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Bike Paths and the City of the Future, from London to Montreal

A metro station in Paris designed by Schuiten

I am a fan of the graphic novel series Les Cités obscures by Schuiten and Peeters, which depicts life in autonomous, futuristic city-states that are, above all, very strange. But, there is a bit of this fantastic world in the new project by the well-known British architect Norman Foster, who has proposed the creation of a network of overhead, aerial bicycle paths… above the train lines of London's suburbs!

Named Skycycle, Foster has sincerely championed this slightly far-fetched project that has also received the support of transportation authorities. It will provide urban cyclists with a network of 220 kilometers of bicycle routes – free of traffic, aside from other bikes. "I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle, rather than drive, are more congenial places in which to live," declares Norman Foster. "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," he adds.

The goal is to first construct a test track of 6.5 kilometers (costing about 400 million Canadian dollars), and then to gradually expand the system over the course of twenty years to include ten fifteen-meter-wide routes.

This network will be accessible through 200 entry points, so that half of the six million people living in the targeted area will be less than ten minutes away from this network – designed to welcome 12,000 cyclists an hour.

An elevated bike route

The intent is twofold:

1. Firstly, to meet the needs of commuters without straining the current road system nor public transportation, both of which have reached full capacity.

2. To create a new transportation platform that could later be exported to the rest of the world.

To Montreal for example?

For the fun of it, let's try to imagine something (I do not put faith in it, but the idea is interesting). Imagine such a path above the future Train de l'Est's route, for example, since the tram will serve a part of the island that is not well serviced by public transportation.

Imagine a project incorporated into the Train de l'Ouest project as well, covering an area that will not be eligible for a metro extension for what, 120 years?

Or even, as a reader suggested to me by e-mail, above the Deux-Montagnes lines, provided that the Metropolitan Transportation Agency becomes the owner of the railway. Public ownership would be a major, if not essential, condition.

Is this British project as crazy as the drawings done by Peeters and Schuiten? For Montreal, yes. For London, maybe. But the project's greatest value is to provoke thought about the current road system, and to push innovation while imagining other ways of responding to transportation needs without placing a greater burden on existing roads.

What could be better?

Does it seem most probable that only the largest, most populated metropolitan areas would adopt such infrastructural novelties, or could smaller cities with a reputation for sustainability be inclined to implement these intriguing alternatives?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.