The image of SkyCycle in London is classical futurism: a bike path swings through the air high above trains and other fast traffic. The celebrated architect Sir Norman Foster presented the plan together with Exterior Architecture and Space Syntax in an attempt to make biking in the British capital safer. The SkyCycle can accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour.
Foster, designer of projects like Stansted Airport and Wembly Stadium, is a fanatical cyclist himself, and has therefore lent his weight to the plan to give London’s cyclists 220 kilometres of car-free cycle routes, accessible from home or office by every inhabitant of the city within ten minutes.
The total number of kilometres peddled on bikes has risen exponentially over the past decade, but the city offers little protection to those on slow modes of transport. Some 20% of severe accidents involve bikes, while only 2% of all travelled kilometres in the city are by bike.
With a cost estimated at 240 million euros, the routes follow train tracks once built for steam-powered engines and therefore generally fairly flat. Lifts at two hundred points bring cyclists up to the bike path metres above the tracks.
‘I believe that cities where cycling and walking is better than driving a car are the most pleasant cities,’ says Foster. The inventors of the plan imagine a future in which more European cities would be equipped with a SkyCycle path. In their vision a future traveller could cycle from London to Heathrow, and after flying to Charles de Gaulle, continue cycling into Paris.
As is often the case with inventions of this sort, the plan isn’t all that new. As early as 1890, Californians started to build a cycle lane on wooden poles from Pasadena to Los Angeles: the California Cycleway. But in the end no more than 2 of the planned 14 kilometres were actually built.