GroundCycle: Because pies in the sky (cycle) require a coffee-perky foundation

SkyCycle concept, probably by Foster+Partners

Believed to be a SkyCycle concept by Foster+Partners (there is debate about who had original idea)

The SkyCycle concept for travelling about in London is in the Daily Mail again. It is the second time around for this radical bicycle infrastructure idea – the first time was back in September 2012 (readers who encounter issues with clicking links to The Daily Mail can read this and that instead).

Aside: The original proposal may date back to 2009 but that is a controversy for another place. Heck, even the currently named firm Foster+Partners don’t even have a mention of SkyCycle on its website. Update 3 Jan 2014: thanks to CTC for finding the picture on Foster+Partners website.

The Daily Mail quote an unnamed “spokesman” (there’s a pun in there somewhere) for Network Rail saying that the company welcomes the proposals and are

“always happy to look at ways we can contribute to improving travel and transport in London.”

Back in 2012, a blogger claiming everything is as easy as riding a bike critiqued the radical concept:

“this isn’t a very realistic solution to a problem that could be solved much more cheaply and sensibly at ground level, and with much greater benefit for the city.”

This time around, the national cycling charity CTC stated that SkyCycle is:

“…not tackling the fundamental problem – namely the excessive volumes of motor traffic on our road and street networks.”


Clearly what is needed is a plan (and no snow or leaves on the lines) to achieve this radical concept, in order to win over the sceptical ones.

The concept assumes enough people cycling on the SkyCycle and paying £1 a journey in order to make the initial, estimated £220,000,000 investment worthwhile (at £1 per journey, that is 220,000,000 journeys to break even; don’t mess with this expert).

That’s a lot of money to get this project off the ground (there is definitely a pun there).

So, let’s ensure tax payer funded Network Rail and Transport for London demand a proper build-up to this pie in the sky idea (Did someone mention there’d be pies? We’re onto a winner here!).

The first stage has to be an almost-as-radical concept for London but one which doesn’t put at risk all that start-up capital; that is, something similar and which will prove the concept will attract people onto their bicycles for city journeys.


I hereby propose: GroundCycle.

Some may dare to call this idea a spin off of Space for Cycling but that will just confuse matters (there’s plenty of space up there in the sky).

So, GroundCycle it is and, to give a nod to where it will lead, we’ll call this first stage a ‘pilot’. For avoidance of doubt: there is no proposal here for a 3rd cycle path at Heathrow.


Many train platforms are already configured for the pilot cycle scheme.

Many train platforms are already configured for the pilot cycle scheme.

Network Rail will need to buy a bunch of Copenhagenize‘s instant bicycle path soup mix (aka ‘Flow‘) and lay out these snap-together tiles between the rails of a train line (of course this may impact train journey times somewhat as trains will have to slow to 20mph as they follow any people cycling on the path, but years of construction of an overhead path will also affect train journey times; so this limited pilot is reasonable).

Thankfully, train platforms will not need to be altered much to accommodate people cycling their way onto and off from the pilot scheme: they already have bicycle paths painted on them and many have ramps leading down to the tracks.


Flower bed separates cycle path from motor vehicles (photo © David Hembrow)

A flower bed separates a cycle path from motor vehicles. Not visible in the distance is the Costa Coffee drive through. (Photo © David Hembrow)

Transport for London will also need these tiles so that they can run them along a lane of what is now car parking at the side of some main roads. This will be controversial; so, flower boxes will be installed between the Flow tiles and the area still used by people driving cars, so that drivers can smell the roses.

Every half mile there will be a Costa Coffee drive/cycle-through to keep everyone energized for the pilot scheme and to simulate the requirement to pay for using the route (people driving cars and lorries are eligible for free coffee upon presentation of their road tax receipt).

One road will need a pilot study of being closed to motor vehicles all together – say Oxford Street (the pilot will have to account for any side-effect such as fewer people killed or seriously injured by London bus drivers though).


All this will be set in place for 9 months and measurements of traffic flow taken.

If any babies are born in that time, then the pilot will be deemed a success and stage 2 can commence forthwith.


I predict that one of these two pilots will result in the massive numbers of people cycling to the shops, over to a friend’s place and off to work.

My hunch is the pilot by Network Rail will win out, but I might be wrong (this hunch because of my assumption that Network Rail‘s pilot won’t impact train parking).


SkyCycle: all pies in the sky are cooked from the ground up.

Show your support for GroundCycle as a firm (and coffee-perky) first foundation – write to your local councillor and MP!

This article was updated on 3 January 2014 with a reference to CTC’s criticism and a quote from their article.

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