Cycling On Water? Great Idea or Driving Cyclists from City Streets?

Imagine if your daily commute was traffic free and totally safe, with beautiful river views, running through the heart of the city... if only. Londoners could be lucky enough to have such an opportunity if the Thames Deckway project gets the estimated £600m needed to make this dream a reality. But is the scheme merely another way of pushing cyclists from the city's streets?

 A computer mock-up of the Thames Deckway project. Photograph: Cycleway Con/REX Shutterstock/Cycleway Con/REX Shutterstock

A computer mock-up of the Thames Deckway project. Photograph: Cycleway Con/REX Shutterstock/Cycleway Con/REX Shutterstock

Today sees the launch of a crowd-funding campaign to kickstart a really exciting project dreamt up by artist Anna Hill and architect David Nixon. The pair are hoping to raise £175,000 for the first stage in their ambitious development plan to run a floating 12km cycle and pedestrian highway along the river Thames.

The River Cycleway has fantastic aims and eco-credentials, to be funded by private investment. It will feature a completely traffic-free environment for commuter cyclists, leisure cyclists and pedestrians. The team plan plenty of exit and entrance points with their own embankment ramps, and refreshment kiosk stops en route. Once built, the whole pontoon-style construction will be powered exclusively by solar, wind and tidal energy.

Running from Battersea to Canary Wharf, it will take about 30 minutes for a commuter to cycle to work and cost £1.50 each way for the privilege. The idea behind the project was historical - rivers were major travel arteries up until the 19th Century but this transport option is now under-utilised in overcrowded London, organisers claim. 

 Image courtesy of Westminster.impactHub.net

Image courtesy of Westminster.impactHub.net

So what's not to like? Well, for a start why should cycling commuters pay £1.50 each way for a journey to work when we can cycle on the streets for free. Surely it should be the polluting and dangerous HGV, truck and car drivers who should be kept away from the cyclists and pedestrians, rather than the other way round. 

The government should be investing in a national strategy which properly protects cyclists and promotes cycling - why is private investment, including crowd-funding - left to fund this project? As Peter Walker in the Guardian said earlier this week:

Making a city more bike-friendly is less glamorous, more bits-and-pieces, more fundamentally simple. It takes 20 or 30 years of incremental changes and sustained political will. That doesn’t seem to be happening yet the UK – depressingly the government is now rowing back on even it’s paltry funding commitments for cycling – but I don’t think a toll track along the Thames, or lanes in the sky or underground, offer any more of a solution.

Ride Velo posted this video on Twitter this week, showing Copenhagen's average daily cycling commuters at one of the busiest intersections in rush hour; we wish London could look like this. In Denmark, superhighway projects allow commuting cyclists to ride in lanes which are organised so that they connect with residential, educational and employment centres, as well as providing the most direct routes. It makes cycling competitive with other forms of transport in terms of journey times and convenience, say British Cycling, who wrote to George Osbourne this week urging him to put meaningful investment into cycling here in the UK.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the project per se - I think it could be a great tourist attraction and I'd love to cycle along it with the kids during the weekends or school holidays. I wouldn't even mind paying £1.50 for the journey, and I'm sure we'd stop off for an ice cream at one of the kiosks along the way because we wouldn't be in a hurry to get to work. I probably will put some money into their crowd-funding campaign because I would love to see the Thames Deckway come to life. But I just don't think it should be marketed as a solution to London's traffic problems for cyclists. What do you think? Have your say ...