When it comes to metros across the globe, most cities do not run elevated track through downtown centres. Elevated lines may be cheaper and faster to build, but subway systems save space in dense urban areas and preserve a city’s aesthetic qualities.
The Paris Métro, one of the world’s most concentrated metro systems, operates 92% of its 214-km track underground. In Berlin, 80% of the 146 km line is underground. Readers may be surprised to learn that the historic London Underground only operates 45% of its 402 km Tube underground; that subterranean track, however, is concentrated in the city centre.
Namma Metro is an unusual case in this regard: 33 km of its currently operational 42.3 km track is elevated. For many Bengalureans, it is nothing but an eyesore. The massive stations loom above the former Garden City’s once-tree-lined roads, and the cement columns are bare of any social or commercial activity.
To its elevated lines, Bengaluru should look to a few other cities — Kuala Lumpur, Chicago, Berlin, Vienna, Tokyo — that do operate elevated lines. Here, the elevated track is carefully integrated into the city’s social and economic fabric.
Countless coffee and doughnut shops rest beneath the steel underbelly of Chicago’s characteristic ‘L’, which transports an estimated ridership of more than 7.6 lakh through its downtown Loop each day.
In Kuala Lumpur, visitors can wind through the capital’s impressive towers and historic mosques by elevated monorail; KL Sentral, the city’s central and largest transit hub, even has its own mall and food court. In Berlin, shops, restaurants, and biergartens inhabit the old brick viaducts supporting its Stadtbahn.
“Just last week I was in Berlin,” IISc urban planning professor Dr Ashish Verma told DH. “I was staying near Alexanderplatz metro station, which is a very prominent place in the heart of the city. The station is elevated. What I realised is that they very nicely used that space below to have restaurants, coffee shops, stores. It has become a very vibrant place—quite well gemmed with the overall surroundings. It adds to the beauty rather than acting as an ugly structure. Unfortunately, what happens in India, the space below the elevated structure is never really utilised well or maintained well.”
It’s not just Namma Metro: In Delhi, a majority of the metro lines have been constructed above ground, and Mumbai’s only operational line is elevated. In Kochi, architects have at least made an effort to integrate railway infrastructure into the city by incorporating solar panels, Kerala-themed stations, and vertical gardens along the elevated metro pillars.
Art in transit
More akin to the Kochi model, Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park station is unique among Namma Metro stops: The station features artwork by students and professionals through the ‘Art in Transit’ initiative. Colourful murals cover the walls, and playful lines of prose line the staircase steps.
Similarly, the New York City subway supports more than 350 musicians performing across 30 subway locations through its ‘Music Under New York’ programme. The Madrid metro — the sixth largest in the world — even uses its massive underground stations as public activity halls: one contains a 200m archaeological museum, and another hosted thousands of participants for a three-day fitness festival in 2011.
Despite Namma Metro’s struggles to integrate the elevated track, some Bengalureans still enjoy the birds-eye view. “Personally, I enjoy travelling on the elevated sections,” Verma said. “When you’re travelling in tubes, you can’t do anything. You can’t see the city. You’re just travelling for the sake of travelling. In elevated sections, you get to see the city differently.”
The metros of Paris, London, New York and others may be sleek and subterranean, but they can’t offer citizens a panoramic view of the city’s sprawling neighbourhoods like Namma Metro can.