Lord Foster takes on plans for London SkyCycle with 135 miles of elevated safe cyclist routes

Boris Johnson and Network Rail said to be interested in elevated cycle superhighways

by Sarah Barth   December 29, 2013  

SkyCycle image (picture - Foster and Partners)

London’s cyclists could race around the capital on specially built elevated cycleways at the height of a three storey building, should new plans drawn up by Lord Foster come into fruition.

Foster, the architect who masterminded the Millennium Bridge and Wembley Stadium, has created SkyCycle, a 135-mile network of streets that span 10 routes, accessed from 209 ramps across the city.

Foster says that SkyCycle would allow cyclists to raise their average speed from 10mph to 15mph in the city, protect their lives and cut journey times significantly.

Foster told the Sunday Times (£): “Cycling is one of my great passions — particularly with a group of friends. I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle rather than drive are more congenial places in which to live.

“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 at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city.”

Huw Thomas, a partner at Foster + Partners, said: “The idea of SkyCycle is to find a way of allowing people to move where they are not in conflict. Above the railways, where we have already got phenomenal connectivity, could we create that new arterial capacity?”

As we reported last year, Exterior Architecture, a landscape firm that originally devised the concept before Foster + Partners became involved, were due to discuss the plans with Network Rail, amid speculation that riders could pay a charge of £1 a time to use the elevated routes.

The proposals have also been presented to David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail. “We will continue to liaise with all involved as the aspiration for this innovative scheme develops,” Network Rail said.

Boris Johnson and Andrew Gilligan, his cycling adviser, have both seen the plans and have asked for further detail on costs - an estimated £220m to build the first four-mile stretch of the network from Stratford in east London to Liverpool Street railway station.

It is thought that the network would be completed over a 20 year period, with work happening at night to prevent rail disruption.

Roger Geffen, the campaigns director of CTC , said that wind and access to the ramps could prove a problem for some cyclists. He said: “There are issues of wind when you are higher up and no longer sheltered by buildings, particularly if you are above a railway line that is already on a viaduct.

“If they can deal with the issues of shelter and access and gradients . . . it should be very interesting but that’s a lot of ‘ifs’.”

Huw Thomas said that advertising billboards could be used to shield riders from the wind and protect residents’ privacy.

47 user comments

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What a complete and utter load of bollocks.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [3069 posts]
29th December 2013 - 18:18


£55 million a mile which will probably end up £100 million. Imagine instead if that money was spent on policing the roads? Ok so we may have to curtail jumping lights but that would be a small price to pay.
The moment drivers or cyclists or even dopey pedestrians see police they become saints, now imagine that all over London.

After ten years you could reduce the number of officers as peoples habits would have changed and far more people would be cycling.
Oh and crime in London would drop dramatically massively improving the quality of life, saving Londoners a fortune and encouraging huge amounts of inward investment.

Will never happen though as there's no money in it for big business.

posted by belgravedave [247 posts]
29th December 2013 - 18:40


Sounds brilliant, just the ticket! Party

posted by vbvb [387 posts]
29th December 2013 - 19:09


Have to say that I'm intrigued by this proposal, but am not convinced that segregation such as this is the answer, particularly if you would have to pay to use it (M6 Toll anyone?).

On a related funding note, there does seem to be a glaringly obvious sponsorship opportunity here, the clue being in the name of the scheme itself. That may solve a large part of the problem in getting it off the ground - no pun intended!

posted by parksey [362 posts]
29th December 2013 - 19:53


Now let's see...

OK, so opening scene of Blade Runner, the camera pans...what, what, what - is that people on bikes in tubes??!!! Smile

Now, obviously they are recognize that cyclists (in general) are an evolved bunch that need to cruise in the sky above the common car driving neanderthal Smile

* * * * *

OK down to business. Boris, the cars are the problem. Spend the money on a decent tube system. One which you don't have to squash into just to get to work. I think it's illegal to treat animals like that, why is OK for tax paying humans?

The bottom line is it's better to sort this issue out now, before the oil starts to run out.

posted by ronin [236 posts]
29th December 2013 - 20:07


......but when the oil runs out we'll have a national network of wide asphalt cycleways!

posted by allez neg [4 posts]
29th December 2013 - 20:22


This is, to use a Hesjedal-ism, coconuts. Silly

How this crackpot and self-evidently stupid notion has even got this far, I don't know. It's a child's idea, though presumably even a child would recognise some of the problems inherent to it. Textbook Johnson stuff - as with the cockamamie island airport, all he cares about is the press release with his name on it, not the execution of a practical idea.

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1126 posts]
29th December 2013 - 20:24


allez neg wrote:
......but when the oil runs out we'll have a national network of wide asphalt cycleways!

Could be a lot sooner if the politicians took brave, forward-think decisions to provide safe, useable infrastructure.

Netherlands and Copenhagen show it can be done, and the huge number of people getting around by pedal power.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2250 posts]
29th December 2013 - 20:32


gazza_d wrote:
Whatever medicine Lord Foster and Boris are taking, they need to half the dosage.

Good peoples time and energy is being wasted and frittered away on this nonsense instead of planning how to use the space we have most efficently

Either that or they need to double it.

This is a ridiculous concept.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [904 posts]
29th December 2013 - 20:45


"Hmmm. Let me see. Car drivers will now realise they DO own the roads, and any cyclists riding the 1/2mile from home to nearest on-ramp will be deemed to be "in the wrong place" and rightfully mown down.

It's attitudes, not infrastructure that needs to change.

Car drivers in general (and I include myself), drive too fast, rely too much on technology and do not pay proper attention when driving, and seem to have this misapprehension that they own the road. If we could beat that out of the system, there would be no need to spend money on cycling infrastructure."

Absolutely. You do have to have some infrastructural changes for cycling, but they are about taking space from motor traffic on our streets, not sticking us up in the sky.

When it comes to cycling, there's always an excuse for not doing what needs to be done.

posted by ChairRDRF [216 posts]
29th December 2013 - 21:25


So the surface of the planet, which belongs to all of us, is to implictly be reserved for motorists, while cyclists will have to pay a special premium in order to travel anywhere?

How long before they decide that pedestrians also need to be shoved out of the way of the motorist (and charged for the privilege also?).

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [904 posts]
29th December 2013 - 21:37


Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing

posted by Hensteeth [70 posts]
29th December 2013 - 21:58


£55m a mile? For that kind of investment you could make improvements to the existing road network that would give Holland a run for their money. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to learn from what already works in the country with the highest modal share of cycling.

As for the 'London's narrow road network' nonsense, take a drive along the Euston Road, through Vauxhall, Pall Mall or Old Street, and tell me there's no space. We've got space for five lane urban gyratories, but bike lanes need to be at sky level? Ridiculous.

posted by babybat [24 posts]
29th December 2013 - 22:09


So many problems.
So, the basic idea is cycleways above railways (not roads). That runs very quickly into problems. What happens when the railway goes into a tunnel, or even just has an over bridge- even just a station footbridge? In central London itself, where most of the focus is, the railways either terminate or are underground.

The "narrow ancient streets" straw man is duly raised into position. But the narrow streets are generally fine and could be often further improved by restricting through traffic to just bikes- no roadscpace reallocation, segregation needed.

Where the big focus is, where the greatest need for segregation and reallocation is, are the wide multi lane roads- often with three or more lanes in at least one, if not both, directions. The fantasy £6-7billion they're talking here could give a vast swathe of London street level provision that would truly be the envy of the world.

But of course Boris is attracted to this sort of dribbling lunacy.

posted by Al__S [811 posts]
29th December 2013 - 23:57


Far cheaper to just identify roads across the entire country that could be removed from general motorised use and set them up as cycling only roads to link cities across the UK.

1/ The roads are already there.
2/ Cyclists could easily pay a nominal annual sum to maintain the facilities and promote future investment. I'd happily pay £100 year to have use of such a network.
3/ Cyclists of all abilities and interests could use the space as they wished, meaning you could actually go for a very long ride on essentially protected roads.
4/ Skyborne tubes are cool from a design perspective but that cost is absurd and doesn't offer any rural protection for those of us who want to go cycling in safety.

If the government can (most likely will) push forward with the HS2 project then doing the above should be a walk in the park.

(Couldn't they route wide cycle lanes along the full length of the HS2 route?)

Can you imagine being able to go for a long training ride in complete safety on older roads now free of motorised traffic? Would be fantastic and is actually not that impossible to implement.

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [200 posts]
30th December 2013 - 1:54


Yes, give bikes roads that are removed from the through motor network. Enough of this Boris bonkers stuff please!

posted by a.jumper [775 posts]
30th December 2013 - 11:53


Foster, the architect who masterminded the Millennium Bridge and Wembley Stadium,......

The guy certainly has form when it comes to crap infrastructure and projects. You've picked two really good examples.

Millenium Bridge, that was the one that had to be closed after a couple of days, for 2 years of remedial work, because of harmonic vibration problems that caused it to ripple when people walked over it.

Wembley Stadium, Initial cost £440 Million, final cost £980 Million.

Did Nightrider 2013 and 2014 for Parkinson's UK. Might just have one last go in 2015.

jova54's picture

posted by jova54 [652 posts]
30th December 2013 - 12:14


A V Lowe wrote:

Old Street/City Road roundabout - a through cycling route, possibly rising at the Junction between Great Eastern Street and Old Street, and serving the second biggest flows of cycle traffic in London to come down to the West Side of the roundabout - or to consider dropping down - slopes of half the length required to go up, and running in a shallow trench which the road rises to go over. Going down means much less land is required for ramps (half the length) and visual impact/overlooking effects are reduced.

Some good points, but on this one (close to my heart and my office) - the Old Street peloton is shambolic enough (yes, Mr Pashley Man, lights apply to you too, and a black felt coat makes you essentially invisible) without corraling it into a tube.

Also - you do realise that underneath Old Street roundabout is a collection of shops plus Old Street station and the two lines that run through it? If you went under that lot you'd need cattle grids to stop the kangaroos from escaping.

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [1125 posts]
30th December 2013 - 13:06


Well, it's not entirely bonkers if bits of it are done sensibly. From my point of view, I often look out of the window of the train from Kingston to Waterloo, and I see a long unbroken strip of waste-ground next to the rails that could whisk cyclists from the suburbs to the city if it were to get a cycle path.

The alternative on this route is hilly and with lots of traffic. A cycle path next to the railway lines would be great. It doesn't need any fancy tube technology.

It's not total pie-in-the-sky, it just needs a bit of joined-up thinking to make it happen.

posted by MrGear [85 posts]
30th December 2013 - 14:08


Piecycle sorry skycycle may be a future infrastructure feature for london, if ever it happens then it should be free, there needs to be a significant differential between socially desirable and undesirable transport.

However, Piecycle is currently no more than a distraction from more urgent issues with the current london cycle network and no excuse for inadequately addressing them.


posted by lushmiester [156 posts]
30th December 2013 - 14:13


Now if they were proposing a system of giant tubular water slides high across the city, on the other hand..._that_ I might consider paying money to try.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [904 posts]
30th December 2013 - 20:38


I don't understand why this daft idea has surfaced again after apparently being smacked into touch by the mayor more than a year ago.

posted by congokid [220 posts]
30th December 2013 - 20:42


Being elevated, with no "escape route", would simply encourage the sort of orchestrated robberies that are becoming all too common in underpasses and where cycle paths cross bridges in urban areas.

Lord Foster is a clever guy, but he's clearly not streetwise.

"Hey..... Let's be visible out there."

Neil753's picture

posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
31st December 2013 - 0:45


"narrow and ancient streets" - they weren't built for cars. So get the cars and HGVs out of them, and the problem is solved.

Let's be frank: The only people that actually need to drive in central London are a handful (proportionally speaking) of disabled people. And maybe - MAYBE! - taxis. (*)

Give the road space to pedestrians and cyclists. And horses and carriages, just to keep with the traditions.

(*) Yes, we do need some HGVs for deliveries and building sites, but they can
a) be kept to specific routes
b) be made safe
c) at least they should be made to obey existing lax regulations. At the moment, 3/4 don't.

posted by kraut [71 posts]
31st December 2013 - 1:40


Laughing Well done Foster for raising the profile of
cycle lanes sky high. Brought to mind Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepplin. Another nice fantasy with a beat.
I'm with street level thinking. More caring on the part of
all road users and cycle safety would improve lots.

posted by Condor flyer [33 posts]
31st December 2013 - 13:48


“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 at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city.”

There is space on Londons streets, it has just been given over to extra lanes and parking. Most roads have the space to put in segregated cycle lanes. It's the will to do it that has been lacking.
The few very narrow streets (mainly in Soho and the City) should be pedestrian and cycle only.

posted by thereverent [338 posts]
31st December 2013 - 14:00


Skycycle is wrong-headed in so many ways, and was obviously dreamed up by people who have no concept of city or utility cycling and aspire to a life of taxi rides and gyms.

One of the major factors that drives cycling's popularity in London is that it's free. Another is that it's relatively direct and quick. Introduce a cost to use infrastructure that isn't convenient, and you're more likely to repress cycling. After all, the bike hire scheme doubled in price last year and saw an immediate fall-off in membership, and journeys made on it are now falling away.

Just how useful would Skycycle be? Would it appeal to schoolchildren going to their lessons, for example? Could they afford it? What about those who want to make other journeys by bike, the 60 per cent who currently don't because of safety issues?

Everyone on a bike will still need to use surface streets, but by the sound of it these will only become more unwelcoming and motor-vehicle oriented, since proper infrastructure here is much less likely to be deemed necessary. That doesn't bode well for other vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, who already pay a high price for unrestrained through traffic, or pollution levels, either.

Even with more than 200 access ramps (about 21 per route and one every 2/3 mile), Skycycle will be useful for only a fraction of possible journeys. It has an inbuilt inflexibility which means it will appeal mostly to those wanting to travel direct routes across the city and for whom speed is of prime importance.

I envision long sections with no convenient point of entry or departure, so if one has a puncture, or needs to stop to rest or for whatever reason, you instantly become an obstruction and I'm certain there aren't going to be handy pavements or open spaces to step onto. Or if there are, will these be open to regular pedestrians? Will they have to pay, too?

Many ramps will of necessity be quite short with steep, tight curves, making entry a challenge for very young or elderly riders, or those carrying freight by bike. Is it really a good idea to introduce hills which will be encountered only by those travelling under pedal power? Much the same compromise stymied the growth of cycling on Milton Keynes' Redways.

What I like most about cycling in London is that, as well as getting to work quickly, cheaply and conveniently, I can take alternative routes if I want, explore at will, stop at shops, libraries, cafés, meet friends or even clients, and actually see and learn about the city streets I'm travelling through.

With Skycycle, I'd be travelling in what is essentially a tunnel, with adverts obscuring any views, few opportunities to stop and appreciate them and having to back-track to get to where I really want to be, on potentially even more lethal surface streets. It doesn't sound like a positive move for cycling in London. In addition, many of the reported benefits that increased cycling brings to local retail businesses would be lost.

British transport planners stubbornly cling to the view that infrastructure for cycling must be exotic and futuristic (and by extension expensive), and the more it takes bikes off the roads the better.

They'd be better employed taking a look at where safe infrastructure for cycling has successfully been introduced elsewhere, and using their ingenuity to work out how it can be introduced even more successfully here.

posted by congokid [220 posts]
31st December 2013 - 14:52



Entirely agree.

My only reservation about what you say is that I find it hard to believe this project will ever get anywhere at all, and hence I don't know if its worth expending that many words on it!

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [904 posts]
31st December 2013 - 19:36


FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

I don't know if its worth expending that many words on it!

Yes, I found the rant hard to let go of once I built up a head of steam. But I suppose if a zombie project such as this can rise from the grave more than a year after it was officially declared dead, it's maybe a good idea to keep the stakes handy.

posted by congokid [220 posts]
31st December 2013 - 20:18



I suppose if the completely-and-utterly insane 'ringways scheme' of the 1960s was taken sufficiently seriously that it had many real effects before common sense took over and it got cancelled then one can't rule out any form of idiocy from possibly having some bad effect somewhere before it inevitably gets abandoned.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [904 posts]
31st December 2013 - 20:45