London’s famous subway system is known as the Tube, but if a radical new vision for the city’s roadways becomes a reality, Brits are going to have be more specific. An architecture firm is proposing a system of small underground tubes to transport cars throughout the city on what’s essentially a virtual, autonomous conveyor belt, leaving the surface-level streets open to pedestrians.

“CarTube,” the brainchild of Lars Hesselgren and his research team at the architecture practice PLP, isn’t just a normal series of tunnels. Hesselgren unveiled his proposal at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on Friday, explaining that the network of barely car-width tubes would link with existing roads. Motorists would drive their electric, internet-enabled vehicles into an entrance ramp and let the tube do the rest of the work. They’re not quite mini-Hyperloops but they could totally change the way we get around.

Drivers select a destination and a time-slot, and then their vehicles insert themselves into the flow of traffic, which zips along at about 50 miles per hour. Every car is locked into position with a two-metre gap between each ride, which should prevent delays and accidents.

People who are riding personal cars could drop them off in a “car stack” — a sort of automatic valet service — and take an elevator up to the surface.

Here's what the car stack might look like.
Here's what the car stack might look like.

“The real issue is control,” Hesselgren explained, according to The Guardian. “Trains and tubes have controls; cars don’t. Autonomous cars do, but they don’t work well with pedestrians, cyclists, and other unexpected elements. The only way you can have a high-capacity car network in a city is to have a dedicated track.”

PLP says CarTube is “the next best thing to teleportation,” and claims that the system could reduce travel times by 75 percent of what they currently are in London, according to a case study. They’re looking at other cities as well, however.

Making this idea a reality is a long, long ways off — if it happens at all. The CarTube team is meeting with Google and other possible partners in the next year, but don’t expect to drive into a claustrophobic tunnel anytime soon.

In New York City, CarTube could help you avoid Times Square, the worst place on Earth.
In New York City, CarTube could help you avoid Times Square, the worst place on Earth.

Photos via PLP