Elevated cycling tubes for green commuters

Proposed london cycle tube

Proposed london cycle tube

I published the above image in 1996 with the comment that ‘At some point we may be able to have a network of plastic tubes, with blown air assisting cyclists in their direction of travel (Figure 7)’.  The photograph was taken in Greenwich station and the ‘slot’ where the cycletube is shown has since been used to build an extension to the Docklands Light Railway (from Lewisham to Canary Wharf). I like the DLR but, still believing London needs an overhead cycletube system for green commuters, was delighted to hear a comparable veloway has been proposed in Canada (see illustrations below).

The user experience in a pneumatic cycletube would be sublime: quiet, beautiful, self-directed transport. There is an overland railway line from Greenwich to London Bridge. Bowling into the tube at Greenwich one could almost stop peddling and be carried along by air, gazing at the London panorama. Everyone would have a seat. Nobody would have to wait for a train. Journey times would be faster than by train because there would be no waiting and no stopping and no delay in exiting the station. One would glide from exit into the heart of one of the world’s greatest cities. relaxed, warm, dry and filled with the joy of life. There would of course be twin cycle tubes, with the bicycle flow and airflow in different directions.

Cycletubes could also help families negotiate difficult junctions and give them safe routes to school – though the tubes would obviously have to be integrated with the urban design.

Velo-city elevated  cycleway from http://www.velo-city.ca/MainFrameset.html

Velo-city elevated cycleway from http://www.velo-city.ca/MainFrameset.html

22 thoughts on “Elevated cycling tubes for green commuters

  1. Tom Turner Post author

    The Velo-city proposal is a version of the ‘elevated all weather cycling commuter tube’ I have been thinking would be great for London. It would be supported by service pods (cafes, showers, lockers, bicycle trees). It could be something more like an enclosed high tech version of the NY Highline.

    Source: 1) http://www.velo-city.ca/MainFrameset.html
    2) http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/05/bike-tree-keeps-bikes-high-and-safe.php
    3) http://www.gardenvisit.com/blog/2008/08/25/londons-olympic-cycling-routes/. (!!)
    4) http://rekuwait.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/ny-high-line/.

    It has been suggested that elevated cycling paths would make the trip to work faster than driving or catching a train or bus. http://www.thepurehands.org/cycleways/howcanyou.html and http://www.thepurehands.org/cycleways/imaginary.html.

    And yes the idea has a history dating back to the 1880s! http://www.cyclewaycoffee.net/california-cycleway-history.htm

  2. how it grows

    Building huge plastic bike tubes doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. How would they be integrated into cities? They seem to form giant barriers. Wouldn’t it take a lot of energy to heat and cool them?

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Integration would be less of a problem than for railways, because of their light weight, and in parts of London they could be positioned above overground railways or the Docklands Light Railway. With regard to solar gain (1) it could be limited by using an opaque material on the roof section of the tube (2) or the tube could be fitted with heat pumps and used as an electricity generating facility (3) and the airflow would be a coolant.

  4. Pingback: Velo-city: a lot of fun

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    The Qatar example is good and, providing cyclists can be well protected from noise and danger, there is a lot to be said for planning bike paths in conjunction with other transport routes. We have an ongoing programme of rail electrification in the UK and it would be possible to design a special gantry which both carried the power supply and supported a bike path or elevated cycle tube. Since railway lines are far from beautiful it would often improve the visual quality of the urban environment.
    The best experiences I have had of cycling in tubes have been in airports. I unpack my folding bike on arrival and use it instead of a luggage trolley. When there is no risk of upsetting pedestrians I sometime ride the bike, not having yet come across an airport with a No Cycling sign in its passenger conveyor tubes.

  6. Tom Turner Post author

    There is a marked difference between cyclist behaviour in different countries and between different regions of the same country so, yes, education and attitudes have a lot to do with it. London cyclists are both tolerant and aggressive. I regret the aggression but believe it is rooted in official neglect of cyclists. They forget the bicycle’s position as the Great Green Machine, able to defeat obesity and save the planet and save the economy, to say the least. But London is lucky to have a Cycling Mayor and a Cycling Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. It is also seeing an extremely rapid rise in the popularity of cycling. The aim to should be to overtake the Copenhagen figure and get half of all London journeys made by bike. This will be a capital cost but once built the cycle facilities will have very low running costs – unlike buses, trains and cars.

  7. Adam

    Perhaps the Cycling Mayor could take a leaf out of the Dutch practise ..giving priority to the Cyclist over and above motorised vehicles. If you cause a problem to a cyclist I understand the book is thrown at you.

  8. Tom Turner Post author

    Yes. And furthermore
    – every policeman should spent part of every week patrolling by bike
    – no one should have a senior job in the public transport unless they cycle or walk to work
    – every employer should pay the same mileage rate for cycling as for motoring

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    My suggestion is for most cyclists to spend most of their time riding on city streets. The cycle tubes are intended only for fast long-distance travel through difficult parts of the city. At present, I do this type of journey by folding my bicycle and putting it on a train. This works very well but it would become a problem if a lot of people wanted to do it, as they surely will. For the tube idea to work it would certainly be necessary to give cyclists a good experience. I think it could be akin to the experience of travel in the London Eye – a serene journey with wide views of the city below.

  10. Tom Turner Post author

    Interesting use of the term ‘greenway’. My preferred definition of the term is ‘a route which is good from an environmental point of view’. I would include glazed public open space in cities and so there is no good reason not to include cycle tubes – but I do not feel 100% comfortable with the inclusion.
    It may be that rich cities will not be the first to experiment with cycle tubes, and that they will first be built as a ‘poor man’s mass transit system’. Or perhaps the Velo-way folk are right and the idea will start on a university campus.

  11. christine

    If you consider the purpose of the cycle tube to be;

    1) Facilitating the daily peak hour commute of cyclists
    2) Providing an efficient network for cycle couriers [ http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/professions-occupations/courrier-my-experience-and-advice/369300/ ]
    3) Providing a tourist network for cycle based tourism

    It would still seem that rich, complex, dense city with a high level of traffic inaccessibility, a great urban panorama, and a mild climate is the ideal location for a cycle tube network.

    I would suggest the parks would be the ideal spill out spaces for the network to give cyclist alternatives between slow and fast, exposed and covered cycle routes.

  12. Tom Turner Post author

    There definitely needs to be planned network of cycle routes and, as with the road network, the sections need to be planned for different types of traffic. In London the greatest lack is of long-distance velo-ways. I find cycling in Central London surprisingly easy and convenient but I have given up doing long-distance cycle rides. Partly laziness, no doubt, but also because I think the particulte-choked air might have given me late-onset asthma.

  13. Pingback: Peak Oil Group Taskforce and the need to plan for greener transport – urban design with cycletubes? | Garden Design And Landscape Architecture Blog – Gardenvisit.com

  14. Noel J Hebets


    By way of an email to Daisie Maud today, I sent you some information on what I call “B-Decks”:

    “a dedicated, one-way only, non-stop system of urban bicycle-only traffic, that also uses bicycle roundabouts above every ground-level intersection, so that bicyclists can venture everywhere throughout the city without being stopped by traffic signals, pedestrians, motor vehicles, etc., and get where they are going much faster than those pedestrians and motor vehicles because they are not stopped by those traffic signals.”

    I am not a bicyclist, and this idea first came to me about 1 1/2 years ago independently without me knowing until today that others had already thought of it.

    However, I do believe that I have described some very helpful features to support the idea (if not a punchy name), and hope to get your input, as you seem to be the person with the latest and deepest involvement in the idea.


    Noel Hebets

  15. Tom Turner Post author

    Hi Noel, thank you for your comment. Do you know of a drawing of the B-Decks idea? I like the prospect of free-flow for cyclists but (1) cyclists prefer not to ride uphill – to get to the roundabouts (2) the elevated roundabouts could be intrusive in the urban landscape

  16. Noel J Hebets

    Hi Tom: I see that you are an early riser. I’m not.

    No. The B-Decks is my name for the idea that I had, and I have sent you helpful text in 2 attachments to the email to Daisie, but I have no illustrations, as any graphic skills I have on or off of the computer are worse than my abominable penmanship.

    However, this should help:

    Been reading about Chris Hardwicke’s Velo-City ideas; looking at his illustrations, and listening to him on a radio talk.

    I think my vision is completely compatible to his with this analogy: His wind-tubes seem to be like the high speed “freeways” of the elevated bike path system, while my open-aired B-Decks would then be the smaller and slower “surface streets” of the same overall system. The B-Decks then are particularly important for those standard short 3 to 4 mile trips around the “neighborhood”.

    Here are a few of the related ideas I am sending you by that email:

    I really see the roundabouts as the optimal “intersections” for the various B-Decks. This lets them all operate at the same elevation, instead of having to live N-S decks, for example, over E-W decks. And I have a few parallel ideas, like right turn bypasses at the busier roundabouts, circular interfaces with adjacent businesses, and frequent U-Turns that allow a rider to change directions.

    I don’t have the cyclists change elevation much, except, perhaps, to rise and slow for the roundabouts, and then drop and leave them more swiftly.

    I put “solar slats” (rigidly mounted slats that are angled to allow winter sun, but not summer sun), along the sides of the B-Decks. Very important for places like the “sun belt”, especially here in Arizona. They also allow good visibility out for the riders, so they don’t feel too claustrophopic.

    I use rooftops, (also important in the sunbelt, if not the snow country as well), but cover them with photovoltaic panels for energy collection. Up that high the trees are not so likely to block the sun. I even suggest that the structures carry conduit for power lines that transport electrical energy. These energy uses would have the effect of doubling the function of the B-Decks, and helping to fund them.

    I especially focus on trade-offs that the jurisdictions can give to induce the construction and use of B-Decks. The big limitation in our auto-driven world is the parking space required for a given amount of building space. So, without costing itself any $$, the jurisdiction can allow the development of commercial air space that only has to provide the associated amount of elevated bicycle parking spaces, and can hook into the B-Deck system, so long as it pays for its share of its cost. As a real estate attorney, I see this as a major tool.

    Yes, it would make a big change in the appearance of the urban landscape, which, in the case of Phoenix (the cow town where I grew up), could be an improvement. However, allowing the various developments along the way to have the architectural gingerbread, if not even the structural designs, blend with their development could help the overall appearance and the sense of space.

    Seems to me we have all gotten used to some pretty ugly overall streetscapes; so part of what might happen is just an adjustment to another one. On the other hand, the view from up on the B-Decks could be the real hidden reward.

  17. Tom Turner Post author

    I like Chris Hardwicke’s illustrations and agree that his ‘freeways’ would need to be supplemented by a more local access system. Sun protection would be important in a hot climate – see the above link to the Qatar cycleway. But re the elevated aspect of the roundabouts: I used to commute on a 10-mile route which at one point had an elevated section of roadway with a roundabout underneath. Both were designed for motor vehicles. As a cyclist, I think my choice was about 50:50. If my energy level was OK I went up and over. If feeling lazy, I stayed at ground level. In a fair world, it would be the hydrocarbon-powered travellers who did the up and over trips and the cyclists who were allowed to remain at grade. You are right about the wonderful views from high-level routes but building owners might have security worries and property development worries.


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