London underground by bike

With 8.6 million inhabitants, more people live in London today than ever before. The problem is that the more crowded the city, the more difficult it is to get around. An architecture firm wants to turn the city’s disused metro lines into subterranean bike paths, while Mayor Boris Johnson plans to build a superhighway for bicycles. Meike Stolp reports from London.

Architecture firm Gensler wants to transform London’s disused underground tube tunnels into bike paths. (Photo credit: Gensler)

Architecture firm Gensler wants to transform London’s disused underground tube tunnels into bike paths. (Photo credit: Gensler)

When London’s subways are uncomfortably packed during morning rush hour, at least some of the passengers probably wish they had a bicycle. Except that many Londoners fear cycling through Britain’s capital due to the number of deadly accidents. In November 2013 six cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in a two-week period alone. A total of 14 cyclists died that year, while an addition 475 others were seriously injured. Ideas are desperately needed. And two are presently making media headlines.

Avoiding traffic jams by being underground

One of the ideas generating buzz comes from international architecture firm Gensler. Based in San Francisco, they want to set up subterranean bike paths in disused metro tunnels. Called The London Underline, the project wants to tap into the surplus of disused space in the British capital. In doing so, “a whole new urban space is unlocked underneath the city,” explains Gensler designer Trevor To. The solution is carbon-neutral, innovative and even efficient because if turned into pedestrian and bike paths, some of the unused tube and rail tunnels would lead users across the city much faster than on London’s oftentimes crowded streets.

Gensler won the award for Best Conceptual Project at this year’s London Planning Awards, hosted by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, an event that always makes headlines for its dramatic ideas on how to improve traffic in the capital city. Only a few days after the prize was awarded, Johnson announced that he would give the green light to another plan to create more underground tunnels for cars to make more space aboveground for cyclists and pedestrians.

Cycle superhighway

But the mayor with chronically unkempt hair wants more and has set out to improve the traffic situation by the time his term in office ends in 2016. This includes the other idea generating a lot of media attention in the UK these days: building a superhighway for cyclists that would cross London from east to west and from south to north. With a price tag of nearly one billion pounds, the project – which is enthusiastically supported by Johnson, himself a passionate cyclist – would create segregated bike lanes across the city centre. Part of the project has already been approved by the Transport for London board and construction could begin as early as March.

Tube network should be expanded

But bike lanes aren’t the only issue on Boris Johnson’s desk. If it were up to conservative politicians, Heathrow airport for instance would be closed down in order to build a major new airport along the Thames. Except the chances of this happening are quite slim: the Airports Commission decided not to add the project, which would cost 50 billion pounds, to its shortlist. Other plans that might go forward instead include expanding the underground network and created new railway lines.

These measures are all sorely needed for London. Transport for London predicts that traffic could increase by up to 60 per cent by 2031, and no one wants to even begin to imagine what the chaos on the capital’s streets would be like if that were to happen. Increased traffic would be expensive, too: studies from the Centre of Economics and Business Research and Inrix, which provides road traffic information services, shows that traffic jams in the city of London in 2014 cost the equivalent of around 8.5 billion dollars. This could jump to a staggering 14.5 billion dollars by 2030.

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