Is This Proposed Floating Bike Path In London A Brilliant Idea Or A Bad-For-Bikes Boondoggle?

The Thames Deckway project would give cyclists a clear car-free path through part of the city. But at a cost of $1 billion, the money might be better spent making the streets safer.

Is This Proposed Floating Bike Path In London A Brilliant Idea Or A Bad-For-Bikes Boondoggle?
[All Images: via Thames Deckway]

Two hundred years ago, one of the transportation hubs of London was the River Thames. Now a social entrepreneur and a team of architects are hoping to make the waterway relevant for commuters again–on bikes this time, not boats.


The Thames Deckway project, first proposed last year and now raising funds on Indiegogo, is a design for a bike path that would float along the edge of the river. The path stretches about seven miles from a neighborhood in Southwest London through the center of the city, ending at Canary Wharf, a major business district. Instead of fighting traffic, cyclists could ride to work faster than taking the subway, with 15 to 20 on and off ramps at key locations along the way.

“Cycling in London today is a dangerous and stressful experience as cyclists have to avoid both congested traffic and jaywalking pedestrians,” says entrepreneur Anna Hill, who co-founded the project with architect David Nixon. “The Thames Deckway would have no traffic and cyclist-pedestrian separation, making it much faster and safer for everyone.”

It might sound good, but the idea hasn’t been universally praised–the Guardian‘s bike blog called it a “pontoon to nowhere,” and CityLab called it a “club sandwich of wrongness.”

One problem is cost: Early estimates pegged construction at nearly a billion dollars, so riders would have to pay a fee (£1.50, or about $2.25) to use it. Critics say the money would be better invested in putting separated bike lanes on streets and continuing to integrate bikes into the middle of the city, where more cyclists mean safer roads.

The founders seem to have the opposite philosophy of the many cities that are starting to get rid of cars in city centers, arguing that cars still have a place and bikes are better off elsewhere.

“In existing cities with limited road space, it is a zero sum game balancing traffic and cycle lanes,” says Nixon. “The more surface you devote to cyclists, the more you have to take away from vehicles. Cities must have reliable vehicle access, otherwise there is huge congestion and greater pollution. It is better to separate the two and route the bikes somewhere else.”


Of course, if it’s built, people would still have to ride bikes on the street as well–it only covers one piece of the city, and is designed to work along with London’s quickly-growing network of bike lanes. And as bike commuting grows, the Deckway couldn’t necessarily accommodate everyone; the designers estimate that the four lanes of the path could hold between 5,000 and 8,000 cyclists an hour. London already has over 600,000 cycling trips a day.

And whether it will be built is still questionable. The Indiegogo campaign, if it’s successful is designed to fund more engineering studies, research, and detailed planning–and then project will still need to find investors.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.