Urbanists, especially bicyclists, embraced the SkyCycle as soon as it appeared on design blogs in January. This network of designated lanes would funnel six million Londoners through 200-plus entrance points across the city. While it remains a $406-million concept, the vision resulted from a passionate collaboration among architecture firms Foster + Partners (Norman Foster is a fierce proponent of cycling) and Exterior Architecture Ltd., with engineering by Space Syntax.
Inspired by cities’ vertical growth, the team situates the network above London’s existing railway system. Floating above the tracks like a canopy, it requires no infrastructural Tetris play, and it connects to every major community. Because the railway system was built for steam trains, its naturally contoured paths avoid steep hills.
While undeniably modern, the scheme makes a hat tip to history. During the late 19th-century bicycle craze, bold plans for bike paths were realized in Europe and North America, perhaps the most notable being the 14-kilometre Cycleway in what is now car-obsessed California.
In recent decades, progressive municipal planners have wrestled some space back from vehicles. Rotterdam has built a bike path tunnel under the Nieuwe Maas River; Denmark has invested $1.6 million in bicycle superhighways; and Malmö, Sweden, has laid down 480 kilometres of separate bike paths with dedicated signal lights and a comprehensive wayfinding system.
Yet SkyCycle’s greatest strength is its adaptability to North American cities; it could make the most of interconnected webs of railway systems and derelict infrastructure in search of new life, akin to New York’s High Line. As climate change ravages cities, a big, ambitious scheme for alleviating automotive traffic makes for a proactive strategy.
Fun, fashionable and flat-packed bike gear
Placed on Vancouver bike paths, Greg Papove’s Whoopdeedoo wooden bike ramps feature bright orange graphics and flags for safety.
Flat-packed in a 94-by-70-centimetre box, Pedal Factory’s Sandwichbikes utilize weather-coated beech plywood frames and aluminum joints.