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.

    • Jakub Jodlowski

      I agree, great reminder on the very important difference between bicycle and car.

    • JohanC

      I totally agree. Foster (or whoever ran this project) clearly does not bike around london. The whole point is to be connected with the streetscape and be able to hop on and off as you need. Turning cycling into a highway based mode of transport simply won’t work.

    • hkops

      Yep. Exactly.

    • 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?

    • Daddy Frank

      By your definition the high-line in New York should have been a failure too right? Come on guys you seem to be missing the point of this. I’m a bike messenger and also a road racer, I’m riding bikes like people drive cars, EVERYDAY ALL DAY.

      The idea that I could travel safely across town at high speeds without stopping or the worry of being killed in a hit and run from these idiot drivers is liberating, and will inspire cyclist to ride even more.

      I just can’t help but think about the other great services and businesses catering to cyclists that will come into being because of this. I’m sorry bike lanes just aren’t good enough for people riding long distances, and they aren’t even safe for the riders! Imagine the amount of people that would be riding this thing if its realised. This is pure genius right here. BRAVO, FOSTER.

    • Paul

      Getting the bicycles out of traffic aids in cleaner moving traffic, and less chance of bicyclists being injured.

      Bikes being much lighter than cars and so providing infrastructure for them above roadways, or even sidewalks, can be cleaner and look less intrusive due to the scaling down of support structure needed to carry the lighter load.

      In doing this they could also move some foot traffic off of the ground level, keeping pedestrians safer.

      They could also add planters and beautify the system.

      So, what you may see as disconnecting I see as connecting by taking slower-paced foot and bicycle traffic out of the way of motorised traffic. When I look at city life I see parks, pedestrian traffic, bicycle traffic, places for shopping, entertainment, eating, etc… all within walking or a short bicycle ride distance, with no need for a car. If you want to live out in the suburbs and commute in to these areas, that’s up to you, but the cars should be taking a back seat to the transportation options of the people that live in the area.

  • Chris MacDonald

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

    • 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.

      • Rob Brink

        You’re quite wrong. The dominance of the car is the problem. It forces out other transport modes, makes cycling and walking more dangerous, takes a large amount of space and can only be used by a limited group of people.

      • Ard Buijsen

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

        • Corbin Keegan

          Pedestrians and cyclists can now choose and cars can’t. Cars are noisy, big and pollutant! Which sounds like a problem – cars or people /people on bikes? Cars are going to begin to die off rapidly. People and bikes will fit into ET3 evacuated tube transport and also auto roads will be left to the service trucks and classic finite fossil fuel mobiles of the past.

  • 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?

    • Dave

      Ramps, obviously. As shown in the pictures.

      • Damien


    • Corbin Keegan

      You have to throw it up there and spider climb. Ramps and elevators don’t exist yet.

  • 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.

      • Jacob Humphreys

        Riders generally don’t have accidents on the road without drivers hitting them. The solution is to lead people ahead and away from the age of oil. That way they don’t get fat, diabetic and dead, blah blah blah.

        • Dave

          BS. That’s like saying you jumped off a cliff and were only hurt because the ground hit you.

  • Steve

    I suspect not many of these commenters have ever lived in London. I have, and trust me, anything that gets those cyclists out of the way of decent pedestrians and stops them causing accidents on the roads is a very welcome improvement.

    • Rob Brink

      I guess you rather get hit by car instead of a bike?

    • Guest

      I assume you rather get hit by a car than by a bike?

    • Jan Jarmula

      I live in Victoria, BC, Canada. I used to cycle, rain or shine (we do not get much snow here), approx.12 km to my work place. Victoria is not a large city yet and commuting solely on roads would not appeal to me. We have a network of cycle routes (the key ones over old railway easements) that allow stress free commuting to work. Once you get close to your destination, you use city streets as everybody else. The key is that you can safely cover most of the distance without worrying about the traffic. This is how I see Foster’s idea. It is not about removing cyclists from the city roads. It is about making it safe and fun to travel relatively fast from place to place when the traffic is heavy. It is about having a reasonable choice between a bicycle and any other mode of transportation.

      • Jacob Humphreys

        Auckland’s solution (much cheaper) is to plan in separated cycleways alongside new road developments (Highway 16 & 20). Same effect and no expensive, exhausting & inconvenient on-ramps.

        Drop a traffic lane from the arterial roads and you could do the same all across London. Can you imagine the maintenance problems Foster’s scheme will cause for the railways, especially those with overhead electric supplies?

  • 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.

  • Chris Coco

    The highways are just part of multi measure approach that must also include breaking people’s driving addiction, congestion charging for single occupancy car journeys, timed deliveries and safer local back street cycle networks.

  • Marco Lammers

    There’s a very simple solution to the integration of bicycles in the city. It’s called a bicycle path. To all those who like to pretend London is a singular city requiring a singular solution: it isn’t. Quite the opposite.

    It’s not impossible, not even specifically hard to transform any random city – within certain geographical limits – as in Amsterdam.

    Streets get reconfigured very regularly. Infrastructure is the easy part, as easy as making the choice to have it. In 2005, however, Lyon seems to have found the potential key for the hard part: the step from a pretentious sub-culture to a banal tool. Quite fittingly it’s a deal with an outdoor advertisement company that changed the city almost overnight. Lyon exchanged the right to place 900 new and update 1400 existing advertisement spots for a fully functional bicycle sharing system providing 4000 bicycles from 350 stations for a price below a metro ticket (or abonnements as cheap as 25 euro/year). Sounds familiar? That’s because London (as did almost every big city ) introduced the same system in 2010.

    Sadly, ‘utopia’ has become the magic word to hide blindness with false vision. The only ideas worth spreading are the ones worth defending, but very little of the ‘utopias’ spread are ever defended. Meanwhile, London has come to match Paris in being the world’s centre of irrelevant design and thinking.

  • cubert

    It’s fun. This image reminds me of the shed built by the same architect in Racine, WI near the Johnson Wax headquarters to exhibit the Johnson’s aircraft. A heavy and ugly building for a light and wonderful 20’th century’s technology. Don’t you think that it is a nonsense to dream about these evil freeway and “autobahns” just to ride a bicycle. Just count how many people are represented and think how many can fit in the train in the foreground.

  • Thomas Howlett

    Forget whether this is a feasible proposal or not, the important thing is it will keep the debate on cycle safety going and it cannot help but capture the public’s imagination.

  • arriven

    If there’s one thing bicycles suck at it’s going uphill, and those on ramps look like a god damn struggle I would dread to use in commuting. This would simply never work, cycling is too slow to be implemented as a highway-like system here – you’d miss an exit and it’d be 5 min before you’d be back on street level and 5 blocks beyond your destination.

    This proposal does nothing to suit the strong points of cycling, which basically says that your A-to-B is a door at street level on a block system. And why would I bike if the tube is right below me, faster, and I won’t be sweating when I get to work?

  • Airborne

    I think some commenters are missing the point here. The cycle paths are above the railways that lead from the suburbs to the city. This would be beneficial when you have a commute from the outer districts. I would be happy to cycle on an elevation without interruption. It is very unlikely anyone want to stop anywhere between their home and the inner city.

    • Jacob Humphreys

      Battling the cleaner, faster wind at even such a modest elevation will probably outweigh the gains from a direct continuous route, in at least one direction on a round trip. Better, cheaper solutions are available at ground level.

  • Anca

    This project is surprisingly similar
    conceptually to the “Bombay Greenway Project”; however, unlike that project, this Sky Cycle is brutal and futuristic, isolating the cyclist from the nature. It would be better to integrate landscape, walking and
    cycling for a holistic lifestyle.

  • 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).

    • Damien

      It was lovely seeing Heatherwick go on holiday this year with George Osbourne to China as his photo opportunity.

      G.O. – The man who has brought unprecedented cuts to Arts funding in the UK.

  • Steveal

    Great idea! Attract more people to the south-east. I look forward to more house price rises. Why not start this scheme in Burnley? In Doncaster?

  • 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.

  • Qriti Dgi

    :D It’s funny what studying building or engineering does to the mind. And hilarious to know that THE MR. FOSTER is a cyclist himself! Hahaha!

    Lame is what this proposal is.

    Cyclists belong on the streets man! It is an efficient, sort of quick-move way of life, doesn’t belong up there like Rapid Transit Systems.

    Moreover, cycling is a stop-and-go-and-stop-and-go kinda thing to do, why the hell ENGINEER so damn much for something so simple and environmental.

    Put your cars up there yo! And.. TWENTY years :D haha.. at the PACE OF NOW!!! There’ll be f**king air cars floating at the level and air traffic.

    SICK guys.. plagued by an engineering mind, are we!

  • JayCee

    Either April has come early or Foster has fulfilled his dumb quota early this year. I mean you only need to calculate the lengths of the ramps needed to get a bike comfortably up to that level to tell this is a non-starter. And the horrible image looks like it was mocked up in about an hour by the new part-1.

  • 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!

  • ambrosefox

    Is that really a Barclay’s blue colour scheme to match the Boris Bikes? Dear Christ.

  • Rick Ward

    The only thing that really needs to be addressed is the ‘attitude ‘ of cyclists. They are only ‘one’ of the many road users. Their attitude is that the road belongs to them and they have automatic right of way, especially in London. They themselves are the ‘danger’ with there mostly total disregard for traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, riding on pavements, rules of the road, being aware of the other road users, and especially overtaking on the left, approaching corners/roundabouts.

    That’s really what needs to change. The need to learn to behave as a separate vehicle, and obey the highway codes.


  • Z-Dog

    Most of the comments here are ridiculing this scheme and coming up with the same answer: “more bicycle lanes”.

    First, you can be guaranteed that the Mayor of London is informed on where and when bicycle lanes can be placed in London. He is also trying to run one of the commercial capital cities in the world and cycling commuters are only one factor in the story that makes London a great city.

    Bicycle lanes interfere with other forms of public transport such as bus lanes, which also accommodate taxis. Go to any thread about bicycle super-highways (blue paint) and see how cyclists feel about them!

    Foster (+ Partner’s!) idea is an innovation and is worth a pursuit. Build the idea, test the execution and move on from there. 10/10 as an idea… let’s move from there.

  • Jerry Horwood

    Ask architects to solve a problem, and they come up with expensive constructions. Ask engineers how they’d make cycling safer and they might consider warning attachments for long vehicles among other possibilities.

    Presumably most people cycle in order to reduce commute times (as well as cost and health benefits). Why does Foster invent an improvement to a commute time problem that doesn’t exist? And I suspect without having an infinite number of ramps, cycle commute times would actually increase.

    Ask the right people, the right questions.

  • 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.

  • Blake

    Last night we had a large gathering of over 1000 Londoners in Hackney to listen to Jans Gehl, an architect famous for designing cities to be more ‘liveable’. When someone mentioned this new concept by Foster he sort of laughed, because in reality it would remove cyclists from the city landscape.

    What we really need to do is move the cars out of the city, not the cyclists. This would increase the health of the air as well allow more squares to be reclaimed for people to meet and socialise, and make London into a city that people want to live in.

  • 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.

  • Fred Bloggs

    How many centuries will it take the backward thinking oinks that run the UK to do anything remotely good, decent or honest a thing for the working and normal people of Britain?

    Building a healthy cycle highway in Britain? Impossible – its too good for people.

  • Steve

    This sounds awesome, except for the huge expense and most importantly, the “within 20 years” time frame.

  • Chrigid

    I fully expect to die from being hit by a bicycle that’s moving the wrong way and against a red light. I think NYC’s bike lanes were designed in a rush just to shut up the bike lobby, without the intelligence and creativity that the problem requires.