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
“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.”
£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.