SkyCycle. Great idea, but how realistic is it really?

Cycling in London

 A cycle lane in the sky is a brilliant concept. The very name conjures up visual images of 21st century transport networks that HG Wells might have been proud of. But wedged above the Enfield Town to Liverpool Street line or its equivalent it seems very unlikely. So let’s assume this is an exercise in marketing, making use of good research and creative design as a means to kick start the debate about how we get to work and how we can accommodate more different and more sustainable methods of commuting. And let’s not restrict this to London either. The capital might have more obvious issues, more publicity; a larger than life Mayor; plus too many cycling fatalities, but they are problems shared across the UK.

Right now cycling is a bit of a political football. And, forgive me for mixing metaphors, it’s also a red herring. Yes, more people cycle now than ever. Over 50 per cent of respondent to the 2012 BCO study ‘Cycling and the modern workplace’ said good cycling facilities would influence their choice of employer.

Transport for London studies indicate cycling activity has more than doubled; sales of bikes in 2010 had reached 3.7 million, a rise of 28 per cent over 2009. The LSE claimed in 2012 that cycling might add £141 million to the UK by the end of 2013. Cycling is good for you too – apparently cyclists are sick 1.6 fewer times per year than other employees.

All this is great PR for the cycling lobby. But we are a car loving nation. Look at Top Gear – OK don’t, but it is one of the biggest TV shows ever, it is a brand for goodness sake. Not even the Tour de France makes mainstream UK screens. Money for cycling will never win against money for roads, rail or even pedestrians. For cycling loving old Etonians it is a convenient way of winning some votes and paying lip service to sustainable transport.

SkyCycle just emphasises this problem. Infrastructure plans will not give cyclists what Forster + Partners and Space Syntax dream about. What is needed is proper integration of cycling into British transport planning and even then we will still need a massive cultural shift to prevent Jeremy Clarkson claiming cyclists have no rights to be on the road.

Workplace managers and FMs can help though. A cultural shift will receive a boost if where we are cycling to – i.e work – actually has the requisite facilities. BCO research in 2012 showed that many workplaces still lacked the necessary cycle storage, lockers and showers that are ended to support employees who wish to cycle to work.

There are exceptions: PWC, Deloitte and Lend Lease, whilst some employers are demanding high-quality cycling amenities from developers when specifying new buildings. Some developers are also helping by integrating cycle facilities into projects such as Air W1 (Crown Estate/Stanhope) off Regent Street, heron Tower (110 Bishopsgate) and 200 Aldersgate (Helical Bar).

Government should rive the debate we need to generate a cultural shift, but the politicians just pay it lip service. Real change has to come from the streets and our model has to be Denmark and The Netherlands. So yes, applaud the design ingenuity of SkyCycle, but let’s be realistic.

Meanwhile, put your helmet on, make sure you’re visible and go to work. Let’s mount up and ride.


andrew-brownAndrew Brown is a writer and consultant with communications consultancy Frank and Brown. He previously led the in-house team at Alfred McAlpine and is a former editor of FMX magazine.