CYCLING UNDERGROUND HOW THE DISUSED TUNNELS OF LONDON CAN RESHAPE THE WAY WE MOVE

9.23

There is nothing mysterious in Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s choice of a bicycle as the best way of getting to official meetings.

Leading by example, the Mayor of one of the most populated cities in Europe has a clear vision of cycling as an integral part of the transport network. And it is not without a reason that we call the Santander bicycles, the Boris bikes.

The Mayor launched the bicycle hire system back in the early days of his tenure, in 2010. These days more than 11,000 red bikes are available to share across London.

This system is changing Londoners’ everyday lives as more and more are following his example and choosing this eco-friendly form of transport over overcrowded, smelly buses and trains.

With more than 610,000 cyclists per day, London’s cycling population is exploding. This in turn means the cycling road network has needed improving to enhance the experience and make it safer for everyone.

An original idea came directly from the international designer firm Gensler, which suggested reinventing the disused underground tunnels to create the first network of subterranean pedestrian and bike paths.

Ian Mulcahey, co-director of Gensler London and co-inventor of The London Underline project, explains the futuristic concept that could definitively change the way of cycling in London in the future.

 What is the London Underline concept?

It is our vision for the future. It would see London regenerate its disused subterranean spaces and surplus infrastructure into a dynamic new network of pedestrian paths, cycle links and cultural and retail places through the emergence of kinetic energy technology. (What is this? We need a line here)

Now that London has reached its highest population level in history, we really need to think creatively about how to maximise the potential of our infrastructure. The adaptation of surplus and under-utilised tube and rail tunnels could provide a quick and simple addition to our infrastructure network.

Which parts of London are covered by this project?

There are many forgotten tunnels located all over London. For the purpose of our research we looked at implementing the concept in the Charing Cross to Aldwych, and Holborn to Aldwych areas by regenerating and extending abandoned tube tunnels. An above-ground connection to the proposed Garden Bridge would create a new North/South bank cycle & pedestrian super loop.

How did you come up with this idea?

This idea is from our in-house research about the future of transport. During the research, we looked at how operations, technology and retail are changing the commuters’ experience of travelling. From our research, we discovered that a significant number of stations and tracks in the existing system are now abandoned. Realising the potential of these spaces, we worked to put together this proposal that illustrates the benefits of increasing urban capacity with minimal cost to the citizens; and at the same time bringing back a piece of heritage to the people.

How is it possible to use the energy from footsteps to make electricity?

The concept harnesses the kinetic energy from footsteps and converts it into renewable electricity. When stepped on, the captured kinetic energy is either stored in lithium polymer batteries beneath its surface or converted into watt-hours of electricity.

The London Underline has won the award for Best Conceptual Project at the London Planning Awards, hosted by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Is there a real chance of seeing the Underline project becoming a genuine transport option in London?

We were absolutely overwhelmed by the positive responses. It’s a great award to receive and we were even invited by the mayor Boris Johnson to discuss it further with his team. We understand that there are many considerations from various stakeholders on innovative proposals like this. Therefore, it is important to keep the dialogue going and understand the opportunities and challenges from each party. We continue to believe that it is a practical and cost-effective proposal for providing viable alternatives to people navigating the city. Ideally we would like to pilot the project on the line from Holborn to Aldwych to test its feasibility.

How do you think that this project could change the life of thousands of London cyclists? And how?

The project has the potential to change the life of cyclists and pedestrians alike, because it offers choice. It could provide Londoners with a potentially faster way of accessing the capital through tunnels with connectivity by bicycle or foot below London. There are many projects all over the world, which utilise redundant infrastructure and re-purpose them. However, we believe our proposal is the first one that connects seamlessly with the existing transport network and operates on a self-sustaining carbon-neutral target. Cycling is never easy in London because of the busy, congested streets, so this proposal could really transform how people move about the capital.