upside down UTOPIA

An answer to Safe-Cycling in the capital, and possibly more... by Owen Rice

here’s an idea, one that has recently received much praise and has also won trophies for conceptual design at the London Planning Awards, one that looks like a vision of the future for pedestrians and cyclists; using disused underground tunnels and turning them into active cycle and walking paths.

There is something a little spooky about this though; steering the living population below ground on a more permanent basis, while above the machines and concrete structures continue about their business undisturbed.

Is there not an argument for putting the machines, the cars, car parks and trains all below ground and leaving the pedestrians and cyclists, the living breathing things, up above where the air is instead? If London were being built from scratch now, I wonder how many roads and traffic lights we would plan for, how many cyclists being crushed beneath the wheels of the machines would be deemed acceptable. Would we really put the people down there and leave the vehicles on the surface?

Cycling Tunnels London Underground Concept Imagery Tube

Concept photography for the cycle tunnels

Still, the images of a happy sub-culture, that is safe and clean below the streets of London, are inspired and inspiring. Ian Mulcahey, co-director of Gensler London, the people behind the concept said, ‘Now London has reached the highest level of population in its history we need to think creatively about how to maximise the potential of our infrastructure.’

Add some retail, commerce and offices down there too and there we have it – an opportunity to sell more real estate and double the population of the city! The thing is I like the idea, but I do also think we should be looking to lighten the load on the capital and push some industry out of gridlocked London, as well as managing the remainder with more imaginative and green-friendly innovations. However Gensler seem to be onto something and have good intentions at heart. Moreover they have started a debate and perhaps out of it will come a vision of the future, and then a reality, that is less Terminator or HG Wells’ Time Machine and more Thomas More’s Utopia.

Cycling Tunnels London Underground Concept Imagery Tube
The underground cycle tunnels are not the first conceptual idea to improve the accessibility in this way. In 2012, Sir Norman Foster, designer of London’s famous Gherkin tower, proposed plans for SkyCycle, a 136-mile cycling network built above London’s existing railway lines. Although it was said the network would be able to accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour, the plans have since suffered a few setbacks, with Mayor of London Boris Johnson citing the plans as “fantastically expensive”.

Trevor To, Gensler designer, went on to explain how energy levels of the population can be harnessed and used effectively in these plans. According to Trevor the energy from human footfall generated at a station like Charing Cross or Holborn would be sufficient to support the ‘underground superhighway’. Trevor explained, ‘This self-sustaining approach to urban infrastructure is key to a carbon-neutral community, and London could lead the world once again in merging tradition with innovation to create a better future.’

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