Open Engineering
Environment and Development.

Cycle Freeway

Many discussions of transport in large cities like London, focus on how to invest enough in public transport to attract drivers to leave their car at home. However it is very hard for public transport to compete with the speed and door to door convenience that a personal vehicle provides.

A typical five mile journey in London often goes something like this:

Your best journey time is 54 minutes and your worst is 1 hour 22 minutes. Imagine how much investment it would take in rail and bus to halve those journey times: twice as many bus routes and stations to reduce the walks at either end, doubling the speed of buses and trains and doubling service frequencies too!

Now there is a way to do the same journey reliably in less than 25 minutes. How? By building a network of cycle 'freeways' and supporting infrastructure. Anyone who can remember when motorways were built, will know how they transformed long car journeys, which had previously involved hundreds of stops at junctions and a high probability of getting lost. The cycle freeways will do for bikes what the motorways did for cars. The freeways will be as wide, straight and flat as possible, providing clear unimpeded routes through the city. Cyclists will no longer have to choose between risking the congested main roads or finding their way through a maze of back streets.

Journey times for a 5 mile trip will be from 25 minutes at a gentle 12 mph to only 15 minutes at a brisk 20 mph [1]. At the terminus and key points on route, freeway service stations will offer secure, covered cycle parking, cafés, bike shops and shelter in case of heavy rain.

Studies show that a cycle freeway will be able to carry about 8 times the number of people per hour than cars could on a road of the same size. And the energy used per mile travelled will be 50 times less than for cars [2].

In environmental terms, cycle freeways are better than all other forms of land transport. The energy used per passenger mile is shown in the table:


For comparison: To boil kettle requires about 0.06kWh for 0.5 litres of water. A typical fridge-freezer uses about 1.5kWh per day.

The freeways will be cheaper to build than any conceivable alternative and offer unparalleled fast, convenient door-door transport. As a trial, suitable routes could be coned-off from motor transport for a summer and the 'service stations' provided as temporary buildings or tents. Once built we would probably wonder how we ever expected cyclists to mix with heavy traffic.


Ref.[1] Bicycle speeds: A human being travelling on a bicycle at low to medium speeds of around 10-15 mph (16-24 km/h), using only the energy required to walk, is the most energy-efficient means of transport generally available. wikipedia - Bicycle Performance. For comparison, an average speed for the Tour de France is about 25 mph over a course of more than 2000 miles that includes mountainous terrain.

Ref.[2] Carrying capacity of roads used by bicycles: Persons per hour that one meter-width-equivalent right-of-way can carry, by mode:

Auto in mixed traffic170

Source: Modal carrying capacity: United Nations, Transportation Strategies for Human Settlements in Developing Countries.

Ref.[3] Energy used by bicycles: Calculations of energy per passenger mile depend a lot on assumptions made (a car with just one occupant or a bus with few passengers is less efficient than when full). However bicycles always emerge as by far the most economical. Figures used here for energy per passenger-mile are from: Marcia Lowe, The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet (Worldwatch Institute, 1989). Equivalent kJ values calculated using: one 'large calorie' or 'kilogram calorie' is about 4.184 kJ. See also: Energy consumption of different modes of transport. (Transport 2000).