Public Works: Power-Walking in London
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Public Works: Power-Walking in London

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

As Olympic tourists trudge along London’s sidewalks this summer, they won’t just be burning off the butter chicken and chips: they’ll also be generating electricity. British company Pavegen has installed kinetic tiles in the corridor between the West Ham tube station and the Olympic Stadium. What the tiles do—besides prove that British ingenuity didn’t end with the steam engine—is create electrical power from the kinetic energy of pedestrian feet walking over them. The amount of electricity generated isn’t huge; even with Olympic-scale pedestrian traffic, the 30 tiles essentially light the walkway itself, with any left-over juice going to batteries. (The Pavegen website provides a running tally of the power being generated.)

But even if the tiles won’t be powering a Large Hadron Collider anytime soon, they’re capturing energy that was just scuffing up shoe soles before. And because the tiles are designed to be weather-proof and can be added to existing facilities, they could, if deployed on a larger scale, help save money while greening up high-traffic environments, like transportation hubs and shopping malls.

Renewable energy has had a low profile in Rob Ford’s Toronto so far, but there has been some progress. Witness Councillor Josh Matlow’s (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) recent motions at city council, which secured endorsements for a variety of solar panel installations across the city. And while as far as we know no power tile projects have been proposed for Toronto to date, there are numerous locations where the technology could work: the Eaton Centre, Pearson airport, the PATH system, and the Entertainment District. (Unlike solar panels, the effectiveness of kinetic tiles wouldn’t be affected by dousings of blood, vomit, and Axe Body Spray.)

Hogtown is at least as well suited as London to kinetic panel installs. Both cities have relatively compact cores, and both boast impressive walkability scores. It just remains to be seen whether business or government might be interested in taking a flyer on the technology.