Ten reasons PLP's CarTube is the silliest London transport plan you'll see this week

Oh, wow, this is really something. Image: PLP.

So here's fun thing bouncing round the nerdier corners of the internet in a “LOL, what” kind of a way:

Architecture practice PLP is soon to reveal their concept design for CarTube, a revolutionary solution for transportation in cities such as London.

“CarTube”? A car, and yet also, a tube? Whatever could it mean?

The concept combines two existing modes of transport – automated electric cars and mass public transit – into a single, seamless underground road system.

Users will be able to book a CarTube trip in their own cars or shared public cars through a smartphone app.

There will be an underground transport network that moves cars in a continuous flow at a steady speed, increasing transport capacity, relieving congestion and freeing up public realm above ground.

Lars Hesselgren, Director of Research at PLP will officially unveil CarTube at a conference on the 2nd December at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) HQ in London.

I would say that I have some questions for Lars.

In some ways it's a bit cruel to do a sanity check something like this, because it's so obviously incapable of withstanding it. Indeed, it was probably never intended to: my suspicion with these things is always that the real point of the exercise was to mock up a pretty picture in the hope of free publicity. (Possibly not the kind of free publicity I am offering right now.)


But what the hell, let's do it anyway:

1) It's quite difficult digging tunnels in London because there's so much stuff already under the ground (electrics, gas, sewers, the actually existing Tube). At Tottenham Court Road, the Crossrail tunnels run between two existing bits of tube architecture, with under a metre of clearance.

So I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that there probably isn't enough space under London's streets to create significant network of TubeCar tunnels, thus rendering the whole thing a bit silly.

2) That specific point on the Victoria Embankment, courtesy of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, contains one of central London's most important sewers. So it’s probably not the best place to start.

3) While we're at it, it also contains the District and Circle lines. You almost certainly couldn't put the CarTube there, is my point here.

4) Why are the cars underground so tiny? Do they get miniaturised as they go through the portal? Is that it? Is this the bit of the plan they're going to reveal at their press conference this week?

5) While we're talking about portals, I'm guessing there probably isn't enough space on the surface in London to create them either.

I mean, on this mock up, they've put the entrance to the tunnel on the site of an existing road, thus implying that we wouldn't be losing any more space to car traffic. Except that, in this parallel universe, roads clearly still exist to do the first and last leg or your journey, or you wouldn't need a portal in the first place. Soooo... where are the portals going to go? Which roads will stay and which will go? Will there be an enquiry?

6) Come to that, where are all the vehicles that aren't part of the CarTube system meant to go? Are they just banned from Westminster now? Parliament is still going to need goods deliveries. Are they all meant to take the CarTube? Is the Prime Minister's car?

7) To be fair, maybe I'm being unfair with all these questions, and this is actually just a nice plan to make the Victoria Embankment into a park. By ripping up the Circle line.

8) In the real world, this is where the east-west cycle superhighway runs. They've ripped that up, too. Great work, guys. Fantastic work.

9) Bit worried about those people cycling on that narrow path, shared with pedestrians, without any barriers stopping them from falling in the Thames, too.

10) That said, in this fantasy world, every bridge can be a garden bridge. Look how garden-y Westminster Bridge is! If we did this at least we wouldn't have to build the actual Garden Bridge, I guess. So that's something.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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In New Zealand, climate change is driving an eco-nationalist revival

The green and pleasant land of the South Island. Image: Getty.

“Ten years ago I would have called them settler f*****g land squatters,” Mike Smith, Maori-dom’s most tenacious activist, said last November as he reflected on the agriculture industry’s central role in driving climate change. “Now I have to try and get these people on board.”

Smith is infamous for taking a chainsaw to Auckland’s most prominent tree on a damp October night in 1994 in protest of the “Pākehā” – or white European –dominated government’s fiscal envelope restraining treaty settlements. Now he’s turned his hand to another cause close-to-home for the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population: the environment.

“We’re super vulnerable, like we are to anything,” Smith says. “When it comes to climate change it’s like the poorest people in the world are going to be hit the hardest first, and that’s a lot of us.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears, at least rhetorically, the most sympathetic leader to his cause in a decade. In her campaign launch speech late last year, she made the future government’s position clear: “Climate change is my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

This message should resonate with followers of her Labour party: the NZ left has long nurtured an environment-orientated “culture-of-protest”. So Ardern’s call to arms was bound to gain her loyal support among children of the 1960s and ‘70s, who led the march against nuclear ship visits, spurring on the government of the time to wriggle out from the US nuclear umbrella, and place a ban on foreign nuclear ship visits.

Now, it is to the tycoons of deep sea oil exploration they aim to close NZ’s ports.

In this, Smith is not short of support locally, with marches run by grassroots organisations and international animal welfare funds beginning to gain traction with every day New Zealanders. In this, Ardern’s prediction is correct: the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), is reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an earlier cluster of left-wing pacifists and nature lovers who drove the creation of the nuclear free zone.  

In December, 15,000 passionate protesters marched through the capital. And with the government’s recent ban of offshore oil exploration projects, Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green party co-leader and the head of CANA, is optimistic about similar change to the energy and farming sectors.

The Labour-NZ First-Green party coalition seems focused on setting a new global precedent, weaning NZ away from a United States which has jettisoned the Paris Agreement. The move replicates another 20 years ago, when New Zealand’s anti-nuclear movement was central to an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism. Now, the same sense of going it alone on foreign policy is apparent both locally and in Parliament.

Dr. Gradon Diprose, a senior lecturer at Massey University, argues that this echoes an older expression of colonial nationalism, that saw “New Zealand as a land of natural abundance”. This: “eco-nationalism” is centered on “protecting certain visions of picturesque landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty”. The slogan “Clean, green New Zealand” is prevalent in popular culture and tourism marketing. The public seems to have latched onto it too, and ranked keeping NZ’s waterways “clean and green” top of a recent survey of of kiwis’ top concerns.

Three decades ago, it was the 10 July 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior that thrust local activists’ fears into the public eye, resulting in an almost nation-wide expression of climate-protectionism.


The bombing, a French intelligence operation sparked by Greenpeace’s calls for an end to foreign nuclear testing in the Pacific, galvanised a great deal of change to New Zealand’s overseas defence policies. A lack of censure from New Zealand’s Western allies drove Wellington to distance itself from the United States, while the shock of seeing a friendly nation violate NZ’s sovereignty left many at home seething.

Thirty years on, the foreign policy split throughout the Anglosphere, regarding Russian-Western relations, globalism, and the old international rules-based order, is becoming wider. Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most Kiwis you talk to will shake their heads in disapproval at US president Donald Trump’s scandalous outing last year in Helsinki. But US defiance of internationally brokered climate resolutions is something they can see clearly reflected in rural communities across the country.

The country saw records broken at both ends of the extreme weather spectrum last year. As 2018 kicked off, Kiwis sweltered through the hottest summer on record, while in Golden Bay, a small inlet near the northern tip of the South Island, residents endured the largest flood in 150 years. So, when President Trump tweets “So much for Global Warming”, the majority of New Zealanders look back fondly on NZ’s 1985 decision to boycott the “ANZUS” treaty, putting New Zealand at odds with its war-time ally America on defence legislation.

Public calls to take the same track on environmental regulation have become louder in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, received a frosty “unwelcome” while on a flyby to the capital in 2017, with the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Gardiner Harris remarking: “I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today”. Protests against President Trump’s stance on climate change are beginning to gain greater traction further still, with the hundred-strong “march for science” setting the tone for the new government later that year.

New Zealand certainly isn’t afraid of radicalism, and its activists are persistent. It’s already banned single use plastics in supermarkets. Plenty more is to come, Smith says.

And yes, reform is going to inhibit sometimes vital industries: “It doesn’t matter which way you spin the dice on this, whatever’s being done is going to hurt. People who are looking for a painless way of mitigating climate change, [but] I don’t think there is one.”

But among Smith’s troupe of climate agitators, the feeling is that, without drastic change, “the land”, the heart of the Maori ethos, is going to be hurt far more.

Back in Auckland, NZ’s financial hub, an electric scooter craze is gripping the city. This, too, has gained the support of local environmentalists. In New Zealand, a national sense of pride is always coupled with a certain eccentricity. In a country this size, change always starts small.