Mikael Colville-Andersen, who many of you know as the man behind the Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic blogs, also runs Copenhagenize Consulting. They've just released a very cool index of the most bicycle-friendly cities around the world, ranking the top 20 based on a pretty exhaustive list of criteria. Despite having the word "Copenhagen" in its name, the overall winner for 2011 is Amsterdam with 54 out of 64 possible points (one of its bike parkings is pictured above).
If you're curious about the criteria that were used to rank the cities, that information is available here. Some of those are inherently subjective (perception of safety, social acceptance), but a well-defined point system made it as close to objective as possible. For example, social acceptance was on this scale:
0 points: Bicycle users have no social acceptance in the city and are regarded as complete outsiders. Very few people use their bicycles apart from on weekends for a bike ride.
1 point: There is some social acceptance but it is mainly focused on recreational cycling. Bicycles are still not accepted as feasible transport in cities. Still a lot of antagonism towards cyclists and the simplest of bike lanes or tracks generate public outcry.
2 points: Cyclists are not an uncommon sight on the streets. Motorists generally watch out for bicycles but the public doesn't always back infrastructure or traffic calming.
3 points: The onus is on drivers to watch out for cyclists and they are largely respectful of them. Bicycle infrastructure and facilities such as traffic lights for bicycles are accepted. There is limited public outcry when new lanes or tracks – or traffic calming
4 points: Drivers are accepting of cyclists in all situations, and most are cyclists themselves.
In general, having such an index (and updating it every year using comparable data) can only lead to good things. It's similar to how many NGOs rank corruption or ease of doing business. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the list, and those that do well end up incorporating that into their self-image and don't want to fall behind. It's a great motivator -- a carrot and a stick at the same time!