Do we really want to put cyclists and pedestrians in deep underground tubes?

Video screen capture Underline/ Gensler

Architects who should know better keep wanting to relegate cyclists to elevated highways, floating bridges and now tunnels. Stop it.

TreeHugger April covered the proposed London Underline recently, concluding:

Along with the proposed cycling superhighway London is looking at, the tunnels could make cycling the cleanest, fastest, driest (!) and possibly even the most pleasant and self-sustaining way to get around the city.

April seriously knows her cycling, but I am going to respectfully disagree with her on this one for a number of reasons. I don't think I will do as good a job as Mikael Colville-Andersen at Copenhagenize:

Sticking cyclists up in the sky, out on the water and now underground. Get these people away from AutoCAD. They are an embarassment to all the good people in London who UNDERSTAND. Who are working HARD to right so many urban wrongs.

Or Feargus O'Sullivan in the Guardian:

It might look like fun for some, but the Underline is about as practical a way of clearing the roads as buying every Londoner their own miniature zeppelin.

But I will try. The problem with this scheme, like Foster+Associates crazy highway in the sky, is that they aim to reduce congestion by getting cyclists off the road. Or as a commenter at put it,

I'm getting pretty sick of these vastly expensive 'innovative' ideas that pretend to be for cycling, which seem to be less about making cycling safe and convenient, and more about protecting every square metre of roadspace allocated to motor traffic. This isn't an engineering problem, it's a political one.

Mayor Boris Johnson's recently approved bicycle superhighway was controversial because it took space away from cars and increases the drive time; that's why the taxi people are going for judicial review. It's a turf war for space at grade, not above or below.

Muenster poster carsCity of Muenster/Public Domain

As the famous poster from Muenster shows, bikes take up a lot less space than cars. They can move people more quickly and at lower cost than any other form of transportation. So why would a cyclist want to stop, get on an elevator (these tunnels are deep) cycle a couple of blocks and then have to get onto another elevator to pop up like a mole on the surface again? The process just slows them down so much that they might as well stay on the surface, which is where bikes and pedestrians belong.

I used to take the subway everywhere when I went to New York City; then I started bringing my folding bike and riding. (This was long before Citibike) I found it to be a totally different experience; stop here, shop there, look at that. Tunnels and subways cut you off from the city. They may be necessary when you have to go really fast to get long distances, but within the city? There is nothing better than a bike.

maps of underline© Underline

And as for pedestrians who might use this tunnel, as one who recently walked through the endless gray underground tunnel from a distant Heathrow Terminal to the station for the Express train to Paddington, why would anyone want to repeat the experience deep underground, under some of the most interesting and historic parts of London? It makes no sense.

London StreetsLloyd Alter/ London street, December 2014/CC BY 2.0

London streets are crowded, no question. Sometimes it's cold and rainy and dark. But you want people and bikes on the surface where the action is. Because streets are for people.

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