Norman Foster-Designed Scheme Aims to Transform London into “Cycling Utopia”

SkyCycle. Image ©

Foster + Partners has unveiled a scheme that aims to transform London’s railways into cycling freeways. The seemingly plausible proposal, which was designed with the help of landscape firm Exterior Architecture and transportation consultant Space Syntax, would connect more than six million residents to an elevated network of car-free bicycle paths built above London’s existing railway lines if approved.

“SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city,” said Norman Foster, who is both a regular cyclist and the president of Britain’s National Byway Trust. ”By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters.”

“To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists, we have to make it safe,” he added. ”However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London’s streets, where space is already at a premium.”

The 220-kilometer SkyCycle, which has already received backing from Network Rail and Transport for London, would provide a safer and cheaper alternative to constructing new roads. Nearby residents would access the suspended pathway via 200 entrance points, all connected to the street by ramps and hydraulic platforms.

“It’s about having an eye on the future,” says  Sam Martin of Exterior Architecture. “If London keeps growing and spreading itself out, with people forced to commute increasingly longer distances, then in 20 years it’s just going to be a ghetto for people in suits. After rail fare increases this week, a greater percentage of people’s income is being taken up with transport. There has to be another way to allow everyone access to the centre, and stop this doughnut effect.”

Currently, the design team has focused their efforts on obtaining funding for a feasibility study and detailing a 6.5km trial route from Stratford to Liverpool Street Station, which is expected to cost £220 million.

If approved, SkyCycle could become reality within the next 20 years.

Reference: The Guardian, Dezeen

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Norman Foster-Designed Scheme Aims to Transform London into “Cycling Utopia”" 02 Jan 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • Biggie Beil

    Smart thing isn’t , there is lot of money to achieve it

  • MJB

    No! This is as bad as some well intended but disastrous visions of the 20th century when we thought it was smart to separate cars and pedestrians. We need complete streets in the 21st century, which includes space for people walking, cars, buses, trams and bikes. Mr. Foster, please don’t pursue this vision.

    • Damian

      Space being the issue. Cyclists have little choice but to mingle with the often oblivious car/ truck users! Clearly the city streets are menacing enough without city being run over by angst drivers ! Human development can’t be avoided, numbers on the streets will only rise, I say it’s an intuitive option! bring it on.

  • Patrick H

    Sounds like a good idea. I wish there were more renderings. It will be interesting to see if this materializes.

  • Dave

    This is all well and good but if English cyclists are like the crew we have here in New Zealand they wont like having to bike uphill to access this structure.

    • Kiwi

      Don’t worry mate. They’ll be happy to queue up for those hydraulic lifts for half an hour no problem

  • SimpleTwig

    Sorry but so disagree with anything like this being built. Perhaps adding shadows to the rendering would help, or giving bicyclists a real taste of riding up the hill to get on the main road might shed some light on the design, or maybe capturing the view out of the tens of thousands of windows which would now be forced to see the structure would be informative… elevated any system is a bad urban quality of life idea. I can only imagine the speeds that good riders will be able to achieve on such a system.

  • NWcomplainer

    While I think this sort of thinking is great and would be behind it. The idea the image gives is really flat. There is no attempt to maximize the structure, adding low-maintenance landscaping and solar collection would make this more more realistic.
    Running a canopy of solar collection one side of the path would give cover during rainy weather and help reduce a little nonrenewable consumption.

  • I Heart Bikes

    This is a great concept. But it costs **$100 million per mile.** How is that feasible?

  • Anca

    This project is surprisingly similar to The Bombay Greenway Project. However, the Sky Cycle solution isolates the cyclist from nature. It would be better to integrate landscape, walking and cycling like in the “Bombay Greenway Project”.

  • tk

    1. Why not use the existing roads and add infrastructure to improve cyclist safety and experience (i.e. protected lanes). This would be more cost effective.
    2. The proposal is anti-urban. Creating these highways removes cyclists from street level commerce (cafes, convenience stores, retail). Elevated highways are visual clutter harming the urban experience for pedestrians at ground level and occupants of buildings looking out at this new road.

  • gdehls

    Wow 3.3 million pounds per kilometer sounds a bit pricey.

    • Ralph Kent

      @gdehis. Don’t worry about it. £millions are meaningless in the UK now. Take, for example, Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed new footbridge over the Thames. It was going to cost £60m in May 2013. By November, it was projected to cost £150m. That’s one small example of how people have completely lost perspective of money in this country and the value of things. Its partly due to the fact that the UK Government has magicked up £300bn+ (Billion!) in new money via QE since 2009.

      To pay for all this excess, the UK is increasingly relying on selling everything to the Chinese on a form of leaseback agreement – including most of our housing stock.

      This proposal – akin to the Smithsons failed idea for “Streets in the Sky” is surely the work of a megalomaniac. I genuinely wonder how often Norman gets out on his bike whilst minimising his tax bill in Switzerland? It all very faddish and PC to be an architect and a rabidly enthusiastic cyclist (l’Esprit du Corps and all that) but I seriously question how much of the public fervour is translated into pedal pushing.

      I sincerely hope this proposal is never realised.

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  • Fahad

    I think placing the cycling highways above railway lines is interesting, as it combats the issue of dead space that would otherwise be created underneath them.
    However, one can’t help but think that these ideas are not well considered, and more an attempt to gain publicity. Any comprehensive study of urban planning will reveal that cities are made better by integrating people with city life, and not segregating different functions. As a cyclist, I want to take advantage of the sensory experience the urban environment has to offer, and not be relegated to a highway. This separating out of city functions seems like quite a dated modernist notion.

  • weirdo lee

    If it rains?

  • Luis de Souza

    Just in terms of the “architecture”, I think it’s great that Fosters seem have a “Blue Sky Ideas” team operating in the practice. Obviously producing ideas like this and the Thames Airport are good publicity but I think it’s great they are producing “ideas” again, it’s a return to the Foster of old.

  • Laszlo Kovacs

    how about a scheme that puts pedestrians before bikes and cars? I’m sick of bikers abusing pedestrians just as much as cars do now. Bike cities are not the solution. Cities should make it safest for pedestrians first, then find space for bikes and lastly cars.

  • Scott Dale

    I wonder if Norman Foster’s helicopter has a bike rack?

  • seattle cyclist

    This will be good for cyclists and pedestrians. Cyling is too fast for the sidewalk and too slow for the street.

  • louise

    Innovative idea, nicely organised and safe for cyclists actually love it, but why so pricey? a bit of a luxury, unless we have money to throw away then why waste it on this, there are far more required pieces of architecture needed for England and I’m sure out of £220 million a lot more could be achieved.

  • brazhans xu

    High-speed road bike, very creation, for solving a series of problems in terms of the city!

  • Bryan M

    Exciting prospect! But agree should be much improved with landscape to make it a greenway