Regional and Urban Design Committee


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The Regional and Urban Design Committee (RUDC) aims to improve the quality of the regional and urban environment by promoting excellence in design, planning, and public policy in the built environment. This will be achieved through its member and public education, in concert with allied community and professional groups. Join us!

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Will Elon Musk's Chicago airport tunnel solve a transportation problem?

  • 1.  Will Elon Musk's Chicago airport tunnel solve a transportation problem?

    Posted 06-25-2018 07:52


    Mayor Rahm Emanuel and inventor Elon Musk don't only share memorable first names and national notoriety, they also both preside over troubled organizations: The Mayor over America's third largest city which is reeling from divisions by race, rising crime and a shrinking population, the inventor over  a highly valued company which has not made a profit yet and which is struggling to produce its most successful car model amidst rumors of sabotage.
    Banter among leaders in a failed subway station in Chicago (Tribune photo)

    Maybe the two had to find each other. This week the duo stood side by side in Chicago's underworld, specifically in the mothballed $400 million super-station to nowhere, a silent witness to a transportation dream having gone wrong.

    Musk and Emmanuel both were clad in tieless white shirts with the top buttons open to praise their deal. The Mayor taps the entrepreneur to build a high speed transit tunnel from downtown to O'Hare airport, a deal that costs the tax payer nothing, does the trip in under 20 minutes (apparently the city actually issued some kind of RFP, Musk estimates the actual time to be 12 minutes). Currently CTA's Blue Line needs 43 minutes for the same trip. All this and somehow also a use of the mothballed underground station for a fare not higher than an Uber ride, i.e. between $20-25. (The CTA charges $2.50) and an estimated construction cost of $1 billion. Musk thanked the Mayor "for betting on the Boring Company". The Mayor, in turn calls his gamble the fast lane to the future.
    "This is the fast lane to Chicago's future" (Mayor Emmanuel)
    the weak link at every subway station,the elevator. Every 30 seconds a van
    At the heart of the deal is a version of Musk's tunnel projects which initially made headlines as devices for a "hyperloop" but have since been down-scaled to regular tunnels with sleds running through them, no more talk about vacuums and speeds near the speed of sound. In California and Maryland some actual boring has allegedly already occurred. The tunnel technology in which relatively small boring machines cut through the underground much faster than the ever larger standard machines developed for train and road-tunnels is where Musk has placed his chips. His machines are supposed to work with high pressure, are battery powered and use the ....

    Read full article here

    [Klaus] Philipsen FAIA
    Archplan Inc. Philipsen Architects
    Baltimore MD
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  • 2.  RE: Will Elon Musk's Chicago airport tunnel solve a transportation problem?

    Posted 06-27-2018 01:05
    Musk's proposal and Emanuel's endorsement promise a hyped-up version of what is known in Chicago as the "honky tube" (elevated walkways thanks Michael Sorkin) i.e. another step in isolation for the benefit of the privileged few.

    Hubert Murray FAIA
    Cambridge MA

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  • 3.  RE: Will Elon Musk's Chicago airport tunnel solve a transportation problem?

    Posted 06-28-2018 23:26
    I don't think this idea represents good urban design nor good transportation.  It would be horribly claustrophobic and one more solution that disenfranchises citizens from their community.  Imagine going into a vehicle from downtown and coming out in an airport that could be anywhere, in any city.  And what about the 4m people that don't live downtown?    People need to see the sunlight, experience the city and connect with its citizens.  This would be just like the worm in dirt, eating it's way to oblivion.  I like the way Musk thinks outside the box.  We need more disrupters in our nation.  But this is just the wrong idea for transporting people.

    Richard von Luhrte FAIA
    Denver CO

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  • 4.  RE: Will Elon Musk's Chicago airport tunnel solve a transportation problem?

    Posted 07-02-2018 21:37
    Strikes me that it’s just the other end of the covered wagon spectrum, an efficient way to move from one urban destination to another, assuming it is financially sustainable.

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  • 5.  RE: Will Elon Musk's Chicago airport tunnel solve a transportation problem?

    Posted 07-02-2018 17:57
    Appreciate this discussion. Even if it doesn't meet the ideal standard of urban design interventions, we have had almost no significant long-distance transportation innovation in this country since the highways were built. While I would prefer to see a nationwide network of high speed rail, like Asian countries, this is a step in the right direction. The narrower tunnel diameter of 14'-0" is a limiting factor, because retrofitting tunnels later to fit higher density trains would be costly. The visuals showing a station without a building are decidedly minimal and an effective use of space. As to Musk's lack of profit, this underscores the need for design and construction professionals to become educated in finance and economics. This is a financial problem just as much as it is a design problem. 

    All things considered, I support the Boring Company. We absolutely, urgently, need a high speed solution connection Boston, NYC, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, LA, SF and Seattle. All top-tier businesses and universities are constantly shuttling people between these cities, and the Asian hubs. We need a more efficient solution that emits less carbon than air travel. My opinion is that the Boring company is on the right track. Future systems need to be high density, to match our rapidly urbanizing nation.

    Clair Wholean AIA LEED AP

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