An old idea about elevated bike lanes resurfaces, to the dismay of cycling advocates

Rendering of a proposed bike highway in London. (Room60 via YouTube)
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"Having reclaimed a rusted Chelsea railway, the High Line has demonstrated the magic of elevating pedestrians above city traffic," wrote Daily News guest columnist Eric Grannis. "Now, let’s elevate bicyclists, too, by building bicycle highways above certain major avenues and cross streets."

Where did Grannis, an attorney and charter school advocate whose other columns have dealt with education, come up with the idea?

"It was inspired by walking the High Line a couple of weeks ago," Grannis told me in an email. "And I am an avid bicycler myself." 

As Grannis notes in his column, this isn't the idea's first go-around:

Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. actually proposed bicycle highways nearly 50 years ago when he ran for mayor, arguing for a Manhattan “Bikeway” that would “run 20 feet above ground, on both sides of the street,” with ramps and parking areas. This “Bikeway” was limited to select Manhattan routes, but there is no technological reason that it could not be replicated all across the city.

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In fact, more than 50 years before Buckley suggested his idea, an elevated bikeway was not only proposed in Pasadena, Calif., but partially built. Unfortunately, it was abandoned in favor of a new form of transportation: the car.

Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson has expressed support for a proposal to build an elevated network of bike lanes along the city's existing railroad infrastructure.

The idea is that cyclists would pay for the privilege of riding above, rather than amidst, city traffic.
Norman Foster's firm, Foster and Partners, recently joined the architectural team pushing the project. 

Starchitect support notwithstanding, New York City transportation advocates, who've expended a good deal of effort to make city streets safer for cyclists, aren't all that impressed.

"When we can create safe space on our streets for bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians now with minimal disruption, why on earth would we pursue an expensive, unsafe boondoggle like elevated lanes?" asked Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, in an email.

Richard Barone, the Regional Plan Association's director of transportation programs, thinks there might be a very limited place for elevated bikeways so that cyclists can, say, pass over a particularly crazy intersection, or some other obstacle.

But generally speaking, he said, viaducts are a bad idea.

"We don’t promote viaducts anymote for cities or for transit," Richard Barone, the Regional Plan Association's director of transportation programs told me. "They blight neighborhoods."

Also, as anyone who's ridden over New York City's bridges can tell you, riding up slopes is hard.

"Unless you really create an extended approach, it doesn’t make for a nice bike ride either," said Barone.