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Experts lay out the mind-bending impact of burying all the world’s roads: ‘There’s almost something magical about it’

“Human beings tend to like those things to be operating in the background.”

"Human beings tend to like those things to be operating in the background."

Photo Credit: iStock

A recent article on the BBC website presented an interesting thought experiment: What if all the world’s roads were turned into tunnels?

The benefits of taking global traffic and sticking it underground would be immense, according to several experts. The most obvious is that it would free up a ton of space — and that space could be used for any number of things that would help people, from parks to other green spaces to more robust public transit systems.

In the United States, highway construction has historically been used to enact racist public planning policies, decimating Black communities by forcing people out of their homes and building roads right through their neighborhoods. Certainly, it would be better if those roads were underground instead, or if they didn’t exist at all.

Bradley Garrett, a cultural geographer at University College Dublin and author of “Subterranean London: Cracking the Capital,” told the BBC: “Human beings tend to like those things to be operating in the background. There’s almost something magical about it.”

There would also be big benefits to wildlife, as many animals’ access to parts of their habitats have been cut off by roads. Roads that go through these areas prevent predators from reaching their prey and animals from reaching each other to reproduce. In addition, animals that do attempt to cross roads are frequently killed by cars.

There is also the issue of air pollution, to which car traffic greatly contributes. By taking all the traffic and putting it below ground, the air above ground would undoubtedly be much cleaner and healthier to breathe. (The air in the tunnels would also undoubtedly be extremely unhealthy to breathe, which would mean we would need very good air filtration in cars, but the technology for that is well on its way.) 

Noise pollution, another drawback of car traffic, could also be greatly reduced by pushing it below cities.

While there are certainly some risks to tunnels — most notably, from flooding, which has become more frequent and severe in recent years — BBC pointed out that tunnels are actually more resistant to earthquake damage than one might expect.

While taking all the roads in the world and transforming them into tunnels is obviously not a realistic thing that is going to happen, the article makes an interesting and compelling case for more tunnel-related infrastructure in the future.

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