Acclaimed architect Sir Norman Foster’s enthusiasm for cycling has translated to a proposal for SkyCycle, an urban project that aims to revolutionise cycling in London.
Foster's SkyCycle concept proposes developing new cycling routes in the city on “a wide, secure deck” constructed approximately three storeys above existing railways lines.
With London’s transport network “at capacity,” SkyCycle would offer cyclists offering 220 kilometres of exclusive, safe and car-free cycle routes that can be accessed from over 200 entry points.
“Each route can accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour and will improve journey times by up to 29 minutes,” a statement for SkyCycle reads.
The concept of SkyCycle was unveiled through a collaborative design effort from Exterior Architecture, Foster + Partners and Space Syntax in an attempt to support the growing number of cyclists in London while endeavouring to improve cyclist safety following the deaths of six cyclists in the city in only a fortnight back in November, 2013.
Over the last decade, cycling has grown by 70 per cent in London, and on major roads the number of cyclists has increased by 173 per cent. Around the world, particularly in nearby European cities such as Copenhagen, cycling is becoming a preferred method of transport in dense urban cities, and is recognised for its sustainable, social and health benefits while serving as a more convenient way to navigate through busy city streets.
"Cycling is one of my great passions – particularly with a group of friends. And I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle, rather than drive, are more congenial places in which to live,” Foster said. “To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists, we have to make it safe. However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London’s streets, where space is already at a premium.”
He said that creating an elevated series of corridors above railways, it would create a much safer cycling network, allowing cyclists to move more freely in the absence of cars.
“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,” said Anna Rose from Space Syntax.
Over six million people are currently living within the area for which SkyCycle is being proposed, of which at least half live or work within 10 minutes of one of the proposed entrances.
The design team said creating elevated cycle routes would be more economical than building new roads and arterial roadways despite speculation that the project could cost in the billions. According to The Daily Mail, the first phase of the proposed plan, from east London to Liverpool Street Station, would cost an estimated £220 million.
The proposal also outlines the structural benefit of building SkyCycle to follow the contours of existing railways tracks, which were originally built for steam trains, stating that doing so will “naturally reduce the amount of energy expended and avoid steep gradients.”
Along with attempting to revolutionise cycling in London and set the benchmark with the elevated cycle highway concept, there is an also an opportunity to regenerate the area. The design team suggests business development and retail opportunities throughout the 220-metre routes at key points and stations.
In supporting research, cycling enthusiast and former AECOM senior landscape architect Mike Harris conducted a study that predicted a cycling revolution for London back in 2010 through the development of cycle superhighways, following the lead of other cycle-focused cities such as Berlin, Copenhagen and Denmark.
Harris has been involved with many urban cycling initiatives worldwide and is an advocate for this form of transport as cities become denser and land to cater for increased population amenities is now at a premium.
“The car is unsuitable as a mass form of transport in todays modern cities,” Harris said of his results. “The rising costs and increased congestion mean people see the bike as a much more viable form of transport.”
“The more viable we make cycling – by providing dedicated paths – the broader the demographic it will appeal to. The interaction that cycling encourages in our streets – the way it makes our cities human-scale especially as compared with automobiles – can totally change the experience and value of our streets as public spaces.”
While many cities today have embraced urban cycling strategies and even created separate routes and superhighways, SkyCycle challenges cycling landscapes, taking it to a vertical level.
SkyCycle has been presented to the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and Network Rail along with developers and contractors with specialist rail experience, who are exploring its viability.