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The "Streets" of London Where Bicycles are Banned: Pedways, a Warning from History

Earlier this week we took a comprehensive look at the modernist thinking behind Norman Foster's proposals for flying "skycycle" tracks in London, and the contentious relationship that the modernist movement has always had with people-friendly streets and the bicycle.

Thankfully the Mayor of London has kicked the proposals firmly in to touch, describing them as "fantastically expensive" in a radio interview, and saying that other initiatives to make all cyclists safe on existing roads should be a priority.

However, this is not the first time that plans have been made in London to elevate a single type of road user on to their own "deck" of infrastructure.  As we mentioned in our piece earlier in the week, the City of London  - the 'Square Mile' - adopted a post-war plan to reconstruct large sections of the city with pedestrian access on the first floor of buildings, elevated above the street by a series of "pedways" or walking decks.  

The bike-free walkways of the Barbican in the City of London, photographed by boneytongue on Flickr and re-produced here with many thanks.

A number of these pedways still exist, most obviously around London Wall and the Barbican estate.  In a strange twist of local byelaws, it is still illegal to even posses (let alone ride) a bicycle on these pedways.  In this strange and dystopian plan for the future, there just wasn't a place for the humble bike.  

Not only was it outlawed to "wilfully drop" any article from the City Walkways, or indeed to sit or climb upon the balustrades, it was also against the law to bring any vehicle (horses, asses and bicycles included) on to the walkways.  As mobility fashions changed, the bylaws were updated in 1990 to include roller skates and skateboards.  No wonder that places like the Barbican estate are so often described as lifeless and uninspiring.  

(See this PDF hosted by Ralph Smyth of the full relevant byelaws)

A fantastic new documentary by film maker Chris Bevan Lee looks at the City of London's Pedways in detail.  Beautifully shot, and with some fantastic interviews with the men who were involved in designing and building the Pedway plan, I thoroughly recommend it:

The Pedway: Elevating London (Documentary) from Chris Bevan Lee on Vimeo.

The lesson for people on bikes? Be wary of planners and engineers with no track record in providing working solutions for cyclists who come bearing "bright ideas".  That is to say, if you need help, be sure to ask the right people...

For details of an elevated cycleway that was actually built in California, see Carlton Reid's fascinating article on his Roads Were Not Built For Cars blog.