Much of the 70km (44-mile) 'Heart of London' route, from Hampton Court in the west to Dartford in the east, could be completed within 12 months with only 5km of new cycleway needed - 46km of the proposed route would be on existing paths. Approaches have been made to companies in the City of London and the scheme is expected to attract private-sector sponsorship for part of the pounds 1m cost.
Mr Gummer's support for the route is crucial as the path would cross the boundaries of more than a dozen local authorities. A co- ordinated programme would be needed if the scheme was not to include gaps.
Jointly developed by Sustrans, the Bristol-based cycle path construction charity, and the London Cycling Campaign, the route is likely to become a focus for national campaigns for improvements to cycle routes.
Increased traffic congestion and rising cycle ownership have led the Department of Transport to revise its method of financial support to local authorities. But despite the department's apparent recent conversion to the benefits of cycling, pressure groups believe that much of the initiative comes from the Department of the Environment and its need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. John Grimshaw, director of Sustrans, said the cost of the scheme could be held to pounds 1m if the route was developed in line with other construction work.
The use of the 46km of existing paths would necessitate changes in local by-laws to allow shared use with pedestrians. Minor roads, pavements and occasional traffic-free paths make up a further 19km, while most of the 5km of new pathway would skirt a sewage works near Thamesmead.
Mr Grimshaw said the heaviest expenditure would be on building paths underneath six bridges.
'It is an extremely exciting project. There would be benefits for walkers as well as cyclists. It is a wonderful way to enter London, as even in the grotty industrial bits there is always this marvellous river view on the other side,' he said.