.

However, "the most feasible model" ? I don't believe that at all. It seems to be merely another aspect of the hype.

You'll find it all here if you look. For instance, Dutch streets can very readily be compared with British streets and wide "American style" boulevards here have successfully been converted for cars and then back again within a century.

The modern efforts in building infrastructure in both NL and DK date from about the same period. i.e. the late 1970s / early 1980s. What's more, both came about for similar reasons.

However, one country was more successful than the other. I think it's interesting to know why.

We also haven't yet even talked about why it appears to be the case that an eighth of Danish cyclists have given up on cycling. This is a real worry. If it happens there, it can happen anywhere else. What is the cause ?

David Hembrow said...

Michael S: The time of the counting could well explain the difference between 30000 and 36000 for the peak single day count. Thanks for pointing that out. The problem remains, though, that it's a single day count.

As you point out "An average bike rate of 20.000 per day" isn't what marketing will want to hear, so they pick the higher number.

This illustrates a problem. The whole thing has more to do with marketing than successful cycling policy.

While the public, internationally promoted, message is "busiest cycle street in the world" and other nations are being encouraged to copy this model (benefitting Danish businesses along the way), the local situation appears to be a bit less wonderful. Cyclists have to contend with things like bad junction design and they don't all feel safe when cycling. By Dutch standards there is a particularly low rate of child cycling - a particularly important problem because this is where the next generation have to come from.

That's why I think it is the wrong model to copy.

Kevin Love said...

Interesting. In Toronto, cycle counts were done in a cordon around the downtown for twelve hours (7:00 AM to 7:00 PM) on one day in September. Taking an approximation for the other 12 hours, we get a few streets in the 5,000-10,000 cyclists per day category.

Certainly not the busiest cycle streets in the world, but quite respectable even by European standards.


Anonymous said...

I remember seeing bicycle paths for absolutely most of the way from The german ferry to Copenhagen when I was cycling from Groningen til Copenhagen in september 2010.

I also rode on German roads with no cycle path, not even seperated. And the cyclepaths in the city is a joke, so annoying to ride, it goes down every time there is a driveway into a house.

This bicycle counter does stand in only one side of the street. Perhaps the other side sees more cyclists? I use a different route each way when I ride to work. Why? Because a Mango+ velomobile is pretty big, so I choose left turns with lots of room for maneuver.

This counter stands at the end of Nørrebrogade, right where the old subburbs turn into the city. There are lakes on the outer side, so maybe somebody who uses Nørrebrogade rides on the walking/cycling only path on the outside of those lakes and thus bypasses the counter. Another thing is that Nørrebrogade is a pretty busy shopping/caffeing/drinking street, so maybe lots of cyclists dont ride it all the way to the end, but stop a long it's path?

Daniel Sparing said...

@Frits B

Here in Delft there are much more counters without displays then just the one with a display, so they can hopefully filter it out.

Frits B said...

Here is the original text:

woensdag 29 september 2010 door NRC Handelsblad
Meten = weten
Het is de eerste herfstige zondagochtend van het jaar. Delft hult zich in een dichte mist. Ondanks het kille weer besluit ik om toch te gaan hardlopen. Het is heerlijk stil op straat. De gemeente wil het fietsen stimuleren en heeft daarom meetpunten aangelegd die het aantal fietsers per dag tonen. Bij het meetpunt op mijn route staat een groep jongetjes. Ze springen driftig op en neer. Als ik dichterbij kom zie ik de cijfers op het bord in hoog tempo verspringen. Luid gejuich stijgt op. Op deze druilerige zondagmorgen om kwart voor elf heeft zojuist de tweeduizendste fietser van de dag het meetpunt gepasseerd.

Michelle Hendriks

Anonymous said...


I'd be curious what route you took from the ferry northwards. I was mostly on Highway 151/153, and my general experience might be summed up in this small video:

That's not to say cycle paths didn't make their appearance here and there as I headed south, it's just that I spent more time on non-separated infrastructure. I may have selected the wrong roads, of course.

In northern Germany, by contrast, the paths mostly looked like this:

Neil said...

In my UK town counting is done manually (by observation) for a 2 hour period on any one of 3 days. i.e. all sites done over the 3 days, but each site only done on one day. That is repeated 3 times a year.

The good numbers are 100+ for the 2 hour period.

Anonymous said...

First you say the ended, now you say they are not separated. What do you think that big fat white line a long the road is in first video t=0m10s?

Just like in the Netherlands

I used that route myself, but there is a special cycle route on small side roads, It is marked with signs, and you can buy a paper map, but no GPS map :-(
It is also longer which is why I used the direct route.

I can not see the road in your german video. But while I was there I rode both big roads with cycle paths, big roads, small roads, cycle paths and even in the forest at 2 am :-O (stupid GPS device).

I think it is all about which route you choose.

In the cities I think Copenhagen and Groningen is tied. Copenhagen mainly uses asphalt, where is Groningen has some made of bricks. But Groningen generally has wider paths, though often only in one side of the road.

Amsterdam had the same flaws as Groningen, but more often had paths in both sides of the street. But they also win over Copenhagen with the many much more smaller distance between major bicycle paths to/from the city. Copenhagen is hindered by those 5 big lakes and has a much bigger distance to go around.

Germany though often had brick paths in the cities and they where not level because they dived to the road height every time there was a house, and then rose up again, which is very annoying if you wanna go fast. Also Germany often only had a painted line to divide walking and cycling traffic.

David Hembrow said...

Jon: The video you chose doesn't shown a similar situation. Examinedspoke's video is of a road carrying a lot of motor vehicle traffic which has a 70 km/h speed limit. I have never found myself cycling on a road with such a volume of traffic at such a speed in NL. The twilwel video that you provide a link to is of a minor road with 30 km/h speed restrictions over speed bumps. There is no cycle lane on this road, you're looking at the road margins (though yes, it does have bypasses at the speed bumps). Most villages and many small country roads are like this. The motor traffic is moved elsewhere.

Anonymous said...


"What do you think that big fat white line a long the road is in first video t=0m10s?"

Perhaps the Danes mark their bicycle lanes with fat white lines, but I saw it more as a road edge stripe. Whatever the case, I would find difficulty calling the area between the paint and the road edge a bicycle lane, given that it was perhaps thirty centimeters wide and had no other markings. I doubt that that's the Danish standard for lanes in the countryside; if so, then I've been on many a "Danish bicycle lane" here in Los Angeles -- and I wouldn't recommend them.

Perhaps you rode along these lanes on Highway 151, too (opens page):

This infrastructure may be slightly better, but it's hardly optimal, and certainly nothing like I saw in Germany. But, as you say, road choice matters.

Anonymous said...


Here is what David Hembrow told me when I mentioned roads like that in Amsterdam (okay, maybe not a 70 km/h road, but big city road, at least 50 km/h and with parked cars on the side (ready for a door hook)).

"It is an old road, not every road can be up to the latest standard".

First you say the cycle path ended, then you say they are not separated, and now you complain they are not wide enough and with traffic next to it.

Please stop moving the goal post.

wuppidoc said...

Of course there are lots of roads in Germany that are not sorted for bikes. Depends on the state you are moving in.
And when it comes to cities it also depends on the transport policy there.
Berlin is trying to pick up now, Bremen has to repair its cycle paths...

Anonymous said...

They updated the Danish cycle route map, so now you can get them digitally for GPS.

It is route 9 that examinedspoke should have taken part of. But as you can see, it is not as direct as road 151 which is that straight yellow line from Vordingborg to Køge. That road was made for cars.

It can also be seen here

I might take that route when I cycle to spezi 2011 and back.

David Hembrow said...

Those who've been following the comments might like to know that there is an update to the blog post with information from officials in Copenhagen.

The figures that Copenhagener found for a warm day in September 2009 were very much on the right lines for the high count figure.

kfg said...

"Usually you have to assume that such printed figures are correct"

I'm afraid it has been my experience that usually you have to assume such printed figures are incorrect.

A good many figures are essentially made up, as there is no actual way to directly quantify the phenomena. Estimating algorithms are used, which then end up reported as fact.

Where actual counts can be used the first thing to assume, as you have found in this case, is some sort of ideal conditions peak is being reported as if it were an average.

Since many phenomena can be counted, but with a certain lack of precision, and "optimism parameter" is often fudged in.

The next step, with either estimates or counts, is to add a vaguely plausible adjustment in whatever direction suits your point of view, say bumping up an odd number (37k) to an even one (38k).

The next step will be to add rhetorical rounding. 38k becomes "nearly 40k."

Eventually the "nearly" will be dropped and the extreme number will be quoted as empirical.

Neil said...

> What do you think that big fat white line a long the road is in first video t=0m10s?

That is surely the line marking the edge of the road. I think if nopthing else (width etc) the way the line changes over the junction (at the end of the film) confirms that this is _not_ cycle lane.

Kevin Love said...

KFG wrote:
"A good many figures are essentially made up..."

Kevin's comment:
It is a well known fact that 64% of statistics are made up by being pulled out of thin air.

kfg said...

Kevin - My God, man! That's nearly three quarters.

"made up by being pulled out of thin air."

That is so mid 20th century. Now we pull them out of computers after destroying our raw data and keeping our algorithms as a trade secret.

Since this makes our output irrefutable, it is therefore fact.

Anonymous said...

If people cycle on that road, they usually use the area on the outside of the big white stripe. Maybe because they are told as kids? I was when we did the yearly competition between kids on at a certain class level to see who cycles the best.

Neil said...

really? which country? but in any case, that is by definition then, not a cycle lane...

Anonymous said...

Why is it not a cycle lane?

J.. said...

Am I the only one who thinks a contest of who has the busiest cycle lanes is absolutely useless? What would the conclusion be?
What if a street is has more cyclists because it is the only viable cycling route into town? What if some other town had its cyclists evenly distributed over a dozen high quality routes (none of which would be among the busiest cycle routes in the world), all connecting to a dense network of cycling infrastructure? Would that be a bad thing?

Although I agree with David that marketeer cheerleading will only be harmful in the long run, I must say I find this discussion thoroughly beside the point. Maybe it's just me, but arguments that take the form "my cycling infrastructure is bigger than yours" are usually not that interesting.

@Daniel Sparing
I'd be interested to know where one would find this display enhanced cycle counter in Delft. Could you provide a Googlemaps link?

David Hembrow said...

J..: I thought the more interesting point was the reduction of 1/8th in the cycling rate of in Denmark. It's not in order to gloat that I have been the only person to have blogged about this, but because sometimes you have to face up to an unpleasant truth in order to resolve the problem that causes it and to prevent the same thing happening elsewhere. Is it not interesting to know why this should have happened ? Doesn't the world need to know what went wrong so that similar problems can be avoided in the future ? However, no-one has commented on this at all.

Frankly, I'm rather bored by all the exaggeration and hype from Copenhagen. The people doing the actual work there seem reasonable enough, but the marketing is completely out of hand.

In the face of the problem of reduced cycling, why is there not a period of introspection while the issues causing it are resolved ? Why instead is there a continuation of relentless hype ?

When the CPH marketing department sends press-releases featuring exaggerated levels of cycling to the world's media, what do you think I, or other people, should do ? Is no-one to challenge it and point out the exaggeration ? Shouldn't someone, somewhere, occasionally point out that the numbers simply do not add up, and that on the face of it we're being fed self-serving nonsense which sustains an industry of consultants ?

Do facts have no value these days ?

I think the world needs honesty. If other countries are eager for information about growing cycling, is it not better than they copy the best model rather than the one which has the loudest spokesperson ?

Time and time again you see that the loudest voice gets heard most often and by most people. So far as cycling is concerned, the Netherlands is now almost completely ignored on the international stage. Another example of this was sent to me in email today: A conference in Berlin. Speakers have been invited from such great cycling cities as New York (0.6% of commutes by bike) and London (2% of journeys) and Copenhagen (22% of journeys), but no speakers are invited from anywhere in the Netherlands.

wuppidoc said...

Yes, and we are only asked to attend in Berlin, very sad, we could have brought the German and British experience together, we could have said, that you need proper infrastructure for bikes sorted out to get people on bikes who want safe and relaxed cycling, who want to cycle on normal bikes and not on sport machines. But with our "little" project and no big name behind us, we are not important enough for these conferences.
We shall of course go and try to raise our voices.....
We also applied to speak in Sevilla in March (Velo-City Conference 2011), but we were turned down. No real explanation given.
I know I am complaining here, but that is how the world works. And maybe it is good when Boris Johnson pleads for the support of cycling. Given that his crownies in Downing Street are now ruining the country. I was amused to read that Cameron and Osborne got very cold remarks from their fellows and economy specialists in Davos last week.

wuppidoc said...

I looked again at the programme of the conference you were talking about (in Berlin). Boris Johnson and the woman from New York are only asked to come they have not yet accepted the invite.
But you are right, David, there is nothing and nobody from the Netherlands.
Maybe they only want to show the new efforts....

J.. said...

David, I was shure I exempted your "truth in advertising" argument from my criticism.

We are in full agreement when it comes to creating a hype. Perhaps the good people of CPH have been lulled into complacency by there own marketing.

If anything, the takeaway is that this fight is never truly over.

David Hembrow said...

J..: You said something very important there: "If anything, the takeaway is that this fight is never truly over."

wuppidoc: IMO, your "little" project is one of the more important things out there. iven that it also has a connection with Germany, I'm dismayed that it wasn't thought to be more important at this conference. It seems they'd rather keep asking the same people the same questions and keep getting the same answers.

And BoJo... well, he's pretty good on HIGNFY, but not so impressive on cycling ?

kfg said...

David - To give some credit where it is due, Mikael has been been posting about the decline in Danish cycling with a considerable amount of consternation for some months now.

He has noted that he has been approached by other concerned Danes requesting that he start a campaign similar to Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize specifically targeted at promoting Danish cycling.

He's looking for help on the project, we'll see if it ever turns up.

Anonymous said...

I dispute that Denmark and Holland are the two most-cycling countries in the world. I belive China has the biggest absolute and relative numbers.


David Hembrow said...

tOM: You're missing the point. The Chinese have for many decades been forced to cycle. Now that they can afford cars, the country is grinding to a halt with massive traffic jams.

What the Netherlands and Denmark have achieved is to encourage people who can afford cars to prefer to cycle.

This is not something that China is busy with.

The Dutch and Danish experience is applicable to other western nations who wish to reduce their car dependency. China is unfortunately going rapidly in the opposite direction.

Multiparty Democracy Today said...

So, what does Copenhagen need to make itself increase from 20% to 50% or more? Intersection improvements with its cycle tracks and main roads. There are enough cyclists making left turns that I say simultaneous green is worthwhile. It easy to do. Add a sign saying right turns free for cycling (and physically re-design the intersection too if possible), simultaneous green and you can make diagonal turns on green, plus a bicycle specific signal in each direction, and finally, an extra stage or two with all way green for bikes and pedestrians (pedestrians cross on the outside of the junction not diagonal). What else? At t-junctions and standard crossroads, make right turns and top of the ts, make it possible to cycle past them. These increase the efficiency of cycling by a huge amount. It reduces the chance of a collision. Already a Copenhagen design with flashing lights has killed someone.

What else? Well, how about more pedestrianized zones with cycling allowed. This is a key to cycling in the Netherlands. Directing and concentrating motor traffic onto fewer, good through roads, with separate turn stages for left and right turning motor traffic. Maximum wait times for cyclists of 30-40 seconds is also useful. More bike parking in the central area, and bike lockers, will encourage cycling. On the cycle tracks, more of a median between track and roadway is good. It makes people feel safe, even if it is difficult for a car to jump a curb. How about when a curb must face the cycle track, make it a bicycle friendly angled curb. That would be good. Converting more streets into 30 km/h low volume, raised, unmarked junctions. That makes it easier to have non-stop cycling on friendly roads. I do not know what I have left out, maybe making bicycle specific signals more obvious, like using red, green and yellow bike shaped heads, rather than a blue painted sign above the lights. Roundabouts with cycle tracks around them. Waiting time indicators, for sure, any ideas David?

Anonymous said...

Copenhagener here, just a few inputs on the bike counters.

I don't think you can use the counters as a reliable measure of how many cyclists pass that particular place. My experience is that they don't count the right numbers if cyclists pass by in a group.

You can actually download the data here:

And if you take a look at the data, which for some reason does not contain all days in a year, you can see that there are huge irregularities that don't make any sense. One weekday you would have 15000 cyclists on one side of the road, and the next 500. Therefore, especially the sums for a year you have been doing don't really make any sense. Many days the counters don't even count.

The bridge, which is crossing a lake btw not a river, does act as a funnel. But it isn't an extreme case of funneling.

If you look at central Amsterdam (within the outermost circular canal), you have an area which corresponds pretty well to inner Copenhagen (Indre By - inside the lakes and including Christianshavn). There are around 20 bridges going into this area in Amsterdam adn 15 roads/bridges in Copenhagen. So I don't think funneling is that much more different.

What really makes a difference is that Nørrebro, which is the area connected by the bridge houses a lot of students and young people who tend to cycle.

Anyways, I don't think the city would be allowed to make cyckle bridges crossing the lakes, as they are 'protected' areas by Danish Conservation law. And there would be a public outcry if they'd suggest it.

Anonymous said...

@ David Hembrow

Copenhagener here:

Regarding the counts and extrapolation of data.

I've digged a bit into the issue of how the numbers are estimated. I found this working paper from the Danish road authority on methodologies of bicycle counts: (in Danish unfortunately)

By glansing through it, here is a number of points to clarify your discussions in this blog and in the comments which so far is based on hearsay and guesses.

1. Bicycle counts are done in a specific time frame, a couple of hours, a day or a week. From these counts there are certain standard factors used to calculate how much the traffic numbers should be on an average weekday (mon-fri): "hverdagsårstraffik" (HVDT) or on an average day: "årsdagstraffik" (ÅDT). Each hour has a certain factor used to calculate daily numbers, and each week has a certain factor to calculate yearly numbers etc. these factors are based on traffic type (commuting, school traffic, local traffic etc) on the national level, and in the working paper there is a bit of discussion of how to improve these factors. It seems Copenhagen does bicycle counts in the 12 day hours and uses that number to extrapolate from the remaining 12 hs. What exact factors Copenhagen municipality uses I don't know, but from the numbers it is clear that they use some. You can see the national factors on page 86-87 in the working paper. There is also a discussion on how to factor in the wheather

I can clearly see some issues of data quality if Copenhagen municipality uses national factors to extrapolate their counts. Central areas in Copenhagen has special demographies, there are tourists etc. I don't know if they do, but I suppose Copenhagen could use their fixed 24h counters to calibrate the factors.

You can see the bicycle counts on this map: Go to "Veje -> Trafiktællinger for cyklister"