The idea for London’s Skycycle, an elevated cycleway, is nothing new. There was one in Pasadena at the end of the 1890s, with plans for it to slope down to Los Angeles. Similarly, the Thames Deckway, a mooted £600m floating cycle path, is not exactly novel either: a suspended roadway for the Thames was proposed in 1841, as revealed by Victorian London.
This particular elevated roadway above the Thames didn’t float anybody’s boat, as it were, but an elevated roadway of sorts did get built, and it was a very fine and wide one: the Victoria Embankment. This wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fact that it stands on top of an expansive Victorian sewer. The Embankment’s wide carriageways and generous footways were a happy side-effect of the installation of a wide-bore sewer which, among other benefits, reduced the stench from the Thames, a long-running complaint from the occupants in the nearby Houses of Parliament. (It may have been conceived as a covering for some of London’s crap, but the Embankment was laid out as a posh boulevard, with access restricted to high-class carriages and, later, bicycles.)
“There are certain districts and streets in which certain types of vehicles are suitable, but the Thames Embankment is not, we submit, the place for horse tramcars. To disfigure the most magnificent boulevard in Great Britain, if not in Europe, by the hideous, obsolete, horse-drawn street car is an absolute outrage upon the community.
“Every one, with any sense of the beauty attaching to noble structures situated amid scenes of considerable natural beauty, will, we are sure, agree with us in our contention. Why should we make one of our very few handsome thoroughfares…depressingly ugly? Rather let us beautify where we can; our streets need it badly enough. The reason for this attempted desecration of the Embankment is merely ‘to give facilities to the teeming population of South London to reach their employment in town.’ This is…no justification for the aesthetic outrage complained of. The only vehicles, in our opinion, which should be permitted to use the Embankment, or which can use it without jarring upon one’s sense of the fitness of things, are high-class motor-carriages, pair-horse carriages, private cabs, and cycles; all other vehicles constitute an eyesore and are an offence.”
‘Disfiguring the Thames Embankment’
The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal