Thursday, January 21, 2010

24 Kolelinia : Engineering A High Flying Bicycle Lane

Bulgarian architect Martin Angelov has a simple game plan to beat cyclists' urban commuting woes. Take the bike path above to the skies, well, to a maximum of 15 ft over the road to be precise.

Wait, what did you say? That's right. Enter the Kolelinia, an interesting transportation concept that actually won The City Transportation Interchange Brief in London last year after Martin submitted a pencil sketch proposal to them.

What is proposed by Martin is a bicycle lane made of steel wire - static in all respects - unlike a ski-lift which would need electricity. Now don't equate that to cycling on a literal wire. Actually, the proposal is for an elastic furrow, made from rubber, supported by two steel wires and about 12 inches in width. A third steel wire is for safety. The bicycle's wheels will ride in this furrow.

The idea also proposes a handlebar mounted pulley system that attaches to the guide wire so that the motion of the cyclist is constrained along the furrow (and not onto the road!).

What will the bicyclist have to carry with them in order to use this system? Two things : A safety harness and this pulley thing (or "personal safety device"), both of which can be carried in a backpack prior to "boarding" the sky lane, according to Martin.

The reasons for proposing this bizarre, but unique idea are, in Martin's own words to me, the following :

"I want to achieve a complete independence between the car and bike stream in the zones where they intersect each other.

Kolelinia generates additional space in places where there is no room for bicycle-lanes.

I want to prove that it is possible to move on a higher level (4,5m max) with a minimum of resources on a weightless network. Of course, absolute safety comes first.

Last but not the least, I would just like to provoke people to look at transportation from another point of view, just like the sci-fi movies make us dream!"

I'm not sure whether it was a sci-fi movie that came to my mind first when I saw the drawing plans for this idea on his website. I think what came to mind instead was the suspended walkways failure at Hyatt Regency in Kansas (1981) that killed 114 people in one shot.

I translated that fear to Martin, asking him whether he's got his engineering calculations right for the structure he's proposing. I also asked him who he plans on giving this ultimately as a contract to. The reply was not surprising, because the idea does seem to be in its early conceptual stages.

So what is the future of this concept and how does it go from concept to prototype to realization? Will it see the light of day in the litigious environment most we us live in?

Here's Martin's reply :

"I have to mention that the idea has to evolve naturally. Nobody will build such a network without a real need. But first we have to demonstrate that this system works in the real life. For that reason we have to follow some steps :

First, I have to make a team for realizing a basic hand-made prototype of the concept (10-15m long). Only this prototype will show us the real problems with the design.

Second, after we have already dealt with all the issues, we have to build something bigger, let's say something for entertainment. A short touristic line in the city or an extreme line somewhere in the nature or a whole mountain-bike trail, for those who are looking for adrenaline.

If all prove that it is safe, the system will find its place for mass use naturally. Nobody will make you use it if you don't want to.

I'm working on the first step now and I'll cover each step on my website. In addition I'm working on a completely new concept, but it is early to talk about it."

Here's one personal thought to Martin. If you happen to visit a bustling city like Dubai, where traffic congestion is at its height, transportation planners have realized simple methods to help people get across huge highways. One is in the picture on the left. To use this, all you need to do is mount a pair of steps or ride an elevator and then walk, or ride your bike on this overpass. No need of cables, harnesses and things of that nature.

What's nice about it is that it is enclosed so you're protected from the elements. The biggest advantage is that it can be used not just by cyclists, but by any individual, just like actual bike paths.

I don't see it as an easy task, this idea of spending public money to provide just cyclists with their own little fancy skylane. Not to discourage you. It's a nice idea but I don't see this finding favor with development authorities easily.

What do you readers have to say?

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  1. I would be interested in knowing how this is going to be supported on either ends. I'd also be careful about the welding on those support gussets on the frame. Moreover, I dont want to take safety harnesses with me to go ride my bike, its just stupid for chrissake. Altogether the idea requires some backstepping and serious thought.

  2. Anonymous12:47 PM

    Interesting! But I second scienceguy. I dont think I want to be seen like a lineman riding a bike.

  3. Anon : Lineman? Classic! Ofcourse, the fear of heights is another issue. I suggest an alternative - try and do something like the bicycle liftin Trondheim, Norway instead of having the cyclist pedal on this thing. But then what about the cost of the electricity and all that? Ask the cyclist the they pay a small fee to use the facility, sort of like an access card that you pay for one time. Maybe the cost of powering the horizontal lift will then pay itself over time. Just another two cents.

  4. Paul Rockwell1:43 PM

    The persistent idea of secluding cyclists to their own little space is taking away from the bigger need to make people understand that bicycles must be a part of collective traffic. China and India do perfectly fine with cars and bicycles on roads. Why?

  5. Anonymous2:06 PM

    "Brace for impact"

  6. Anonymous3:06 PM

    Its pretty neat. I can already see people saying 'i'm taking the wire' like 'i'm taking the tube' for the subway.

  7. Great idea, but not really applicable in the real world.

  8. I think we should all relax a bit here, clearly the idea is still being thought out.

  9. Phil : Sure. The idea is still being thought out and there's no doubt about that. For example, the image showing the personal safety device attaching to the handlebar shows no detail on how it attaches to the handlebar. If that is the only point of support for the cyclist to stay with the guide wire and if that fails, hmm...

  10. While this project is interesting in a technology sense, there are many other issues that may block it from widespread use:

    + Women in dresses! How does that harness work for someone wearing a skirt?

    + Oops, damn, I dropped my cellphone/iPod/coffee and just nailed someone on the head below. The liability implications are huge. You'll need to build a safety net spanning some distance underneath the wheel channel, at which point it probably just makes better sense to construct an elevated pathway vs. a track.

    + If you put bikes on separated/elevated passage-ways, you undermine the basic (and currently fragile) concept that bikes are legal traffic and can/should use public roadways.

    + How does one get on/off this contraption?

    + What happens if the rider behind you wants to go faster than you do?


  11. This strikes me as less a solution than ill advised novelty.

    Unfortunately I can't see any, nor foresee any practicality in it. Obviously in it's infancy of development, I'll cut the concept the tiniest of slack...but only as an amusement ride.
    On that note, any cycling transportation solution that requires a climbing harness probably isn't much of a solution to begin with.

    My city has a similar concept in numerous locations, used to cross freeways, a river, and other less than bicycle friendly areas...We call it a bicycle/pedestrian overpasses...just like a bridge only smaller...
    They work like a damn, The bonus is I can pass people, choose to walk across them, take my dog with me, stop a gawk at the sights and I don't have to snug my junk up in a harness to use it.

  12. Dear Ron,

    Probably what people thought of the same idea around 1896:

    Aerial Bicycle Patent (1896)

    And around 1900, when the Pasadena to Los Angeles elevated bicycle
    path failed:

  13. I saw a similar proposal at ProBike in 1986, and didn't think much of it then. I also think it's an idea contaminated by priority to the car. It makes more sense (to me) to have public transit in dense urban areas, and limit the private car so that there is room for bicycles. Moving bicycles up in the air, I would guess, is a similar mistake to putting people underground in winter cities. Sounds great because it's warm, but it deadens street level life. Another mistake
    has been buildings designed without a human scale (eg. windows and doors) at street level; people avoid streets like this. Maybe these designers are just following along the elevated train idea. Another not so neighbourhood friendly idea.

  14. It would be fun during an electrical storm!

    Not so good for anyone suffering from vertigo.

  15. Clearly that architect never rode a bike. Bicyclists must have access to _useful_ destinations, just like everyone else. Say I'm going on a grocery run. Why would I want to ride up some ramp every time I need to make a stop with my groceries?

    How about we turned the scenario around? Cars are limited to skyways while pedestrians are limited to surface level streets. How many motorists do you think are going to go for that?

    Separate ain't equal. It's obvious to me skyway idea is a non-started for bicyclist. In fact I insist on riding "normal" roads because:

    1) same level of access for everyone
    2) I don't encounter dogs with invisible leashes, baby strollers,
    pedestrians on foot travelling way slower than my speed on a bike,
    etc. (as I would on separated bike path)
    3) fewer blind corners than separated bike paths (generally due to
    4) Normal roads get maintained/repaved and swept

  16. Anonymous7:49 AM

    @damyth "Seperate ain't equal" - Perfectly said.

    That and the durability of the elastic track? How often would this 12" strip need to be replaced, and how often according to transit authority?

    How redundant must the railway (for lack of better terms) be in terms of safety before one bolt is not a problem if it fell out?

    The harness idea is theoretically practical, but if you can't get fixie people to use brakes, let alone a helmet... Yeah... Enough said there...

    The fear of height and instability is crazy though. What about wind? Better not be using your Zipp 808's on the railway!

  17. Looking at the bright side, it surely will increase your bike handling skills. Only if you live...

  18. On the first thought this seems to be a nice idea. Actually there are
    several places where I'd wish to have such a system - even if it's just to avoid cars, pedestrians and (my arch-enemy) dogs.

    But I do see several problems with the system.

    1. Vandalism. What happens if someone just puts his old bubble gum at one of the "safety line" posts? The "Safety device" will get stuck... Or some stupid vandal to put his thrash INside the wheel rail - yuck and here you go and cycle 4 Meters above the street (without your wheels in
    the track?)

    2. Accidents happen. What about a truck with a tarp securing the load
    and the tarp is flapping? The cyclist will find himself hanging from the safety line with the bike poking his ribs - right in front of the oncoming traffic? Hmmm...

    3. This system doesn't account for bikes with trailer, speciality bikes ('bents in general and trikes in particular). If you do something for bike traffic, you'd better make sure it includes all kinds of bike traffic - and it's the grandma on her upright trike who needs to be out of traffic the most...

    So, while this is a great idea, I do think it's unrealistic...


    PS: keep on tinkering!!!

  19. Anonymous9:31 PM

    Yes it is an unrealistic idea for bicycle commuting but hardly anyone talked about these nutjobs on award jury's who select such ideas and give it unnecessary boost. They should be taken to task too, in my opninion. Just because an idea looks "sci-fi"ish doesn't mean its going to work out for reducing/diverting bicycle traffic. In this case, it is a failure from the London awards committee and you wonder what they were thinking when they looked at this idea.

  20. Here's a part of me saying we should all calm down, the idea is just a concept so far, it could be refined in multiple ways. Hopefully, all these comments are going to be useful for the architect in that refinement process, as someone commented here before that it is doubtful he rides a bike that much to know our problems.

  21. Wow! Don't take this concept so seriously :)

    First of all you have to forget for a while that this is a solution for mass use.

    I'm working to create a short prototype line, which will show how the project works in real life.
    If it is successful, the first thing which is suitable for is an extreme sport.

    I'm also enthusiastic cyclist and I'm fighting for space on the road. So you have to know that this idea doesn't isolate the bike stream from the streets, this could make the connection in impossible zones between existing bike-lanes.

    You also can see the frequently asked questions page on the site

    Thank you for all the comments, they were helpful to me!
    All best

  22. Thanks Martin and welcome to the discussion.

  23. Nah, this is a dumb idea. Well ok, it's a cool idea, but it is so impractical as to never see the light of day. It would be fun to ride across a short wire at a fairground or something as a thrill or tourist attraction, but it is in no way practical for commuting or travel.

    - gets bikes out of the traffic
    - doesn't appear to be as expensive as building a normal pedestrian walkway (go to Hong Kong if you want to see those done well BTW).

    - Too complicated to put harnesses on etc.
    - Too dangerous
    - Even if you do have a harness, what if you fall off your bike and are then suspended from the wire and you're too fat to lift yourself back on?
    - Lightning
    - Wind
    - Upskirts
    - Dropping stuff on people below
    - How do you make it strong enough to carry multiple (fat) people across a meaningful distance? Surely if this is really going to have an impact it has to be able to handle a busy cycle commuter route.
    - What if you're caught behind someone who's slow or stopped?
    - Incompetent people who can't put on a harness

    So *if* you can modify this thing to solve all the problems, is it really going to be cheaper and lower maintenance than a pedestrian bridge?

  24. What about turning on and off, What about handlebar height, What about wide panniers, What about windy cities, What about lightning... This idea in barely thought out.


Thank you. I read every single comment.