A suspended monorail in one German city proves that transportation infrastructure doesn’t have to obstruct access to parks and rivers.

Photo by the author.

The Schwebebahn is a suspended monorail that runs 8.3 miles through Wuppertal, a city laid out linearly along the River Wupper in western Germany.  Though the monorail may seem futuristic, the first segment opened in 1901 and the full line was finished in 1903.

The western end of the line, about 1.8 miles, is suspended over a few of the main commercial streets in the Vohwinkel neighborhood of the city.  The rest of the line, about 6.5 miles, runs high above the Wupper to the center and eastern end of the city.

Some cities are tempted to deck over their rivers since these waterways provide one of the few linear paths unobstructed by private property through existing cities.  Covering a river to build a highway or a railroad may eliminate the difficulty of razing neighborhoods, but doing so eliminates public access to the river. 

Twenty years ago, Providence removed the world’s widest bridge to daylight a river and create Waterplace Park, one of the city’s main attractions.  A decade ago, Seoul removed an elevated freeway above the Cheonggyecheon and created a popular riverside park.

Since Wuppertal’s Schwebebahn is already suspended from a relatively thin monorail superstructure, it is one of the few transportation systems that runs over a river without limiting access to and enjoyment of the natural resource.  In fact, a riverside park near the eastern terminal is popular spot for families to play in the river as Schwebebahn trains pass overhead.

Families play in the river as the train passes overhead. Photo by the author.

Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L’Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park’s (only) blog of record.