Dupont Circle and underground

From the bottom of my feet…

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I’m sure we’ve all heard about all the crazy ideas folks dream up to generate power.  From adding technology to our shoes to connecting generators to our treadmills and exercise machines. Some of them are really not so crazy.

Like, here in DC, where one firm convinced the powers that be that they could provide power to a select area all night long.  To an area that has been promised all kinds of development over the years, only to have the idea prove bankrupt…or, never even started.

I provide this introduction to let you know that I am sanguine about this idea- but not totally positive it will work in the long term.  I’m talking about the Dupont Circle neighborhod in DC.  A series of tunnels provide some 75000 square feet of space.  And, for some 50+ years, with one short exception, these tunnels have been vacant.

Dupont Circle and underground

Back in 1949, the DC streetcars were tangling up traffic in the Dupont Circle badly.  That actually was true almost since the streetcar hit the roads (pun intended) in 1890.  So, DC built an underground network to let the aboveground system serve vehicles and pedestrians, with the tracks below to convey folks from N Street to R Street under Dupont Circle.  And, it worked.  Until it’s bar-mitzva; because in 1962, the streetcar system was retired in DC.

The area was retrofitted to serve as fallout shelters during the height of the Cold War.  But, like my yeshiva’s fallout shelter, that just meant a slew of water and rations gathered dust in the location.

And, then, right after my son was born, the idea to convert the system to a food court came about.  So, about a dozen food vendors opened up shop- and then closed their doors in short order.  The idea had no wind in its sails.

Now, the idea is that this region will become an art space.  And, above ground there will be a miniature park (in the center of the Circle).

And, a company called Pavegen is involved, to some degree.  On the southern side of Dupont Circle, they installed a series of paving stones.  OK,  not really.   They installed a concrete walk, with “floating” pavers on top.  For about $ 100,000, Pavegen and its 194 stones are planning to harvest energy as pedestrians walk across the park area.

Pavegen pavers


Pedestrians notice it right away.  (The circles in the above photo do NOT exist in real life.)  After all, the triangular stones wiggle when you walk on them.  Not enough to make one uncomfortable or to trip, just enough to harvest the energy from weighing down the stones as one walks upon them.   This footstep power provides enough energy to power LED lighting to keep the area lit overnight.  (OK.   Almost overnight.  For about 6 hours, as of now.)

  1. Pavegen has already done this at Heathrow Airport, so DC is not the first guinea pig.  (There also are installations at Harrods in London, Samsung Headquarters in South Africa and Federation Square in Melbourne, among others.) These reinforced plastic triangles mesh together to form the sidewalk.  The triangular edges rest on the silver connections that let the generators develop the power when the pavers are “squished down”. (One’s footsteps depress the corners, which activates the flywheels (replete with magnets and copper) to generate the power.)

With some 10,000 folks traversing the Dupont Circle area, the LED lights provide illumination for about 6 hours.  More folks, more hours of light.  (I have heard that Pavegen plans to develop an app that will “reward” pedestrians for their walking power.)

Hmm.  “Walk this way” becomes “light my path”?

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