Could Elon Musk's L.A. tunnel plan work in Vancouver?

Elon Musk has an idea to ease traffic congestion by boring deep into the ground to create tunnels for cars in L.A. But the City of Vancouver's former chief planner calls the idea "dumb and dangerous."

Former City of Vancouver chief planner calls the idea to ease congestion 'dumb and dangerous'

Elon Musk, right, pitched his idea to create underground tunnels in L.A. to solve traffic congestion at TED 2017 in Vancouver on April 28, 2017. TED’s head curator Chris Anderson is seated on the left. (Mike Femia/TED)

Most people, when they're sitting in gridlock get frustrated. But innovator Elon Musk gets ideas.

The man behind Tesla, the electric car maker, and SpaceX, the aerospace manufacturer, used the TED 2017 conference in Vancouver on Friday to share details of one of his newest ventures, The Boring Company, a concept to build underground tunnels for cars.

"One of the most soul-destroying things is traffic," Musk told TED's head curator Chris Anderson in a 30-minute Question-and-Answer session.

So why not find a way to make cars fly, Anderson asked. Musk replied that flying cars would create more stress.

"If there are flying cars going all over the place, that is not an anxiety-reducing situation," he said.

Rather, Musk's vision to ease traffic would involve sending cars underground, where they would speed through tunnels, first in Los Angeles and then in other cities.

Drivers would descend into the tunnels on a platform called a "skate." After that, the cars would move along tracks at speeds up to 200 km/h.

"You can alleviate any degree of congestion with a 3D tunnel network," he said referring to a visualization he showed at the conference.

'Dumb and dangerous'

Vancouver has its own traffic congestion problem, but former City of Vancouver chief planner Brent Toderian, said Musk's idea is "dumb and dangerous."

"At best it strikes me as the classic silver bullet, the classic easy fix to a tough and complex problem,"  Toderian said.

"It shows a profound lack of understanding about cities, about traffic, about people and probably about geology too."

For one, tunnelling is incredibly expensive, something Musk admits.

He aims to make tunnels narrow, roughly 3.6 metres in diameter, and develop boring equipment that can dig and reinforce the tunnel at the same time.

In order to make the concept viable, Musk said the technology behind tunnel construction would have to improve.

But Toderian argued that even if the tunnels could be built, they would be no more successful at solving traffic congestion than building more highways. More roads just encourage more people to drive, he said.

"It shows a lack of understanding about how transportation congestion actually works," Toderian said.

It's just puttering along, but we're making good progress.- Elon Musk on his new venture, The Boring Company

Toderian advises cities around the world on congestion problems and advocates for tolls, better land use, reduced car dependency and adding infrastructure for transit, walking and biking.

"Those things don't take new technology, just political will," he said, adding that he worries ideas like Musk's distract politicians and planners.

Musk didn't disclose any details about the The Boring Company's progress in tunnelling, adding the projects consumes about three per cent of his time.

"It's just puttering along, but we're making good progress," he said.

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