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TfL ponders a network of underground roads

Claustrophobic motorists should look away now. Transport for London is entertaining proposals that could see many major roads replaced with tunnels. 

The plans, revealed in the Mayor’s Road Task Force report, could see sections of the A12 in East London and both the North and South Circular roads either diverted underground or placed in an above-ground tunnel, freeing up land on top for residential and business development, cycle paths and parks.

Major roads could soon be diverted underground to make live easier for pedestrians.
Major roads could soon be diverted underground to make live easier for pedestrians.

It’s hoped the project would have a number of benefits on London’s inhabitants and visitors, such as making the city more visually appealin, reducing congestion and reducing air pollution ─ although the latter benefit could be undone should TfL decide to build more roads on top of the newly created land, an idea that is being entertained.

The details of the proposal are currently being considered, not least how it will look and whether it is at all practical. A spokesman for TfL told Recombu the types of development would be discussed on a case by case basis.

Whether TfL builds patches of land on top of existing roads or moves those roads underground, the pedestrianisation of the topmost layer of land will allow two sides of a street previously separated by a road to be connected. An example of this can be seen on a section of the A7 Autobahn in Hamburg, Germany, on the Périphérique circular road in Paris and closer to home at the Greenway in East London.

Obviously, all of this won’t come cheap. According to a TfL spokesman, completing the project would cost a whopping £30 billion. £4 billion of this would come from cash set aside for London’s road maintenance, while the remaining £26 billion could come from London boroughs, central government, developers and other stakeholders, and the the introduction of new toll roads in the city.

There’s talk of expanding the current Congestion Charge with wider road pricing based on how far motorists drive, although the Mayor’s officials were reportedly keen to stress this as a last resort.

Less drastic schemes have also been proposed to improve the flow of road and foot traffic across London. TfL is considering additional river crossings, the opening of bus lanes when extra lane space is needed, revitalisation of high streets and town centres, encouraging more travel out of peak hours and the partial pedestrianisation of certain areas such as Elephant and Castle. An increase in the number of 20mph zones will also be encouraged to make it safer to walk and cycle.

“London’s roads are vital to businesses, which need reliable access to customers, supplies and staff,” London First chief executive Baroness Valentine commented. “Bold ideas such as ‘flyunders’ and smarter road charging are common in other global cities and we encourage TfL to examine how they might now work in London.”

Changes like the adaptable bus lanes could become a reality as soon as 2015, although with the project in its infancy it’s too early to tell how it will all pan out.

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