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.
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.
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