Taking freight underground: Cityology Delivery Systems (CDS)

Taking freight underground: Cityology Delivery Systems (CDS)

By Henry Metcalf, Graduate Engineer

In 2017 the City of London Corporation, in association with Brookfield, launched a series of competitions to find solutions to the City’s unique challenges in providing better green spaces, buildings and infrastructure. In particular, the City wanted 'smart infrastructure' that would improve security, energy and transport that would improve public spaces for pedestrians. In response to this challenge, I created a transport solution 'Cityology Delivery Systems' (CDS) to completely remove freight vehicles from the streets of London by delivering freight through water mains.

Freight vans and lorries account for only 20% of all entries and exits into the City of London’s streets but are in fact the predominant users of road space and hence public space. The average Passenger Car Unit (PCU) value for a freight vehicle in the City is 2.2- eleven-fold higher than a bicycle and five and half fold higher than a motorbike. What is more, they require loading bays large enough to accommodate their vast size throughout the City’s road network, form eyesores when unloading, block views of the street scene and create barriers to pedestrian navigation. Further, the swept path of turning freight vehicles is so large size that junctions and corners throughout the City are required to be much greater than they otherwise would be. Freight vehicles are also the main safety hazard to pedestrians and the main source of street level pollution.

The Cityology Delivery System (CDS) removes all freight vehicles from the City’s streets and thus allows the conversion of vast amounts of space formerly given over to freight vehicles for the sole use of pedestrians.   The CDS is an infrastructure intervention that will paid for through a comprehensive system of fees and charges for freight vehicles entering the City.

The CDS is a simple network of 1m diameter tubes sunk beneath the existing road network in the City with short spurs leading up from the tubes to every building. Freight vehicles unload their goods at one of several designated distribution points on the City’s periphery where the freight is put in one or more containers ready for delivery to their destination. The containers are dropped under their own weight into the spur tube leading to the main tube network which, like existing water mains is filled with water moving under low pressure. The containers are equipped with a simple ultrasound device which emits a particular frequency depending on the destination of the container. Just before approaching the correct spur tube leading up to the building that spur is aerated or filled with thousands of bubbles. This quickly lowers the water pressure sufficiently for the container of freight to be sucked up that particular spur and into the building. Rubbish and waste within the building can be put into a container and inserted back into the main tube network by falling down the spur under its own weight.  Thus, the CDS removes both the need for deliveries and refuse collection via the City’s roads.

The fee system to pay for the construction of the CDS is simple and straightforward. All freight vehicles will drive over an electronic weighbridge upon entering the City at which point automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) is used to record the vehicle’s weight, type and size on a central database. Upon leaving the City, all freight vehicles will drive over another electronic weighbridge and the database will record the change in weight. Two key parameters will be used to charge freight vehicles – the proportion of empty space in the freight vehicle entering the City and then the proportion of empty space upon leaving the City.  Vehicles will be charged more for entering the City the more empty they are and charged less for leaving the City the more empty they are. These fees are summarized below.

This fee system will encourage a shift to freight vehicles entering the City’s streets fully laden and leaving the City’s streets empty. This will immediately help to reduce the number of freight vehicles entering the City by encouraging freight consolidation and it will also raise funds for the construction of the CDS which will permanently exclude freight vehicles from the City.

The CDS uses the proven technology of water mains engineering to deliver a reliable system. The simple innovation of aeration to allow containers within a tube to go up to a building represents a new way to deliver and remove freight from all buildings in the City without the need for freight vehicles on the roads.