Bike Paths in the Sky Over London

Twitter’s community of bicycling advocates were on high alert a few hours ago, after press stories in London of an architect’s vision to run bike paths in the airspace of that city’s rail lines. In essence it is a brilliant idea, that rubs cyclists the wrong way, because they don’t like some of the language being used in the pitch.

They don’t like mention of a toll for use. Cyclists know every mile they pedal earns their government a dollar—I would say two. The boost to the economy from faster commute times and lower public health bills, means governments are eager to pay for bike infrastructure. They just don’t want to jeopardise their chances of reelection, by putting bike paths in the way of their car loving voters. This scheme would have been better pitched as government and/or developer funded: perhaps it unlocks derelict sites for new bicycle oriented housing development. But talk of a toll is a slap in the face to bike users, who know they aught to be paid by the mile (as indeed happens for some in our Holy Land Holland). We would sooner piss on a toll booth than acquiesce to go through it.
The vision has also been heralded as a solution to the problem of limited road space, when we all know roads only look small, because cars are humongous. Now if I were pitching the idea of bike routes in the air, it would be as a long term strategy for winning cyclists possession of the whole road. Elevated bicycling highways in London could bombard that city with hundreds of thousands of bikes every morning. That’s a volume of voters that freeways for cars could never deliver. Elevated bicycling highways would have the effect of giving cyclists the greatest voting power of any one group, over ways street space in London is allocated according to mode.
 
I see seductive drawings, of a powerful vision, but can understand others seeing an attempt to get bikes off of roads, because bikes don’t pay road tax. The term “road tax”, of course, is a misnomer, as this site explains.

Cahill Expressway in Sydney

Drivers pay a levy for the right to ruin public space for all other users. Were it not for their voting power, that levy would be measured in Mona Lisas.

But why drag this scheme into that old chestnut debate? The bright side is that cyclists could be colonising space that, thankfully, has not yet been taken by cars. I say, grab that space fast, before London’s road engineers get any ideas. The Cahill Express in Sydney, shows what happens when airspace over rail lines is given to driving.

Cycling is the only mode that can outrun a train across cities (when we’re not made to stop), yet also be used for window shopping and just noodling about in the town. We grant this mode its fullest potential when we recognise bicycle transport assists people with lingering, flâneuring, cantering, and perhaps even galloping over everyones heads on elevated bicycling highways.
In the interests of thorough disclosure (not that as a blogger, I would claim to have ethics), I’ll let you know I made brief contact with the architect behind the scheme causing this furore, and naturally don’t see it fitting to quote from our exchange. I support his design concept, and hope the details and rhetoric might be moulded in coming months. I’ve written this blog post in the hope my fellow bike advocate readers will not be so quick to dismiss this idea, because of the way it has been presented. I would also like to show off the fact that I know of two earlier versions: one proposed to go over rail routes in Toronto, and this rather unstylish iteration that is the earliest scheme of this type that I know of. Those employ two tubes, so bicycle traffic can generate back drafts.

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