For many people, the first and last mile of their journey is the sticking point for using public transport. In some cases, you can use a shared bike for the last mile as there is demand for this in transport hubs, but the availability of these for the first mile can be sketchy in many residential areas. So the solution is to take your bike on the train and use it at both ends. This may sound like a dream for many cities, but Copenhagen proves that it can be done; cheaply and efficiently.

In 2010 DSB, the public train operator in the Greater Copenhagen area, made it free to take your bike in the S train system. In the least popular carriage, they converted a quarter of the train into a flexible space for bikes. Before it became free, 2.1 million passengers were bringing their bikes on board, and now in 2022, that figure is almost 10 million passengers*.

The S train network connects more suburban outlying areas with the city centre, thus making it easy to live outside the city centre and reach work or study efficiently by public transport.

This follows the urban planning strategy called the Five Finger Plan, established in 1947. The plan for the city’s growth designated five corridors of urban development, which were along railway (S Train) lines to provide convenient transportation to central Copenhagen. The network is shaped like a spread-out hand, with the palm being the city centre where all the routes converge. It also left green spaces and agriculture areas between the ‘fingers’. This was at a time when great swathes of the US cities were being demolished to create highways for cars.

It also helps that Copenhagen has a positive cycling culture. The city has an extensive cycling infrastructure with 382km of cycling routes in the city and dedicated super cycle highways that cut across the city, at times avoiding roads, for more efficient and safer journeys. On busy routes during rush hour, traffic lights are coordinated in favour of cyclists. Over the last decade, the city has invested in five dedicated bike bridges spanning the inner harbour, making movement to and from the city centre to the island of Amager quicker and safer. So it is not surprising that 49% of Copenhageners cycle to work or study.

When they read such positive case studies, people often say that not all cities can be Copenhagen (or Amsterdam, another city with a positive cycling culture). However, while our city has been thinking about and investing in urban planning that incorporates public transport and cycling infrastructure for decades, that does not mean that other cities can’t take some inspiration from what is possible here in Denmark.

* Figures from DSB in April 2022