Carbon-Free Commute in the Sky: Can London Finally be Safe for Cyclists?


The concept of a bicycle-only expressway sounds like a cyclist’s futuristic daydream, but a team in London hopes to make a real-life network of elevated bike paths in a city notorious for dangerous cycling conditions.

SkyCycle began as the student project of an employee at the London landscape architecture firm Exterior Architecture. The company’s owner says the concept became the office “hobby” until an elevator encounter with Mayor Boris Johnson gained his instant support. The proposal, backed by Network Rail and Transport for London, is the joint venture of Exterior Architecture, Space Syntax, and Foster and Partners. The Foster in question is, of course, Sir Norman Foster, the prolific designer of the Hearst Tower in Manhattan and London’s Millennium Tower.

SkyCycle routes would eventually comprise of 135 miles of bicycle-only tracks constructed on platforms above the overground rail line. Fully realized, the 10-route network could accommodate up to 12,000 cyclists per hour. The first proposed route would run from Stratford in east London to the central Liverpool Street Station, a four-mile stretch that comes with a $250 million price tag, arguably SkyCycle’s most difficult imminent hurdle.

Mayor Boris Johnson is no stranger to taking on ambitious bike-friendly projects. In 2013, he publicized plans to spend over $1 billion on cycling infrastructure in the next decade. Johnson oversaw the implementation Barclays Cycle Hire, the city-wide bike share program known colloquially as “Boris Bikes,” though initially proposed by his predecessor Ken Livingston. Much like CitiBike in New York City, Boris Bikes have caused their share of backlash, and even namesake and backer Barclays is planning to step away from the program in 2015.

Another of Livingstone’s proposals expanded by Johnson is the network of “cycle superhighways,” London’s bright blue bike lanes that have garnered a mixed reception. Unlike SkyCycle, the superhighways require cyclists to constantly interact with other traffic and pedestrian activity. Making room for cyclists this way is an often dangerous give and take between pedestrians, cars, construction and public transportation. Some even blame superhighways for creating a false sense of security for cyclists, and the death of a 20 year-old woman riding a Boris Bike in one of the superhighways has done little to quell safety concerns.

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