The idea has legs.
The global architecture firm NBBJ — responsible for Amazon’s new offices and one of Beijing’s Olympic arenas — recently released its plans to turn London’s Circle Line into moving footpaths.
Rather than riding on trains hurtling through tunnels, riders would breeze through on their own two legs, at a pace they decide.
Trains would be irrelevant, delays nonexistent.
The vision began as a task issued to NBBJ from New London Architecture, an independent forum for improving design in the capital city. NBBJ had to answer a key question: How could London be made better?
According to Christian Coop, an NBBJ architect and lead designer on the project, the answer is giant moving footpaths.
Though NBBJ only approached the problem from an ideas point of view — rather than as an actual solution to congested railway travel — Coop defends the plan as being far more realistic than it sounds. After all, the Colombian city of Medellin has won many awards for the escalators that ferry commuters over its ample hills.
“Everything we’re saying actually exists,” Coop says.
The tube already has the space for the equipment; moving footpaths are a known technology; and the technology to increase the speed of walkways at a safe and gradual pace already exists.
“The refinements toward, for example, making sure you have complete inclusivity,” Coop says, such as making the walkways handicapped- and elderly-friendly, “is something that will be developed as part of a really detailed feasibility study.”
The way NBBJ imagines the new walkways, the track is divided into three lanes. A “slow” lane travels at 5.5 miles per hour, a “medium” lane at 7.45 mph, and a “fast” lane at 9.3 mph. As the walkways enter tunnels, they pick up even more — a series of considerations all designed to get people to their destinations faster than train travel.
When people enter the Underground, instead of boarding a train they will immediately hop onto one of the three tracks. According to Coop, much of the cost that would get sunk into totally gutting the existing tube system would get made up in revenue from cafes and food carts located on the side of the tracks.
In terms of logistics, a moving footpath — known in England as a “travelator” — also avoids the hassle of congested trains, Coop says.
“We learned the key to a better transportation system wasn’t actually faster trains,” he explains. “It was increasing the flow and getting rid of barriers to movement.”
In the event one of the lane breaks down, Coop says, there will be two others to pick up the slack. The chance of catastrophic failure — all three malfunctioning — is low, he adds.
Replacing trains with footpaths would also get more people active.
Obesity rates are rising in the UK. While trains get people on their feet more so than cars, they still offer ample time to sit down. People who sit for extended periods of time have been found to suffer greater rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor leg circulation, muscle tightness, and muscle degeneration.
“It also encourages interaction with people,” Coop says. “So it’s pleasant and it’s healthy.”
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