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Could a London Subway Line Be Replaced by Moving Walkways?

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NBBJ

The London Underground doesn’t have to necessarily be a system of trains. That’s the argument presented by NBBJ, an architecture firm (and the designers behind the shadowless skyscraper), which has proposed replacing one of the city's subway lines with a moving walkway. 

The plan focuses on swapping out London Circle Line’s 17 miles of train tracks for three different lanes of travelators, like those common to airport terminals. Each lane would move at a different speed, so you could enter the track at the slowest (3 mph) and move your way up to the fastest (15 mph).

The designers posit that this mode of travel would actually be faster than the current train route, which reaches 20 mph at its fastest point, and is often overcrowded and delayed. Trains must come to a full stop for passengers to exit, but a moving walkway never stops, meaning that people who don’t want to get out at a particular station would continue on their way seamlessly. Those who want to exit would merely move over to the slow lane and step off onto a platform. (Unlike airport people movers, these wouldn’t end every few feet to allow passengers to exit.) The design even provides a moving bench for those who can’t stand up for their entire route. And for those who are willing to stand and walk the whole way, it provides a novel way to get moving during the commute.

“NBBJ was inspired to develop this concept to open new possibilities for putting the fun back into traveling on the Underground, for tourists and Londoners alike,” the firm explains in a press release. The concept would affect some 114 million Circle Line passengers per year.

The Circle Line's Notting Hill Gate station (pictured in the concept image above) as it looks today. Image Credit: Timitrius via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

NBBJ isn’t the first architectural firm to propose a radical reuse of some of London’s underground infrastructure. Gensler, another design firm, recently proposed turning a disused series of London subway tunnels into a cycle highway and retail hotspot. It’s not likely that London’s going to tear down its transit infrastructure and totally rethink how it moves people around the city, but it is facing a major challenge in transportation. The city predicts that by 2050, an increase in the city’s population and its demand for public transit could increase rail trips by up to 80 percent [PDF]. Maybe London could use some radical transportation ideas after all.

All images courtesy NBBJ unless otherwise noted.

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Dave Einsel, Stringer, Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
9.7-Million-Year-Old Teeth Discovered in Germany Have Scientists Puzzled
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Dave Einsel, Stringer, Getty Images

Scientists in Germany say they've found ape teeth that are surprisingly similar to the teeth of an early human relative dating to millions of years later. As the Independent reports, the team of experts unearthed a pair of 9.7-million-year-old fossilized teeth that, they say, have some of the same features as the teeth of the hominid Australopithecus afarensis.

Scientists from the Natural History Museum in Mainz found the fossils a year ago in nearby Eppelsheim but have waited until now to publish their findings—partly because they weren't sure what to make of the puzzling discovery. Of the two teeth, a canine and a molar, the canine tooth bears a striking resemble to that from "Lucy," one of the first known ancient human relatives to walk upright, who lived in Africa some 3.2 million years ago.

"They are clearly ape teeth," researcher Herbert Lutz told local media in a press conference. "Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim. This is a tremendous stroke of luck, but also a great mystery."

They dated the fossils using the remains of an extinct horse which was found buried in the same spot. In their paper, the scientists describe the canine’s similarities to other remains found in the lower half of the globe, but they still don't have answers to many of the questions the report raises. They plan to continue examining the teeth for clues. The public will also have a chance to see the teeth for themselves, first at a state exhibition this month, and then at Mainz's Natural History Museum.

[h/t Independent]

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science
6 Pioneering Facts About Mary Leakey

Fossil bones and the earliest footprints of our human ancestors are just a few of Mary Leakey’s groundbreaking discoveries. Get to know the legendary paleoanthropologist, and learn how her serendipitous finds forever altered scientists’ understanding of human origins.

1. MARY LEAKEY WAS A BORN EXPLORER.

Mary Leakey (1913-1996), née Mary Nicol, was destined to be an explorer: Her father, Erskine Nicol, was a landscape painter, and the family traveled extensively through France, Italy, and Switzerland. While staying in a commune in southern France, 12-year-old Mary became interested in archaeology after meeting Elie Peyrony, a French prehistorian excavating a cave. Mary dug through his tiny finds—which included fine points, scrapers, and flint blades—and sorted them into an amateur classification system.

2. FOSSIL HUNTING WAS IN HER BLOOD ...

Leakey’s parents were artists, but hunting for fossils was part of her heritage: Her maternal great-great-grandfather was John Frere, an 18th-century English government official and antiquarian who’s credited with first recognizing Stone Age flint objects as early weapons and tools.

3. ... BUT SHE WASN'T A GREAT STUDENT.

Leakey was intelligent, but she also had a rebellious streak. As a teen, she was expelled from several Roman Catholic convent schools—once for intentionally creating an explosion in a chemistry lab. Figuring she wasn’t cut out for a classroom, Leakey never finished high school, and decided to pursue independent studies in art, geology, and archaeology at the University of London instead. (“I had never passed a single school exam, and clearly never would,” the scientist later wrote in her 1986 autobiography Disclosing the Past.)

4. LEAKEY WAS AN ARTIST WHEN SHE MET HER FUTURE HUSBAND AND RESEARCH PARTNER, LOUIS LEAKEY.

Mary Leakey—who inherited her father’s artistic skills— ended up working as an illustrator for archaeological digs. An archaeologist introduced her to Cambridge University paleontologist Louis Leakey, who needed an illustrator for his book Adam’s Ancestors (1934). The two became lovers, but their union resulted in scandal, as Leakey was still married at the time. The couple married in 1936, after Leakey divorced his first wife.

5. MARY LEAKEY'S FIRST BIG DISCOVERY WAS PROCONSUL AFRICANUS.

Mary Leakey's first major discovery came in 1948 when she found a fossil skull fragment of Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of apes and humans, which later diverged into two separate species. The fossil was thought to be more than 18 million years old.

6. ANOTHER ONE OF MARY LEAKEY'S FAMOUS FINDS CAME COURTESY OF ELEPHANT POOP.

In 1978, Leakey was on an expedition in Laetoli, in Tanzania, when members of her camp engaged in a spirited elephant dung fight. A scientist fell down, and he noticed strange indentations on the ground that had been recently exposed by erosion. They turned out to be tracks made around 3.7 million years prior, from animals that had walked over damp volcanic ash. Examining these prints took several years, but the team's efforts paid off when Leakey noted that one of the prints seemed to be made by a hominin. This discovery showed that early humans began walking upright long before scientists thought they had.

Additional source: Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings, Virginia Morell

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