Out of the birthplace of “Stairway to Heaven” comes another fantastical transport idea: a bike-way that soars above the city of London. Renowned British architect Norman Foster – designer of London’s upturned-blimp-shaped Gherkin – recently released a proposal to construct new, three-story-high bicycle routes above existing rail lines throughout the city, according to the Daily Mail.
The first phase of the project, known as SkyCycle and estimated at £220 million, includes a four-mile route from east London to Liverpool Street Station. Nearly six million people live within the area of the SkyCycle network, with about 50% of them living and working within 10 minutes of an entrance to the path.
All of the 10 potential routes would be able to host 12,000 cyclists hourly — saving bike commuters nearly a half hour of commuting time. The developers also claim that the project is much cheaper than adding new roads and tunnels. The current average cycle speed in London is 10 mph; SkyCycle developers expect that number to increase to 15 mph with the project.
Architect Foster explained, “The greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London’s streets, where space is already at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city. By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car-free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters.”
The project, with developers Exterior Architecture, Foster + Partners and Space Syntax at the helm, would unfurl over the course of 20 years and rely on, in part, existing infrastructure. London’s railway lines were first built for steam trains, reported the Daily Mail, “and as a result follow contours that naturally reduce the amount of energy expended and avoid steep gradients, a boon for cyclists.”
The developers say that by capitalizing on existing resources, the project would be able to provide a safer and more comprehensive commuter experience. “SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city. By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car-free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters,” Foster told the Daily Mail.
Cycling has experienced a burst in popularity in London, with a 70 percent rise in cyclists over the last decade. With six bikers killed in London over the course of two weeks this past November, making safety issues an especial focus in light of the new project proposal. In fact, one cycling charity notes that wind exposure and ramp steepness may prove safety issues with the SkyCycle project.
For the moment, the SkyCycle project is just a proposal. Network Rail, which owns and operates British rail infrastructure, said via a spokesman, “’We welcome the proposals which have been put forward by Foster + Partners and Exterior Architecture and are always happy to look at ways we can contribute to improving travel and transport in London. We will continue to liaise with all involved as the aspiration for this innovative scheme develops.”