The answer to making London safer and less congested for cyclists could lie underground, according to a leading design firm. Gensler has come up with an award-winning plan to convert disused London Underground routes into subterranean cycleways and pedestrian routes. The scheme, dubbed the London Underline project, has now been recognised at the London Planning Awards where it was named Best Conceptual Project last month. Its designers say it would transform tunnels beneath the capital into vibrant subterranean streets, with shopping facilities, cafes and pedestrian paths running parallel with cycle routes.
The tunnels would be accessed via Tube stations and would be surfaced by kinetic paving at stations, which would use footfall to generate energy, according to Gensler. The designers say this would remove the need for the tunnels to be linked directly to ground level. Ian Mulcahey, co-director of designers Gensler London, said: “Now that London has reached the highest level of population in its history we need to think creatively about how to maximize the potential of our infrastructure. “The adaptation of surplus and underutilized tube and rail tunnels could provide a quick and simple addition to our infrastructure network.”
— Den Creative (@dencreativeltd) January 15, 2016
Key routes covered by the tunnels would include the disused Piccadilly Line branch from Holborn to the abandoned Aldwych station. It would also link Green Park and Charing Cross along what was previously a Jubilee Line tunnel. If the scheme were successful it could also make use of empty stretches of tunnel at Stockwell in south London and Goodge Street in central London.
The designers added: “With current pressures on London to cope with future transport capacity for pedestrians, cyclists and tube users, London is in desperate need for new types of public and community space, as well as affordable retail, commerce and entertainment spaces. Subterranean spaces present an excellent option for new uses.
— I Hate Taxis (@IHateTaxis) December 24, 2015
Cycling campaign groups have criticised a concept design proposing cyclists use disused Tube tunnels to get around London safely. A cycling campaign group has called the Underline scheme “ludicrous”. Transport for London said there were no usable tunnels of significant length. On Sunday, a third cyclist was killed in less than six weeks. The idea received some support on Twitter, with one user for example, calling it “amazing”.
But Jim Davis, who works for an architecture firm and founded the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain said: “Sticking cyclists in a tunnel is ludicrous.” He said he was frustrated progress lags behind other European countries such as the Netherlands and added: “It’s a novel idea but find me an architecture firm that will design the perfect junction. The answer has been across the North Sea for 40 years.”
Rosie Downes, campaigns manager at London Cycling Campaign, said: “Ideas to put cycles in the sky, or underground, rear their head every so often. “They are completely counter to the principle that cycling should be made an attractive and convenient option, and perpetuate the incorrect notion that there isn’t enough space above ground to provide Dutch-style solutions.” A Transport for London (TfL) spokeswoman said: “We welcome all ideas to support the mayor’s vision to get more Londoners cycling. However, there are no disused tunnels of significant length that are not part of our operational railway.”
— Katy (@katysdunn) December 22, 2015
I think the London Underline is a useful contribution to a debate but I would file it very much under wishful thinking. The reality of Underground cycleways would be very different to the drawings – what scheme never looked wonderful in artists impressions. Aside from the very real problems with access and the time taken getting in and out of the underground tunnels once you try to do this in practice any modifications will be horribly expensive, money far better spent on dedicated surface pathways for cyclists. One feasible scheme would be to use the line of the Kingsway Tramway from Holborn to the Embankment as a revived tram and cycle pathway through Central London.
Gensler are to be complimented for their original thinking and generating debate however its assumptions don’t stand up to scrutiny (The Charing Cross section of the Jubilee line isn’t disused, it’s used as a siding now. The whole reason Aldwych closed is that the lifts would cost too much to repair). It would be an enormous project, the tunnels would need complete refurbishment and new ventilation shafts so London Underline will stay on the drawing board but do enjoy the compelling video below.