I am pleased to share our “DoubleStreet” project with you. It is a bold new urban mobility idea that our team of faculty members and students designers came-up with this summer over 8 weeks for a challenge from the Seoul Design Foundation. We propose creating an upper deck over all of the very wide “main” streets in central Seoul. This topside deck has tons of biking and pedestrian paths, green space, and wonderful public space. Our initial design proposes 10 million square feet of this new public space, a ~ $50 billion value in real estate terms.
What makes the futuristic proposal viable in my mind, is the height of these newDoubleStreets are very low, and not like the elevated freeways we know and don’t like in some of our cities. The only way to make them low is by designing new types of vehicles for the residents and visitors of the cities to use. I am unaware of any design effort of this type that works both with vehicle AND city designers in the same studio. But please bear with us, this video shows only 8 weeks of work from start to finish.
Spending a year teaching at CCS, this was my favorite project. Because I was not a formal teacher of mobility, asking students to learn things I already knew. No, this project allowed us to work together as one team. We had faculty members (4 of them), master and undergrad transportation design students (5 of them), and (2) architect / urban designers from UCLA supporting the mini-project.
We had one student from Seoul, and we did research. Google Streetview was a help for those of us that never visited. Seoul has an amazing subway system – they have to! It is a really dense city, and sadly during commute hours those subways can be running at 230% capacity. Up on the surface, there is a robust bus system. And private cars, many of them only with one occupant clog the city. Even a taxi ride (or Uber ride) can be slow due to so many cars / congestion.
With major cities / countries around the world trying to transform their entire vehicle fleets ultimately into electric or hydrogen powered vehicles, it’s amazing how even if everyone got a new e-powered vehicle the traffic would still be awful in many cities. And if all the vehicles are the size of a Tesla (2,500+ lbs), then Seoul may need more nuclear power, not less as they are trying to do.
Autonomous or automated vehicles are central to this design. The Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) vehicle systems we have seen proposed over the years reminds us how the new vehicles will move in the DoubleStreet tunnels. When the vehicles come out of the tunnel on to the normal smaller streets and alleys, the vehicles will operate like Google’s Self-Driving Cars. Pretty much nobody will own a car, and going anywhere will require the user(s) to request a ride, like an Uber ride, or even like pushing the button in a high-rise for an elevator. Mobility is on-demand. There would be less vehicles in Seoul moving far more people, safely, efficiently, with little energy, and with great pleasure.
The video shows the DoubleStreet but doesn’t help the viewer see how much faster you will move in Seoul. If a resident takes 40 minutes every morning to go to work, the new system can get them there in around just 10 minutes! Every day, just 10 minutes. We are talking about a difference in life quality that a horse rider experienced getting their first car in 1905.
By creating these upper decks for people and bikes, the residents of Seoul are given a tremendous amount of new public space all across the city. It will transform the city in a very positive manner.
And the additional benefit of putting the vehicles in these new tunneled streets, is the vehicles can go much faster in the city and pose no threat to people, children, or families on the sidewalks. These shared autonomous will get passengers to their destinations in many times with no stops, and the vehicles could be found going over 60 mph inside the city core as they are isolated from pedestrians and the system is 100% automated.
I encouraged the team to look at 3 types of vehicles in the system. The 2-person “pod” vehicle would be most common, as with the 6-seater that can be used in various applications. The 1-person vehicle shown is actually wider than the 2-person vehicle, and not one I was very interested in. There were other ideas for 1-seaters that would be able to travel right inside new buildings and activate other benefits. (I was unable to support this effort in the final weeks, and some changes were made and Paul Snyder, the transportation chair did a great job leading the effort in these final 2 weeks).
I know transportation engineers, transportation planners, as well as architects and urban designers, and none of these amazing talents could have proposed thisDoubleStreet concept in the same way. Why? Because they look to source existing vehicles for their projects and do not currently look to create new ones – even when custom vehicle creation is much more viable these days. And one thing not shown is commercial trucks, which a new type of very low truck would need to be produced to make this concept viable.
Trying to present a big idea like this in a short period of time is challenging. And yes, this could be considered absurd as it seeks to replace all the vehicles in a city. But, actually that is what so many cities want to do, well, make them into EVs that is. And the disruption to many jobs is a real issue and would be very challenging to address. But regardless DREAMING BIG is what car designers used to do, and we need to do more of in my opinion.
I expect you will not fully understand what it’s like to ride about the city with this system from this brief video, but I hope it generates some thinking for you on new ways we can transform / massively improve our cities, and our lives through innovative design solutions.