As London developed its Tube network, it left behind several stretches of tunnel that currently stand unused and unloved. A new project would bring these dank places back to life, creating new routes for cyclists and pedestrians.
The concept is called The London Underline and it was developed by the Gensler architecture and planning group. “London has a rising population and there’s an ever greater pressure on infrastructure. So we thought we could use the tunnels in some meaningful way,” says Ian Mulcahey, co-director of Gensler London.
“We could repurpose the larger spaces at the platform level and actually put in a whole series of things down there, whether it be routes for pedestrians and cyclists, click-and-collect retail, or places for buskers. They would be like relief points from the rest of the city.”
Gensler recently pitched the concept at the London Planning Awards, which were hosted by Mayor Boris Johnson (he is said to have liked the idea). The current plan focuses on two disused pairs of tunnels–they run in two directions–both beneath prime real estate.
The first runs from Holborn to Aldwych and dates from the early the 20th century. It was used for a single station-to-station shuttle, before being abandoned in the mid-’80s. Aldwych station is now closed. The second runs from Green Park to beyond Charing Cross and was once part of the Jubilee Line. The tunnel was orphaned when the line was extended in a different direction in the ’90s.
The two stretches aren’t connected, but Mulcahey thinks it might be possible to create an interchange at Aldwych. If so, the Underline could extend all the way from Holborn to Green Park–about 1.5 miles.
And that’s not all. Gensler plans for the tunnels to incorporate energy-generating floor tiles from PaveGen, a British startup (we’ve covered several of its installations here, here and here). Power generated from the tiles could be used for lighting, perhaps illuminating as people walked or cycled through.
Gensler is now starting a feasibility study covering nitty-gritty issues like safety, security and service contracts for broadband access. It also needs to model traffic flows and do some form of cost analysis. However, Mulcahey doesn’t think the idea needs to be “studied to death.”
“The tunnel is there. We could actually almost prototype the idea on a short stretch, perhaps from Holborn to Aldwych, and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we can always board up the tunnel and abandon it again,” he says.
It actually seems like the London Underline could work, and that the project could offer pointers for other cities. There must be thousands of abandoned metro tunnels out there that could be used for good things.