As London tries to squeeze more separated bike lanes on overcrowded streets, one group of designers wants to take a different approach: Why not add a bike lane to the water, giving cyclists a car-free commute up and down the river?
The proposed Thames Deckway Project would float in the Thames River for about seven miles, from residential neighborhoods to one of the city’s financial districts, letting cyclists completely avoid traffic.
“It’s a 30-minute ride across London from beginning to end,” says architect David Nixon, cofounder (with Anna Hill) of the River Cycleway Consortium, the organization that hopes to build the new bike path. “You can’t even do that on the underground system in London, let alone on any of the roads.”
While the city’s growing network of “cycle superhighways” has helped get many more cyclists on the road, most of the lanes right now are mixed with traffic, adding to conflict between cars and people on bikes.
“It’s like a kind of battleground now. We need to find new ways to solve this problem,” Nixon says.
The city is already planning two new separated bike lanes that will run across the city, including one on the river’s north side. The floating bike path, on the south side of the river, would provide one more option for cyclists to ride without worrying about cars.
Building on the water is one way to help maximize the city’s limited space, the designers say. “There’s hardly any use of the River Thames from a transportation standpoint today,” explains Nixon. “It’s a huge underused resource.”
The floating path would have four lanes, with two in each direction, and the type of use would change throughout the day. During rush hour, all lanes would be devoted to fast-moving cyclists, but at other times, one lane in each direction would go to pedestrians. On weekends, the path might have a pedestrian-only day, and allow market stalls along the edges.
The design also includes bonuses like ice cream stands along the path and unique energy-harvesting devices to power lighting. Each mushroom-shaped device generates power in three ways: It’s covered with solar panels, but it’s also shaped to suck wind into a small turbine, and it reaches into the water to harvest power from the river’s tides.
All of this would not be cheap to build. The designers estimate the cost at around $964 million–not something the city government can afford. So unless the designers find a wealthy philanthropist to foot the bill, they say the idea would be to charge a small fee for cyclists and pedestrians who want to use the path. Ultimately, they believe the fee could quickly pay back investors in the project, based on the number of people who already ride in the area.
Some cycling advocates may argue that it’s better to build more separated lanes on streets. But there’s no reason that both can’t happen, and as the city’s population balloons by another two million people in the next 15 years, roads alone might not be enough. And maybe–like other separated bike paths–the new floating path could help encourage non-riders to get on a bike.
If the project can find funding, the designers believe it could be built in as little as two years.