The Urban Planner's Dream of having the cars hidden underground
May 19, 2014 11:15 PM   Subscribe

In the early design ideas for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, a big part of the dream was to have the cars travel in underground tunnels, to keep the city above clean, and keep pedestrians safe from motor vehicle accidents.

Well, the dream of having the cars tucked away underground has been around as long as the cars have.

It must be impractical, or too expensive, or people just love their cars too much, because I don't think the cities have been able to tuck all their cars away.

There must be large urban-planning books about such ideas.

Is there a city that has subways only, with NO CARS ALLOWED?

What is the most successful city design with NO CARS as a deliberaite part of the urban planning?
posted by shipbreaker to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a list of car-free places.
posted by Brent Parker at 11:51 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are a few small island communities that don't allow cars. I thought Catalina Island in Southern California didn't, but I just googled it and it's apparently only very rare/complicated/difficult to bring a car onto the island. So they're not entirely banned.

The main problem with cars hidden underground in a project like EPCOT or other futurist concepts is that, when that sort of thing was trendy, cars were a great visual way to signal how exciting and liberated the future would be. It's very recent that people have associated cars mostly with smog and noise and sprawl and danger. And in that time, ultra-modern planned communities (a la Le Corbusier) have also passed out of vogue.
posted by Sara C. at 11:54 PM on May 19, 2014

Also, Venice is probably worth remarking on. Though it's the opposite of a modernist planned community of the future.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 PM on May 19, 2014

Singapore flirts with this every now and then because we're so overbuilt. There are tunnels running all over and they are expensive and major undertakings with existing buildings. Every now and then someone suggests putting all the roads underground for our central business district and the shopping area, but there are soil challenges with flooding, so it's still a drawing board idea.

The tunnels we have now are 1-9km long, pretty long considering the island itself is 25x48km.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:04 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is a neat aside from this, underground shopping malls. I don't think you do this as much in other places but it is increasingly common to have shops go down to as much as four levels below ground. Not parking, but shops, restaurants etc. Sometimes it's clever use of roof lighting that cascades through gaps to the lower levels, complemented by lots of lighting as well. Our transit system has lots of pedestrian tunnels connecting under the roads and buildings, and those have shops etc built into them. Some places are gloomy, but often it's surprisingly bright and pleasant. A bit weird when you take the lift up and emerge blinking to realise it's nighttime on the ground.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:07 AM on May 20, 2014

Quite a few of the older cities in Germany have a no-cars centre area. For example Rothenburg ob der Tauber requires cars to be parked outside the old city wall, and then the area inside is pedestrian-only. There might be exceptions for people who live inside the wall, but I never saw cars there.
posted by lollusc at 1:11 AM on May 20, 2014

Parts of downtown Chicago have a street level which is actually a second (or third) elevated level above the actual ground level, so that cars and service vehicles and other traffic can travel "underground". Of course they also use the top level for still more auto traffic...
posted by alexei at 3:11 AM on May 20, 2014

I went to high school on Kwajalein island - which has no privately owned vehicles. There were some vehicles around for official use, but not many. Rush hour was a street clogged with bicycles.
posted by COD at 5:19 AM on May 20, 2014

Another example of an old town that does this (ie, not for futurist reasons): Nimes, France. The downtown is car-free, with the traditional very narrow streets. When I asked where the cars go, I was told that there were lots of big parking garages under the downtown.
posted by lunasol at 5:29 AM on May 20, 2014

Unsuccessful datapoint: Roosevelt island in NYC tried and failed at the "no cars" thing.
posted by slateyness at 5:36 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mackinac Island, on Lake Huron, banned private cars in 1898 and has never rescinded the ban. All transportation is done by bicycle and horse-drawn carriage in the summer, snowmobile in the winter. The above-linked article goes into a bit of depth about how the transportation system works; for example, there's a limit on the number of bicycles that can be rented out to tourists at one time, so that the roads don't get too clogged.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:47 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suspect a lot of the reason that the underground car thing never took off is because of carbon emissions and fumes. Now that electric cars are getting to be a big deal, it may be time for city planners to think again about a city with all the cars underground.
posted by CathyG at 5:55 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Masdar City in the UAE is a planned city that will not have personal automobiles on the roads:

The initial design banned automobiles, as travel will be accomplished via public mass transit and personal rapid transit (PRT) systems, with existing road and railways connecting to other locations outside the city. The absence of motor vehicles coupled with Masdar's perimeter wall, designed to keep out the hot desert winds, allows for narrow and shaded streets that help funnel cooler breezes across the city.
posted by Gortuk at 6:01 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay also has no cars, as mentioned in Brent Parker's list. but they do have golf carts for transportation (and firefighting - a bright red golf cart with a pressurized water tank on the back and a siren is an odd sight) so I'm not sure that really counts. I don't think they specifically decided no cars, it's just that the streets are so narrow that golf carts are what fits. I expect if they could blow up the island by 20 or 30 percent, they'd probably be happy to have cars.
posted by Naberius at 6:19 AM on May 20, 2014

To look at Chicago structures downtown to keep away mostly trucks and a shortcut through downtown because people find it creepy search for lower wacker.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:19 AM on May 20, 2014

I think it's just insanely expensive at city scale. (See the Big Dig for the costs of burying one major highway in a mature city.) Plus, if you bury all the streets, you presumably also have to have sub-basement-level entry levels for all your buildings (most individual people can park in garages and then walk, but it wouldn't be a very efficient way to make the deliveries that are done by truck now).
posted by mskyle at 6:23 AM on May 20, 2014

This post from David Hembrow talks about a pedestrianized shopping area in the Netherlands that has an underground car park beneath it. Many Dutch city centres only allow very limited vehicle traffic (for example, deliveries during certain quiet parts of the day).
posted by Emanuel at 6:28 AM on May 20, 2014

Central Ghent in Belgium is one of the larger car-free urban areas. The area is pretty similar to how the city was back in medieval times - a castle, some thousand-year-old churches and belfries, cobbled streets that open up onto big squares, narrow twisting alleys [see the greyed-out roads on google maps]. There are trams and taxis allowed, but in general, it's very calm, tons of foot traffic, etc. Trying to cram personal autos in there would be a nightmare, and it seems that nobody is particularly eager to "improve" the amazing architecture.
posted by entropone at 6:40 AM on May 20, 2014

I suspect a lot of the reason that the underground car thing never took off is because of carbon emissions and fumes.

Actually this kind of building is hugely expensive, and digging under an existing city on this scale is a big mess due to existing utilities, building foundations, stability issues and the like. For an idea of what kind of effort and expense would be required to implement this on a mass scale, look at any city that recently did a metro project (hint: they are very expensive, and take forever to finish).
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:51 AM on May 20, 2014

Best answer: In terms of cost, the way in which parking structure construction costs grow is informative. If for the sake of argument we say that building a surface parking lot costs $1 per square foot, then building an above-ground parking garage will cost $10 per square foot. However, building an underground parking garage will cost $100 per square foot. It is 100 times more expensive to build an underground garage as it is to build a surface lot.
posted by postel's law at 1:50 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Guanajuato, Mexico has a mostly car-free city center with tunnels underneath. Apparently, the tunnels were originally built for flood control and converted to roadways in the 1960s.
posted by silvergoat at 10:16 AM on May 21, 2014

I just realized my earlier comment might be a little confusing. When I said "[in this example] an above-ground parking garage will cost $10 per square foot," what I meant was a multi-story above-ground parking garage.
posted by postel's law at 6:30 AM on May 23, 2014

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