The Thames Deckway is an exciting green transport infrastructure project in London. We aim to tackle some of the big urban challenges facing our city and others like it.
With the support of Innovate UK, we are currently working towards realising our technology demonstrator in east London in 2018.
New figures from Transport for London (TfL) show that more people are cycling in the city than ever before. Despite this, currently one bicycle journey in every 515,000 ends in death or serious injury. At the same time, air pollution from vehicle emissions results in a wide range of health impacts, which significantly reduces life expectancy within the city. Compounding on these issues, projections of future climate change paint a bleak picture. For example, with much of the transport network below ground, more than 57 tube stations would be at risk of climate induced flooding.
We founded the Thames Deckway project to tackle these systemic challenges. My solution is to develop an innovative floating cycle path for the river Thames. The project would employ a climate adaptive pontoon system using connected modules. Following the river Thames, the Deckway would provide a safe path across London. The project would also generate its own renewable energy using the latest solar, wind and tidal technologies.
We want to use engineering solutions to make cycling and walking an exciting, safe and active transport option. This will not only cut car traffic and cyclist deaths, but will reduce London’s carbon footprint. It will promote active lifestyles and provide an inclusive alternative transport option for all. This safe cycle route would make the city a healthier, happier and more sustainable place to live.
Before setting out on the Deckway project, I worked at the European Space Agency. It was here that I met space architect, David Nixon. At the time I was designing a software communications system and an astronaut communications device for the International Space Station’s Columbus Module. Both David and I shared an interest in systems engineering and systems science. Sparked by our frustration with the ‘red tape’ of the space industry, we began thinking about issues closer to home. With free reign over our ideas, we wondered how we could use this technology to solve Earth’s problems.
I moved back to London in 2008 and I lived close to the river. At high tide, my windowsill was less than a meter from the water’s edge. This made me very aware of the power of the tidal force of the Thames. In some places, the tidal range is 7 meters! I started thinking of the tide not just as a danger, but as an opportunity. At the same time, I was spending a lot of time cycling through London and experienced my fair share of near-misses with dangerous road traffic.
Motivated by my experiences and my work in the space industry, the idea of the Thames Deckway was born. However, the inspiration behind the mechanics of the idea didn’t come from the sky, but from history. Leonardo da Vinci’s water devices, along with Renaissance approaches to engineering and design, were a great influence, as well as the former uses of the river as a navigation and trade lifeline.
It’s often the case that ambitious and novel projects, such as ours, face difficulty gaining legitimacy. We are very proud that the project has reached some major milestones recently in being recognized. In 2015, we won the ‘Impact Scholarship’, gaining recognition from the startup community. More recently, we have won the InnovateUK Infocus: Women in Innovation award and the Innovate UK Design Foundations award. This is helping to bring the project to the attention of innovators and the UK Government. We are currently building on this momentum by applying for Innovate UK’s Infrastructure ‘round 3’ award.
I hope Thames Deckway can shine as an example of citizen engagement in engineering and the sciences. We can do a lot more to inspire the younger generation to think about engineering more creatively. The Thames Deckway project, through interactive on-site learning, can facilitate this change.
Image credit: Copyright 2010 River Cycleway Consortium Ltd. Early concept design Anna Hill & David Nixon 2010.