You're sitting in a self-driving electric car, crawling through the busy streets of London. Ahead on the road, you see a curved tunnel entrance. You car rolls into it, down a long ramp, and you disappear beneath the city with a line of other smart cars all working together to get you to Heathrow airport in a mere 14 minutes. This is CarTube.
CarTube is a concept for personal vehicle transportation that will have some people cheering and others laughing. Maybe you'll do a bit of both. The idea comes from London-based PLP Architecture.
PLP summarizes the vision like this: "CarTube integrates existing motorways with a network of small bore tunnels. Automated cars, circulating above and below ground, are controlled via a dynamic platoon system allowing cars to move within milliseconds of one another."
Qualified cars could zip right into the CarTube system, while people without their own cars could book rides in an Uber-like fashion. And here's the selling point: "Our simulations show that CarTube takes approximately one quarter of the time of any other form of transport-traditional cars or public transport," PLP says.
PLP believes CarTube could be funded through a mix of government and private investors and could be implemented within a decade.
It's fair to question the practicality of digging a network of deep tunnels underneath busy cities and then sending thousands of cars underground.
"The chances of CarTube becoming a reality are greatest in gridlock-heavy cities like Mexico City or Mumbai, where infrastructure would benefit from cost-effective, global solutions." PLP's Director of Research Lars Hesselgren says when asked about the possibility of a real-life CarTube.
Exploring new urban options
Hesselgren notes that "concepts like the CarTube are meant to challenge existing approaches to urban transport, inviting us to explore new options for greener, safer, more exciting, and better connected cities."
PLP operates as a regular architecture firm, but it also has internal research groups that function as independent think tanks. PLP also created a concept design for an 80-story timber tower as a London residential high-rise. The tower is still classified as a "research proposal." Another concept design called The Nexus includes a futuristic elevated performance venue with water spilling off the side.
Even if CarTube never exists beyond concept images, it at least has us thinking creatively about ways to reduce gridlock and make our busy cities friendlier to pedestrians. And who wouldn't want to drive from Heathrow to central London in just 14 minutes?