London has existed for more than two-thousand years as a major metropolis, but it’s only been the past century that the city’s ancient roads were given over to automobiles. While that’s unlikely to change anytime soon, the SkyCycle bicycle highway proposal would see bike-only lanes built over London’s extensive rail network.
Designed and proposed by architect Sir Norman Foster, and borrowing its name from a similar design unveiled last fall by designer Sam Martin, the SkyCycle would be a dedicated, car-free bicycle highway built on top of the metropolis’s many railways. As high as three-stories in places, the ten routes would encompass some 135 miles of bike-only roadways, a response to a drastic increase in cyclist deaths in a city where more and more commuters prefer pedal power over petrol.
In November, six London cyclists were killed in just 13 days, prompting renewed calls for a rush-hour ban on heavy trucks, a time when bicyclists make up to 25% of all of London’s commuters. London saw 14 cyclists deaths in total in 2013, which is unfortunately about average in relation to historical data, even though cycling use is on the rise. The SkyCycle proposal would give cyclists their very own paths to traverse however, freeing up the roads once again for both foot and automobile traffic. During my visit to London a few years ago, I was very nearly hit by cyclists on two separate occasions, my only warning being a brusqe “Oy oy oy!” seconds before an almost-collision.
Of course, adding 135 miles of bike lanes atop London’s rail network is neither a cheap nor quick solution, with the project taking an estimated 20 years and $329 million to complete. When finished though, up to 400,000 commuters could use the SkyCycle on an average day, seriously easing the congestion that plagues London’s streets while also reducing the travel times cyclists face.
While not exactly a unique idea, it’s one that seems to be gathering wider support as commuters grow tired of constant congestion and the high costs that come with travel by car. Bicycle ridership is up across the board, and after seeing the success of Amsterdam’s dedicated bicycle highways, these proposals are finally gaining the serious consideration they deserve.