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Mass Transit in London
In their overview of the planning of London, Burnham and Bennett dwelled on the haphazard, unplanned nature of the street plan, and the congestion it had created. Though the Plan of Chicago called for the construction of subways in central Chicago, it did not mention the already extensive system London whose oldest lines were already fifty years old in 1909. Neither did Burnham and Bennett mention the new plans for an extensive system in Paris that were currently underway. In retrospect this seems a major oversight, though perhaps explained in part by the Plan of Chicago’s emphasis throughout on the visible city.
London’s system of rapid transit electrical railways, known as the “underground” or the “tube,” is probably the most famous urban transportation system in the world. This fame may be due to, at least in part, the role visual culture has played in the promotion of the system, notably the iconic map of the system first developed by Harry Beck in 1933. The population growth and expansion of the physical extent of metropolitan London, and the advanced state of British railroading in the nineteenth century, created the circumstances that made this novelty possible and desirable. In the 1840s and 1850s, the great mainline railways that connected London with unprecedented speed and efficiency to all parts of Great Britain built terminal stations on the edge of the densest part of metropolitan London. It was generally too expensive and destructive to bring them further into the historic urban core. This meant that passengers had to travel to and from station with some difficulty. The construction of lighter and nimbler railways running underground to avoid chaotic surface traffic offered a solution to this problem. The first underground railways were the Metropolitan, District, and Circle lines. New lines built in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century focused on expanding the underground to the suburbs, and more than doubling the number of stations inside the original ring of lines.
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