After several decades of underestimating the potential of walking and cycling in cities, the value of these transport modes is gaining recognition. However, city planners and decision makers face challenges in working to improve conditions for city walking and cycling.

Bicycle use in particular is developing rapidly thanks to new technology: modern bike sharing systems ensure better availability, electric bikes (e-bikes) extend the radius of action, and more and more bicycle varieties such as cargo bikes are available to meet cyclists’ needs. Pedestrians also have better facilities and helpful aids such as smartphone apps and maps.

The Urban Insight report “Urban Mobility on a Human Scale – Promoting and Facilitating Active Travel in Cities” explores how we can further facilitate and promote walking and cycling in our urban areas.



There is much to be gained from improving the situation for cycling and walking in our cities:

  • Compared to car infrastructure, including streets and parking, active travel improves the traffic flow efficiency. It also requires much less space, which is an important aspect in all urban environments with limited space and high mobility requirements.
  • The physical exercise associated with active travel is part of a healthy lifestyle. This is illustrated, for example, by the “active travel concept” in the UK, which emphasizes this aspect.
  • The transport systems’ carbon footprint is reduced, as is other pollutants that negatively affect both environment and inhabitants.
  • An infrastructure designed around walking and cycling largely consists of accessible public space, which is well suited for a city’s visitors and residents. As a consequence, additional liveable and sociable city areas are created.
  • The economic benefits of cycling and walking should not be underestimated. Strolling around and passing by shops increases the possibility for shopping, which is seen in cyclists’ and pedestrians’ substantial contributions to retail profitability.

The world’s rapidly growing cities face many challenges when it comes to sustainability and liveability, which further highlight the benefits and importance of active human mobility. City planning will therefore benefit from a focus on promoting walking and cycling.



European cities have experienced substantial growth in recent decades. The Urban Insight report “Running to Stand Still – the Role of Travel Time in Transport Planning” clarifies that the size of a city is often closely related to the accessibility and speed of its main transport system.

Some cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen are known as “bicycle cities”, and this may be an indication of their size. Other cities may be considered too large for cycling, but the size of cities is no reason not to cycle. The question is if Copenhagen and Amsterdam are cycling cities because they are small, or small because people cycle?

As a comparison, the Paris, Berlin and London metro areas out-scale both Amsterdam and Copenhagen. However, all of the busy city centres in Paris, Berlin and London are within biking distance from the surrounding urban area. Although larger cities are more structured around public transport combined with walking to and from stations, the bicycle can play a role in all cities’ mobility.

So, what did Amsterdam and Copenhagen do to end up at the forefront of sustainable mobility, as world-renowned bicycle cities? Simply put, they just did it.

They drastically changed their priorities to favour cycling and walking, with many years of tough decision making resulting in cities with a cycling modal share of at least 30 per cent. Vulnerable road users were acknowledged and urban planning focused on walking and cycling.

The cities also expanded their ambitions. Copenhagen, for example, specified a goal of being known as the world’s best city for cycling – a goal they have achieved, according to several studies. This type of ambition, coupled with persistent efforts, creates other advantages and synergies in terms of city branding and tourism, in addition to the sustainability aspects mentioned above.



Much like cycling, walking is the most efficient, flexible, clean and healthy way of travelling and almost always represents one or multiple parts of a journey. Most European cities have a connected, city-wide network of pedestrian pavements and footpaths.

Differences are found in pavement widths, means of crossing roads, quality of walkway surfaces, and accessibility for the disabled. A city’s “walkability fabric” is also important – the structure of the pedestrian network and the directness of connections. Today, an increasing amount of public space is designated as pedestrian-only: squares, streets and parking spaces are transformed into safe walking zones and attractive streets.

An emerging issue may be separating cyclists from pedestrians. The two groups are often treated as equal in car-dominated cities or streets. This is unsafe due to speed differences, especially with the rising popularity of e-bikes. In order to make both walking and cycling safe and comfortable urban transport modes, dedicated footpaths and bicycle paths are crucial parts of the city network.

The economic aspect is also important. Cities benefit economically from creating pedestrian areas, beyond having a cleaner and attractive city and healthy inhabitants.

Pedestrians and cyclists consume goods and services purchased in local shops and restaurants, and may even spend more money than motorists.



Improving the situation for cyclists and pedestrians is one of the key factors to achieving a safer, cleaner and more liveable urban environment. Thanks to the health benefits, employers will also experience less sickness absenteeism, while shops benefit from the additional shopping possibilities.

A brief overview of some of the report’s conclusions and recommendations:

Increased bicycle availability: Regional governments, employers and other actors may utilise new technology to promote cycling. Solutions for bike-sharing, smart locks and travel information can make bicycles – and e-bikes – available to more citizens.

Improving the conditions for active travel: To truly take active travel to the “next level” in urban policies, related campaigns such as bike sharing, bike use reward programmes and promotions are needed.

Developing safe infrastructure: Although pedestrians and cyclists may be great in number, they are still vulnerable groups. Bringing the best infrastructure for active modes to cities may involve making fundamental choices regarding allocation of public space, which is very often still dominated by the car. Redesigned crossings, converted car infrastructure and improved signposting may improve the situation.

Encouraging new behaviour: The transition of cities into bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly environments should not be only about infrastructure. Influencing travellers’ behaviour will go even further towards achieving tomorrow’s sustainable urban mobility. This could be accomplished through promotions, bike sharing programmes and reward programmes for bike users.


For more information, including citizen perspectives, citations, and additional examples, please refer to the full report.