An ambitious plan to attach cycle lanes above the existing overground rail network in and around London is being developed by an architecture firm.
Sam Martin, of Exterior Architecture, believes their ‘SkyCycle’ idea would revolutionise transport in the capital and give it the impetus it needs to become a cycling city in the mould of Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
He says the routes would follow the overhead railways around the city centre at an elevated level and be clipped onto the sides of bridges and viaducts when needed.
It would deliver more cyclists safely into the city by avoiding the busy arterial roads and encourage cycling as the primary way of transport. Exits would be placed at regular intervals, perhaps at stations, with cyclists paying a fee in the style of an Oyster Card.
“The Utopian dream is to cycle into the City of London on the SkyCycle avoiding traffic,” he told BikeRadar. “Once in the City of London the streets will be about people walking, cycling & sharing the streets with those few vehicles lucky enough to use it."
If you’re thinking it sounds like a madcap idea, think again. When we spoke to Martin, he and his business partner Oli Clark were on their way to a meeting with Network Rail about possible routes and locations.
It’s been developed and refined over the course of two years through Clark’s dissertation project to incorporate cycle lanes into the regenerated Battersea Power Station.
It's morphed into where it’s at now because of their interests as cyclists – or ex-cyclist in the case of Martin, who stopped cycling on the city’s roads as he gradually lost trust in them.
While it’s not been backed by anyone yet, after an email exchange they were invited by Mayor of London Boris Johnson for a meeting at City Hall to have a chat with the Deputy Mayor for Transport Isabel Dedring.
As reported in an interview they gave with The Times newspaper, the pair found themselves in a lift with Mr Johnson on the way to the meeting.
“It was that clichéd pitch in a lift,” said Martin. “Boris was all over the idea. He summed it up in one line: ‘It’s like ET flying to the Moon, flying over London.’ And he gave the motion of a take-off.” Mr Johnson was so impressed he invited us back for a further meeting.
As much as backing from the relevant authorities is a barrier to it becoming reality, cost is another. “Interfering with railway lines is expensive,” he told The Times. “Closing a railway line, even for a short period, costs a lot of money.”
But as he pointed out, London’s Victorian rail viaducts would have to be strengthened over time anyway - "every time one of these viaducts or bridges is retrofitted, SkyCycle should be accommodated at the same time.”
Martin contacted BikeRadar following the meeting with Network Rail to say the discussions with employees from Network Rail, Transport for London and the Mayor's office had been positive.
He says the next step will be to sit down with Boris Johnson and the bosses of Network Rail. He called the project a work in progress and said the meeting was another boost which would keep the wheels in motion.