The Thames Deckway floating cycle path is the most ludicrous London transport plan yet

Yeah, right. Image: Arup.

The Thames Deckway, proposed this week, would be a floating cycle path, running for eight miles along the River Thames between Battersea and Canary Wharf. It’s the work of the “River Cycleway Consortium”, a bunch of architects, artists and (most significantly) Arup, the global engineering consultancy.

It's also a quite outstandingly stupid idea.

a) It's pointless

The whole purpose of the plan is ostensibly to solve London’s traffic problems, by allowing cyclists to go about their business without getting in the way of cars. Obviously, then, you'd expect it to parallel existing streets.

What you wouldn’t expect, though, is that it would parallel existing cycle routes. And yet, there it is, running almost right next to a succession of existing cycling highways (the CS8, the CS3, the East-West cross route), all of which are either already there or are on their way.

The half-mile stretch running from Lambeth Bridge to Westminster is literally the only bit that isn’t duplicating something that’s already there. Still, I guess if it’s cheaper than re-jigging existing roads, then...

b) It's pricy

From Dezeen:

“River Cycleway Consortium Ltd – currently including engineering giant Arup and London-based Hugh Broughton Architects – estimates that construction costs would amount to approximately £600m, which it would seek from private investment.”

...ah.

£600m, for any narrow-minded bean counters there might be among you, is just over 12 times the price of the two segregated cross-town cycle paths that Transport for London already has in the works. It’s about two thirds the cost of the entire East London line extension project. It's a lot.

But it’s coming from private investment, so that’s good, I suppose. And how would those investors recoup their capital? Well, using the route would set you back £1.50 a turn. So, a mere 400 million journeys and then, next stop, profit.

c) It's precarious

The artist's impression shows the new cycle path floating on top of the river, just a few feet from the South Bank. Where, it so happens, quite a lot of boats dock.

And while the picture shows the cycle path passing under the jetties which allow those boats to dock, it's not clear how the former (which would move up and down with the tides) would interact with the latter (which wouldn't). I mean, you'd bang your head, wouldn't you?

More than that, though, quite a lot of boats dock there, and the odds that the cycle path would never get at least a little bit bumped seem small, to say the least. So do the odds that nobody will ever bang into anyone else. Sooner or later – by which we mean sooner – somebody's going to end up in the drink.


d) It's a ploy

So, it’s impractical, it’s expensive, and it only makes sense if you're a billionaire with an unquenchable desire to watch cyclists tumbling hilariously into the River Thames.

The Thames Deckway's designers claim that "London needs to think outside the box of conventional solutions to solve its deep-seated traffic and pollution problems". But this doesn't do any of that. It's a cycle path. Cycle paths are good, yes, but the idea that one of them, which parallels ones that already exist, could actually solve a city-wide congestion problem is ludicrous.

So what's the real point of the exercise? At risk of tipping over into cynicism, it's just possible that some architects and an engineering consultancy are thinking outside the box to solve their “deep-seated lack of press coverage” problem.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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These charts show quite how few British cities have seen wages rise over the last decade

Mmm, money. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

Why, one may wonder, is everyone in Britain so angry? In 2016, against the advice of experts and the confident expectations of almost everybody, a slim majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union, in a move widely interpreted as a sign of quite how miffed the voters had become.

Ten months later, Theresa May called an election in the hope of capitalising on this anger, apparently forgetting that she was now Prime Minister so people were probably angry with her too, and promptly lost her majority. Despite the apparent return of two party politics after several decades’ absence, there’s an overwhelming sense abroad that most British voters don’t think very much of any of them.

The stream of books and columns purporting to explain this anger has been flowing for some time, and doesn’t soon seem likely to stop. But there are times, when trawling through the Centre for Cities’ economic data, that I’ve wondered if the explanation might actually be rather straightforward.

Below is a chart showing how average real wages – that is, those adjusted for inflation; their actual value, rather than their number – changed in Britain’s biggest cities the decade to 2017. This is a period that covered the financial crash and austerity, so you’d expect the results to not be brilliant.

Nonetheless, it’s still quite staggering to realise quite how tough on the wallet this last decade has been. Of the 63 cities shown, just 15 – less than a quarter – have seen real wages rise in the last 10 years. Just as many have seen wages fall by more than 6 per cent. In three, the fall is over 15. (The national average in this time, incidentally, was a fall of 2.8 per cent.)

Click to expand.

What’s more, the numbers shown on this chart don’t really match the patterns of economic geography I’ve grown to know and love. Those where wages have risen include Belfast, Glasgow and the three north eastern cities of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough: not places one associates with booms. At the other end of the scale, in several cities I tend to think of as prosperous – Edinburgh, Warrington, London – wages have still not returned to where they stood in 2007.

All this seemed so weird that I wondered whether it might be a function of starting in 2007 – so I looked at the same data from several other starting points. By and large, though, this pattern still holds.

Start the clock earlier, and you’ll find that in slightly more than half of British cities (35 out of 63), wages are still lower than they were in 2004. The national average since then: a fall of 1.9 per cent.

Click to expand.

Or start in 2010, the year the Conservatives returned to power and embarked upon austerity. Since then, real wages have fallen by an average of 1.3 per cent. In 40 out of 63 cities, they were lower in 2017 than they’d been in 2010.

Click to expand.

At risk of undermining my own narrative, things have got better recently. This is the same chart, for the period from 2015 to 2017. Suddenly, things are much sunnier: the national average is a rise of 6.2 per cent, and there are only nine cities where wages haven’t risen.

Click to expand.

So perhaps things are getting better – or at least, perhaps they were. Whether that will continue after Brexit – a move every economist on earth except Patrick Minford believes will hamper the British economy’s growth potential – remains to be seen.


These are only averages, of course: in some cities, they may be influenced by big shifts in specific professions (the fall in pay in London’s financial sector, for example). And a significant minority of the population doesn’t live in any of these cities.

Nonetheless: the reasons why, by 2016, so many voters were so angry with their political leaders suddenly seem rather obvious.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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