Architecture

London Underline proposes subterranean cycle paths in disused tunnels

London Underline proposes subt...
The London Underline concept would see the city's disused tunnels used as a network of cycle and footpaths (Image: Gensler)
The London Underline concept would see the city's disused tunnels used as a network of cycle and footpaths (Image: Gensler)
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The London Underline concept would see the city's disused tunnels used as a network of cycle and footpaths (Image: Gensler)
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The London Underline concept would see the city's disused tunnels used as a network of cycle and footpaths (Image: Gensler)
The London Underline could host pop-up businesses, exhibitions, retail spaces and event venues (Image: Gensler)
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The London Underline could host pop-up businesses, exhibitions, retail spaces and event venues (Image: Gensler)

Getting around the streets of any busy city can be slow and frustrating. One concept for making it easier in London, however, would see pedestrians and cyclists moved below the streets. The London Underline concept proposes using the city's disused tunnels used as a network of cycle and footpaths.

The congestion on London's roads is well documented and is perhaps most sharply brought into focus by the sometimes dangerous vying for road-space between car drivers and cyclists. Two recently-announced Cycling Superhighways will go some way to easing the strain in some areas, and the Underline could similarly reduce the strain on roads and pavements.

According to Gensler, the design and architecture firm that developed the concept, the idea for the Underline came about through its research into how London will change as the Tube becomes a round-the-clock service over weekends.

"As we were exploring the impacts this will have on the city, we discovered multiple disused tunnels in the underground system," Managing Director of Gensler London Ian Mulcahey tells Gizmag. "When we realized that they were there, we wondered, 'how could we bring these spaces back to life?'".

Amongst the disused subterranean sites in London, Gensler says there are tube tunnels, exchanges, stations, and reservoir chambers. As well as providing cycle and pedestrian routes, the firm says, these environments could host pop-up businesses, exhibitions, retail spaces and event venues. Gensler has identified tunnels between Green Park and Charing Cross Road and between Holborn and Aldwych in particular as having the potential to significantly reduce the pressure on pedestrian and public transport routes between them.

The London Underline could host pop-up businesses, exhibitions, retail spaces and event venues (Image: Gensler)
The London Underline could host pop-up businesses, exhibitions, retail spaces and event venues (Image: Gensler)

In addition, Gensler proposes offsetting the energy usage of the Underline with electricity provided by Pavegen's energy-harvesting tiles installed at footfall "hotspots" within the tunnels, such as ticket gates, escalators and along the Underline itself. The tiles are designed to afford a small degree of compression when they are stepped upon, allowing them to harness kinetic energy.

Currently a Pavegen tile can harvest between five and seven Joules of energy from a single footstep. Pavegen tells Gizmag, however, that it would expect this figure to have risen should the Underline come to fruition due to the ongoing development of the technology. The firm says that, although it is working with very rough figures, it is feasible that the Underline could be entirely powered using electricity generated from its tiles.

The London Underline concept was recently awarded Best Conceptual Project at the London Planning Awards. The next step for the project is to undertake a feasibility study that would determine what would be required to transform spaces. Gensler says it is also keen to to test the concept in a single place to see what might work and what wouldn't.

More information is available in the video below.

Sources: Gensler, Pavegen, London Planning Awards

The London Underline

7 comments
Milton
removing bikers from the street is a really bad idea. "outta sight, outta mind". How 'bout they put the cars in the underground and open up more of the street to bikes?
rgorman
The average person weighs about 70 Kg. This is a total force of about 686 newtons. The energy represented by only 5 joules is thus provided by a "tile" depressing 0.72 cm. Could you walk if every step resulted in going uphill by 0.72 cm. How could you avoid tripping at the 0.72 cm level difference between tiles that were depressed by other walkers. Assuming that the energy conversion was 100% efficient, a line of people (2 feet spacing) walking over a single square foot would generate around 2 watts. Could you even light and ventilate a tunnel with only 2 watts of power. Remember there are not going to be very many places where there is a continuous line of walkers in the whole tunnel system.
obillo
This is the sort of project that blue-sky, on-the-make architects dream up as Wow Projects for their Portfolios of the Unbuilt. It will get a lot of credit for forward-thinking and zero for practicality. Alternatively, a lot of money [not from ratepayers, one hopes] will be spent producing a gaudy failure. First, disused tunnels are almost always OLD tunnels—tight, cramped spaces, and no amount of zippy décor will make them attractive to people. And how many of them do you really have available? Not many, and once the little red dots show on the map, it’s clear that not much of the city is really convenient close to them. (Maybe the tunnels were abandoned for that very reason?)They might work solely for cyclists, especially if they offer long runs to compensate from hauling bikes up and down entrances and exits, and that might save a few lives. (But mix cyclists and pedestrians? Please don’t.) Pavegen tiles aren’t going to make much of a difference, but if you dare to test whether they’ll pay their way, pave the interiors of Heathrow—there’s a great high-traffic spot for you. Just don’t spend a ton paving a tunnel hardly anyone will use until you see a couple of places where tunnels have already proved popular. Consider the costs of cleaning, ventilating and policing tunnels: pavegens ain’t going to cover the costs. If you had even one tunnel that ran all the way across the city, it might work. Even better would be tunnels that entered the city from 10 miles or so out. People don’t much care for being crowded into tight, closed, artificially lighted environments: that’s the main reason shopping malls are made to be wide-aisled and high-ceilinged. Not to mention the dystopian aspect of people being herded underground like moles. Ew!
Stephen N Russell
Expand this to Moscow, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Berlin, Bonn, Oslo, Stockholm subway systems & Id add : Moving peopleways Kiosks for maps etc. Seperate bikeway Capsule hotel modules "U are Here" Maps to denote locale above you. Subway tunnel history exhibit miscl shops, stores? & earn revenue from subway via the above
Chevypower
Why stop there? Ad Starbucks for the latte-sipping bike riders, and Subway franchises just to be funny.
owlbeyou
They can also provide facilities for the homeless (does London have any?). Think about the endless problems that could outweigh the benefits (obillo has mentioned most of them). The only real advantage is that the tunnels (however small) already exist... Other cities (like Montreal) already have an underground network, but they are pedestrian, have enough space for commercial outlets, and are ideally located for maximum accessibility to the subway system and civic centers. But it's very possible that London is suffering from, tunnelvision. :)
Jon Smith
Jack the Ripper would have loved this idea.