Bike Tunnels

The creation of a cohesive macro structure; a dense grid of cycleways intertwined through a crowded, intricate urban environment, necessitates the creation of bike tunnels, bridges, cycle viaducts; and the repurposing of existing, abandoned, and outdated elements of the cityscape.

Examples abound of potential infrastructure transformation. Cities all over the world harbour subterranean secrets; networks of hidden tunnels like the Paris catacombs and the Manchester tunnels.

Recently Gensler proposed using a former London tube tunnel as an underground cycle path. But is this brainchild feasible? or just a dystopian vision?

The concept is presented as a solution to congestion, which reflects a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that congestion is caused not by bicycles, but by the vast amount of space allocated to motor vehicles.

bike tunnels - congestion

“Building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity” – Lewis Mumford | Image from Daily Mail

The social benefits of urban cycling are also largely negated by tunnels. Placing bikes and people underground could never represent a complete solution to congestion, but is liable to create a host of other problems surrounding social safety, which is half the reason people don’t cycle in the first place.

Tunnels, skyways, and other similar schemes fail to acknowledge the truth that humans do not travel solely from A – B without interacting with their environment; unless they are in a car. Tunnels like the one pictured are a great step towards a vacuous streetscape. Riding a bicycle through a neighbourhood gives you a face and creates opportunities for interaction; it makes you a part of the place, instead of a motorised passer-by.

bike tunnels - gensler

Image from Gensler

Perhaps these tunnels are only feasible when climatic conditions make cycling outside distinctly unpleasant, like in frozen snow-covered or arid desert cities (although even Iceland has heated cycle paths) In more temperate climates, the lack of open air and sunlight afforded by such tunnels would take the joy out of cycling.

I suggest we put cars down underground instead. People and bikes belong in the open air, out on the street. Not only that, but the time taken for pedestrians and cyclist to ascend and descend means it is simply not worthwhile without an effective interchange to street level.

Elon Musk would seem to agree with me.