Jarrett Walker has a thoughtful post about the section of Berlin’s Ringbahn in Charlottenburg.  That section runs alongside a freeway, and Walker’s interested in how successful the rail line is despite not running directly through the sort of neighbourhood where you can easily hop onto the train from the sidewalk.

I don’t want to disagree with Walker, especially when he says that if we don’t build rail lines along freeways in North America, that’ll just mean we build a lot less rail.  But as Walker himself acknowledges, it’s good to keep the costs of building along freeways in mind.  So I think it’s worth trying to get clear on why the Ringbahn is as successful as it is, and how it might differ from North American rail lines along freeways.

Especially in North America, when we’re talking about building along freeways, we’re often talking about rail lines that come in from the suburbs and either terminate in or pass through a central business district.  The thing is with a line like that, it could easily spend most of its route running through parts of a region that aren’t really accessible to pedestrians.  That’s Yonah Freemark’s complaint about Portland’s new Green Line, for example.  And here’s Pantograph Trolleypole at the Overhead Wire with a similar complaint about a rai line in Denver.

But that’s not really what Berlin’s Ringbahn is like at all.  First, even where it runs along a freeway, like in Charlottenburg, Ringbahn stations are never that far away from dense, walkable neighbourhoods.  As Walker says, “as soon as you step away from the open space in either direction, you are in a dense, well-maintained, relatively upscale part of the city.”  But also, it seems important that there are lots of sections of the Ringbahn that don’t run along the freeway — in, for example, Prenzlauerberg or near Ostkreuz.  Since the Ringbahn runs through a lot of very pedestrian-friendly places, it’s probably not that big a deal that it also runs along the freeway for certain parts of the line.

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