Chicken and Egg

What came first, the bikes, or the bike lanes?

Copenhagen and Amsterdam are frequently brought up as examples of the level of cycling a city can have when the city invests in cycling infrastructure. The counterargument is that both of those cities had very high cycling levels even before the facilities were created, and the bike lanes and sidepaths were created in response to the high level of cycling.

Mikael @ Copenhagenize posted a wonderful series of historic photos showing masses of cyclists from the 30s into the 70s. While there was heavy bike traffic even on streets without bike lanes, it’s clear Copenhagen had bike lanes and sidepaths even in the 1930s.

What do you think? Do bike facilities encourage people to bike? Or are they a response to increased demand after there are more bikes on the road?


  1. Thank you for posting question. Saw the great vintage photos and thanks Tom C for brilliant link to history of Netherlands paths. So where does this leave the USA? The demand for infrastructure created jobs but did not influence the behavior of consumers. I believe any less than a severe economic jolt to USA consumers will have little affect on growing the cycle population. Has anyone questioned the energy policy in the USA and asked consumers to use their own power, free energy? Of course not because there has to be a program or stimulas and what in the end do I get out of it. That’s the American Way.

  2. I am in Japan. There are always sidepathes in every town, every city and every prefecture. And almost all Japanese have still ridden bicycle as well as they have driven a car. So I personally do think sidepathes are important to start riding bicycle. On the other hand, I’ve heard that people in America don’t often ride bicycle since they naturally have used cars for daily transportation. It might be a pity that sidetathes or Sharrows have not yet critical powers to enfoce more cycling… But I hope they would be helpful to encourage people who prefer cars to start riding bicycle.

  3. I disagree that behavior change can’t happen without extreme economic jolt… tho’ that point is moot since an awful lot of people are having that jolt.
    We’ve just this year had bike lanes added … mixed feelings from the cycling community (myself included), especially those of us who confidently navigate without them (e.g., we’ve just gotten a mess of snow and the bike lanes are sort of half plowed and guess what? Bikes don’t get rid of the residual the way cars do… so riders are wondering where they should be… and yes, the line means that cars sometimes pass more closely because they can see this big ol’ boundary line… my bike they often give more room to.) However, I absolutely know that a certain percentage of our locals firmly believed that well, really, bicycles WEREN”T SUPPOSED TO RIDE ON ROADS and this says that the powers that be don’t agree with that. A small faction of those folks will believe that somehow we’ve exerted pressure or something, but far more do pay attention to real information if it’s available.
    But we’ve got other issues on our roads — snowmen being murdered 😉

  4. Hi Lloyd, I’m following up on bike-lane-chicken-egg posting of Netherlands path video you mentioned in your post today. In my blog, Bicycle Facilities – New Amsterdam vs Old Amsterdam, I ask the question: Will North American cities ever catch up with Netherlands in the development of bicycle facilities and policies?

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