Boris Johnson shoots down “fantastically expensive” SkyCycle plan for cycle routes in the sky

Mayor of London says that other initiatives to improve safety of cyclists must take priority

by Simon_MacMichael   January 7, 2014  

SkyCycle image (picture - Foster and Partners)

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has poured cold water on the development of a so-called ‘Sky Cycle’ network of aerial cycle routes running above railway lines in the capital, describing the idea as “fantastically expensive” and outlining other measures he believes should take priority in improving the safety of cyclists.

The idea, first floated in the summer of 2012, has come under the spotlight again over the past week or so after architectural practice Foster + Partners revealed its plans for the concept, widely reported in the media both in the UK and abroad.

The plans from Lord Foster's firm comprised a 220km network including 10 main routes which it said could handle 12,000 cyclists an hour, with the first proposed phase alone, from east London to Liverpool Street, costing an estimated £220 million.

Critics say that the proposals wouldn’t actually take cyclists, who would have to pay to access the network, where they want, pointing out that shops and other services are at ground level, and said the money would be better spent on making much-needed improvements to other infrastructure.

On his regular Ask Boris radio phone-in show on London radio station LBC this morning, Mr Johnson was quizzed by one caller, Richard from Streatham, “about the proposed cycle route in the sky and if there was really any truth in that, and if there was, how much it’s likely to cost?”

Mr Johnson said, “I don’t want to disappoint people too much on this,” and confirmed the plans had been presented to him, likening them to the Matchbox  race tracks he had played with as a child (now sold under the Hot Wheels brand), adding “that was the kind of idea, running in great loops across the city.”

But he added: “It would be fantastically expensive. I don’t actually think as a cyclist it is what the city needs, what we need is more safety measures, we need better roads, we need better protection for cyclists of all kinds, we need better investment in our streets and that’s what we’re doing, and better education for cyclists and lorry drivers.”

It was Mr Johnson himself who first revealed in August 2012 that discussions regarding the concept had been held with Network Rail, with his spokesman telling The Times: “The Mayor is committed to leading a cycle revolution in London.

“The use of railway land or elevated cycleways to provide fast and direct cycling routes around the capital is an exciting idea that his team are looking into.”

At the time, a spokesman for the London Cycling Campaign said: “While we’re fascinated by Boris Johnson’s plans to put cycle routes along London’s working railways and would love to know how far his negotiations have got with Network Rail, we’d much rather hear the mayor say he’s prepared to build high-quality cycling facilities on the streets that Londoners use every day.”

The following month, Sam Martin and Oli Clark of landscape the firm Exterior Architecture, who had originally presented their scheme for SkyCycle to Mr Johnson, were due to meet with Network Rail to discuss the proposals further.

The scheme seemed to have been shelved until Foster + Partners revealed its own SkyCycle plans in late December, but Mr Johnson’s latest comments appear to signal that there is little chance of it ever happening.

18 user comments

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Is there anything more to say on the idea, other than .... Rolling On The Floor

posted by sfichele [101 posts]
7th January 2014 - 14:52


While I would agree that the proposal is fantastically expensive, Boris can hardly complain - his "Super"highways scheme cost almost as much per km just for dollops of blue paint.

posted by Paul M [312 posts]
7th January 2014 - 14:53


Paul M wrote:
While I would agree that the proposal is fantastically expensive, Boris can hardly complain - his "Super"highways scheme cost almost as much per km just for dollops of blue paint.

Given the first stretch mentioned above is 4 miles, that works out at £34 million per kilometre - not sure the Barclays Cycle Superhighways cost that much... Wink

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8169 posts]
7th January 2014 - 14:57


£34 million per km, is cheaper than than the M74 extension which was about £86.5 million per km...

posted by Wolfshade [101 posts]
7th January 2014 - 15:11


This idea is obviously full of problems and would be hughly expensive, so why does it keep coming back?
I hope this is the last I see of it.

posted by thereverent [301 posts]
7th January 2014 - 15:13


It isn't the cost that makes this idea ridiculous but the other factors. It wouldn't create a city where cycling is as safe as it should be. It doesn't provide for door-to-door journeys (like roads do), and doesn't create the atmosphere for normalised cycling for everyday errands and journeys.

High-quality integrated segregation on busy routes, along with filtered permeability and junction improvements will.

posted by teaboy [166 posts]
7th January 2014 - 15:24


Great idea but it's upside down!
Cars going to their various car parks/just passin thru on the top deck, cyclists on the lower roads. Speed up traffic flows, fewer traffic lights, no busses or Taxis. Motorists are paying to drive in London anyway so a small increase in the congestion charge could give them access to this Nirvana.

If your idea seems daft your selling it wrong!

posted by reallyunique [5 posts]
7th January 2014 - 15:34


I would prefer to see specific roads closed to private transport i.e. cars, taxis (including non-hi viz black cabs), vans and lorries.

Coming from Streatham there are three choices, via Battersea Bridge, Vauxhall Bridge and Westminster Bridge. Restrict one of them to buses and bicycles only and leave the other two to market forces. As it currently stands you can take a bus but you get nowhere fast because the usual bozos HAVE to drive everywhere and central London maintenance firms choose vans over cargo bikes every time. Cyclists have to weave their way in and out of angry traffic, angered all the more because we still get to our destination quicker.

Efforts at making the sharing of roads safer have a minimal effect, rather than have segregated cycle routes with endless issues when passing side roads segregate the main routes and give cyclists and public transport users a fair share of roads relative to their taxation contribution. We could do without the traffic lights and speed bumps on our routes too, only issue would be the usual idiots who don't respect pedestrian crossings but then they are blind to traffic lights as well.

posted by Gashead [30 posts]
7th January 2014 - 15:35


Let's be honest an elevated cycling highway in the sky is pretty silly. Would it be awesome? Yes. But come on there are easier and much cheaper ways to encourage cycling

posted by jarredscycling [451 posts]
7th January 2014 - 15:40


This scheme just shows how the media work..a world renowned celebrity architect and an eye catching scheme - with nice graphic for the newspapers / websites make this a good story.

Bread and butter changes just aren't sexy enough.

Can't help thinking for £30m Leeds are getting one cross city segregated cycle route, plus an upgrade to 12 miles of canal path and a city centre cycle route.

For the 4 mile first phase (£230).. Leeds could have 6 cross city routes - enough to cover most ways into the city and a cycle path around the ring road....but they wouldn't be exciting high level routes ..or in London!! Wink

posted by RedfishUK [54 posts]
7th January 2014 - 15:40


Carlton Reid has the history on an cycle elevated highway in the US in the early 20th century here:

posted by thereverent [301 posts]
7th January 2014 - 16:15


Agreed generally on the synopsis that this is unpractical and a crazy waste of money. Not sure that I'd want to cycle up 8 or 9 meters to get onto it AND pay to be in such a exposed to weather position.
Epic Fail!

posted by Guyz2010 [286 posts]
7th January 2014 - 18:24


A *failed* elevated cycleway...

And it failed cos it didn't go where cyclists wanted to go; cost money to access; and other interests (a tram company as it so happens) put the brakes on.

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posted by Carlton Reid [110 posts]
7th January 2014 - 18:54


So when is he / tfl going to do what most want or is he still to busy trying to be populist?

posted by northstar [1106 posts]
7th January 2014 - 19:03


Good, let's hope this daft idea gets permanently forgotten so people can concentrate on real solutions.

Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

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posted by jmaccelari [155 posts]
7th January 2014 - 21:06


Imagine the wind!?

jaunty angle: bikes and communications

ragtag's picture

posted by ragtag [156 posts]
7th January 2014 - 21:37


Silly question: Why aren't we focusing on making bikes want to go on the roads? That's what roads are for.

minnellium's picture

posted by minnellium [79 posts]
8th January 2014 - 14:35


There's a long history of architects sending out press releases about grandiose schemes that will never actually happen, and the media just roll over and swallow them without question. This falls into that category.

I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value. I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

posted by Carl [135 posts]
8th January 2014 - 17:36