Norman Foster promotes "cycling utopia"
above London's railways


News: British architect Norman Foster has unveiled a concept to build a network of elevated pathways above London's railways to create safe car-free cycling routes, following 14 cyclist deaths on the city's streets in 2013.

Entitled SkyCycle, the proposal by architects Foster + Partners, landscape architects Exterior Architecture and transport consultant Space Syntax is for a "cycling utopia" of approximately 220 kilometres of dedicated cycle lanes, following the routes of existing train lines.

Over 200 entrance points would be dotted across the UK capital to provide access to ten different cycle paths. Each route would accommodate up to 12,000 cyclists per hour and could improve journey times across the city by up to half an hour.

"SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city," said Foster, who is both a regular cyclist and the president of Britain's National Byway Trust. "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."

If approved, the routes could be in place within 20 years, offering relief to a transport network that is already at capacity and will need to contend with 12 percent population growth over the next decade.

"I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle, rather than drive, are more congenial places in which to live," said Foster.

"To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists, we have to make it safe," he added. "However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London's streets, where space is already at a premium."

According to the designers, construction of elevated decks would be considerably cheaper than building new roads and tunnels. The routes would offer greater health benefits for London residents and would make more efficient use of space, as more car owners could be encouraged to cycle rather than drive to work.

"At crucial points in London's history major infrastructure projects have transformed the fortunes of the capital," said Space Syntax director Anna Rose. "For example, Bazalgette's sewer system helped remove the threat of cholera to keep London at the forefront of the industrial revolution; the Underground strengthened London's core by making long-distance commuting possible."

"SkyCycle is conceived in this tradition as a network of strategic connections from the suburban edges to the centre, adding the much needed capacity for hundreds of millions of cycle journeys every year with all the social, economic, environmental and health benefits to London that follow," she added.

Cycling safety in London was called into question in November last year when six cyclists died in road accidents in a two-week period, bringing the total for the year up to 14. A poll by BBC News found that one in five cyclists in London stopped cycling to work following the accidents.

In Dezeen Opinion columns in November, architect Sam Jacob said that roads should be designed "in a way that incorporates intelligence as well as brute engineering", while Fabrica CEO Dan Hill questioned whether driverless cars would make roads safer.

  • Rob Brink

    The great thing about cycling is that it potentially allows a freedom in a dense city like London that is unmet by cars. You can go anywhere, park anywhere, and it connects you to streets, squares and it’s functions like shopping, schools etc. By separating cyclists from the ground level you lose the connection with city life. The solution to more human cities lies in breaking the dominance of the car, not by removing the bike from street level.

    • Corbin Keegan

      I must kindly disagree Rob. As a cyclist, e-biker, motorcyclist and car enthusiast, the bicycle reigns supreme and elevated being that bikes are lightest, quietist and cleanest. They belong elevated and unhindered – keep in mind you can still go down and experience the city life bellow. Even planes have to land in different cities. My city of Los angeles did this in wood at the turn of the century from pasadena to DTLA but in came the new trolleys and then later the finite fossil fuel automobile and its ‘freeways’.

    • Mike ummels

      I must disagree. The most important part of this project is that commuters are stimulated to cycle rather than drive a car. That will take the pressure off the road and provide space for cyclists and pedestrians who want to go somewhere 2-5 blocks further.

      • David Robjant

        If you check RAC figures (The Car And The Commute) you will find that the bike *already is* the majority form of personal road-transport for commuting in many London boroughs. In that situation, it strike me as positively dotty to be trying to find *somewhere else* to put cycles than on the streets. It’s the motor vehicle minority who should be going somewhere else. Or we will end up with this:

    • Rob Tobin

      London? Dense?

  • Chris MacDonald

    Good idea. Shame the scale of the people on the visuals is way off.

    • Nathan

      In this utopia, cyclists have become the size of field mice so that there is plenty of room to scurry about on a dainty elevated lane the width of one train car. It’s an odd solution, considering no one has developed a shrink ray but some cities have successfully confronted the danger posed by automobiles on public streets.

  • Ard Buijsen

    This is what I would call ‘writing around the problem’. Cyclists should be on street level. If there is a problem in this then solve the problem but don’t come up with solutions like this.

    • Steve

      The problem is cyclists. This is an excellent approach to the problem.

      • Ard Buijsen

        Enlighten me, how are cyclists the problem? Cars are the problem in urban areas. Should pedestrians also use elevated walkways?

  • ially

    I love the daredevil in the lower right corner cycling on the edge outside the balustrade. Ah no wait it is way less risky than cycling between car traffic.

  • HotSandwiches

    How do you get your bike up there?
    Seriously… Ramps? Elevators?

  • alex

    Publicity stunt after all the recent cyclist deaths, not a serious proposal. Next!

    • Muhammad tariq jalsai

      Leading people back to the age of stone, I mean back to the cycling and then focusing on pedestrian pathways about railways tracks after some years that they will run and compete so their body will remain fit and bla bla bla. This is all creating problems and then search for the solutions and then going to become happy. I think this is not the solution to the cyclist accidents on the road.

      • arch

        I don’t get it.

  • jack

    Hmm I wonder what successful cycling cities and towns have these schemes – none. Norman Foster, you wrote the foreword to Jan Gehls ‘City for people’ but you obviously haven’t read past the blurb.

  • Corbin Keegan

    Anything to get the cars and pedestrians out of the cyclist path is more welcome.

  • drater

    Have you ever used the tube in London? Use it once and you get thousand reasons why to cycle. Even when it is heavy raining and winter.

  • Ard Buijsen

    Watch this Mr. Foster, this is how you solve ‘bike’ problems:

    • Damien

      That film is so, so bad.

    • Simba Alberto

      Although I love this concept, one thing that must be realised here is the lack of space in London. Whilst the US has space to spare for bikes cars, pedestrians, markets, etc in the same lane, it’s difficult for London to achieve the same.

      The future will be elevated, and it will start in London!

  • Philip Pryke

    6.5km of this for £220 million or Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden bridge for £150 Million? An obvious winner there for me (the cycle path).

  • RobMon

    Someone needs to go back to photoshop class. Note the rider in the lower right outside the safety rail. Lol

  • Fahad

    I think placing the cycling highways above railway lines is interesting, as it combats the issue of dead space that would otherwise be created underneath them.
    However, one can’t help but think that these ideas are not well considered, and more an attempt to gain publicity. Any comprehensive study of urban planning will reveal that cities are made better by integrating people with city life, and not segregating different functions. As a cyclist, I want to take advantage of the sensory experience the urban environment has to offer, and not be relegated to a highway. This separating out of city functions seems like quite a dated modernist notion.

  • K.Washington

    One important word: Pay-per-use. They finally did it, they found a way to make you pay to use your bicycle.

  • David Guerra

    So being a cyclist disqualifies one from offering proposals for cyclists? Or isn’t it rather the other way around? Maybe the fact that you (apparently) don’t cycle should rather have discouraged you from talking about what you know nothing about? As a cyclist myself, I can say that cycling on the streets with cars is very dangerous, even when there are bicycle paths. Here you can be totally relaxed, be exposed to less engine fumes, and enjoy a beautiful view of the city. And of course, having a direct path to a more distant part of the city is practical as well. It’s not just cars who should have the right to have highways, which is why I find this quite a good idea. It’s obviously not a comprehensive solution for bicycle traffic in the city, but it’s good for both the leisure and practical aspects.

  • John

    If you look into this project a little closer, it has been initiated by landscape architecture firm Exterior Architecture, with Fosters as a partner.

  • Simba Alberto

    Eventually it’s a racing track for cyclists!

  • Jacob Humphreys

    No, it’s like saying most people don’t fall down the stairs without being pushed.

  • Jacob Humphreys

    Most riders are very aware of other road users, because if they hit any other user, they are likely to be injured.

    Let’s compare how many pedestrians have been killed on the pavement by cyclists and by motorists.

    Simple indeed.

  • Jacob Humphreys

    *Better* cycle lanes are the answer. Blue paint on an arterial road is not protection, it is a publicity stunt.

    A West Way for bikes is not an innovation, but at least it raises the idea of protection by separation. That *is* something we can do, at much lower cost. Ask the Dutch.

  • bellaswoosh

    Agreed that we shouldn’t ‘let cars win’ by chasing cyclists up or out, but IMAGINE the view! Woohoo, I’d think it quite a privilege to fly over London like that on my bike. And you should be able to exit wherever (200 entry and exit points).

    I think it would significantly improve our lives. The Marylebone Road and others alike will always be nightmares for cyclists unless we really kick out motorised traffic, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Lots of people don’t cycle ‘real’ distances in London because it’s too stressful, but this could be the solution.