From Urban Blight to Urban Delight – A Walk on New York City’s High Line [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
Once it carried freight trains high above the New York City streets. But, after being abandoned for decades the city has turned an eyesore into a treasure. I finally got the chance to walk on the High Line Park and was absolutely stunned by what was up there. And – there’s plenty more to come!
In the 1800’s New York City streets were packed with not only pedestrians, but railroad lines running right down city streets. Although the railroads paid workers to walk in front of the trains waving flags, accidents happened often, and a large number of pedestrians lost their lives trying to cross. The situation was so bad, that the line running down 10th Avenue was nicknamed “Death Avenue.”
In 1929, the city and the New York Central railroad agreed to elevate 13 miles of railroad line that included the High Line. This eliminated 105 dangerous crossings on city streets.
The High Line officially opened to trains in 1934, but was not restrained to city blocks. The elevated trestles ran over and through buildings and in some cases allowed direct access for factories to have deliveries right in their building. Several manufacturing plants had the trains running right through them! This saved time and money, since goods never had to touch a city street!
However, as shipping by truck became more popular by the 1950’s, the lower half of the structure from the current southern end at Gansevoort Street was demolished. The final train ran on the rest of the line in 1980, when it too was abandoned.
Wild plants and urban explorers took over the structure which stood in ruins for decades,
In 1999, Robert Hammond and Joshua David, two local residents formed a non-profit group Friends of the High Line. Their goal was to transform the abandoned structure into an elevated park as had been done to the Promenade Planteé in Paris. Support for the project grew and in 2004, the city promised $50 million to officially create it.
After years of design and construction, the first phase of the park opened on June 8, 2009 from 20th Street to the end of the structure at Gansevoort Street.
The original rails and ties have been removed and plants, benches, and new lighting have been installed. Thousands of native plants, flowers, and trees now stretch the length of the open portions of the line. 210 different species of grasses, coneflowers, and birch trees are featured.
Concrete walkways line most of the trail and parts are elevated above the structure on metal grates. One section features a thin flow of running water over the surface that allows visitors to take off their shoes and splash about. Each section of the trail has its own unique feature, such as lounges, benches, and even a lawn!
Several other sections feature rows of seats, arraigned in an auditorium style that looks out onto Manhattan streets. Several high level promenades also offer sweeping views of the city.
It is on this section that the 337 room Standard Hotel is elevated on pedestals above the line. The walkway passes underneath the structure, which opened in 2009. Below the High Line, the Standard has turned the area into a ground level open space that includes several street side restaurants and a beirgarten.
Where the line passes through the Chelsea Market building, several street carts are lined up selling coffee, BBQ, desserts, Italian ices, and even crafts. The Blue Bottle Coffee Cart has been noted as having some of the best coffee in the city. Smokeline, a BBQ cart, has also been noted as having some of the best BBQ in the city. The Chelsea Market passage also features dozens of tables with chairs and is often used to host art shows or bands.
Also at Chelsea Market, The Porch, a new restaurant on a spur of the line, is the first full al fresco restaurant in the park.
The second section of the High Line opened on June 7, 2011 from 20th Street to 30th Street.
A unique feature of this section is a large grass lawn at 23rd street. The lawn is open to picnic, sit, or to relax. The lawn is closed on Monday, Tuesday, and after heavy rains to allow crews to repair and maintain it.
A third phase is planned on the remaining rail yards structure north from 30th Street to the Jacob Javitz Center.
When I visited the park last weekend, the line was packed with both locals and tourists – even in the 90 degree heat! In some places where the walkway narrows, people cue into a long, slow line that winds its way up the structure. As more and more people discover this park, expect that to continue.
To access the park, stairways are available at the following locations:
• Gansevoort Street
• 14th Street
• West 16th Street
• West 18th Street
• West 20th Street
• 23rd Street
• West 26th Street
• West 28th Street
• West 30th Street
Elevator access is also provided at:
• 14th Street
• West 16th Street
• 23rd Street (temporarily closed due to damage from Superstorm Sandy)
• West 30th Street
No bicycles, skate boards, dogs, or smoking are allowed in the park.
The line is open until 11pm, with lighting installed to illuminate the walkways. There are also special High Line videos that are projected onto several buildings as another feature after dark.
Projects that turn abandoned railroads into public parks have become quite popular, now that thousands of miles of railroad lines are abandoned across the country. It is cheaper for a city or state to take an abandoned railroad bed, pave it, clean it up, and open it as a park, instead of having to demolish all of the structures.
The Ghost Town Trail that crosses Indiana County, Pennsylvania, originally started in 1994 as a trial that reclaimed a 13 mile abandoned railroad line. Now, it connects to an extensive network of trails on the western end of the state. That project, too, has been a success and has brought tourists to otherwise sleepy old mining towns. The trail network continues to grow, reclaiming abandoned lines, not only in Pennsylvania, but across the country.
With the success of the High Line other cities have proposed opening their own elevated parks, including Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago.
Name: The High Line
What: former elevated railroad turned into a park
Where: New York City
Length: over 1 mile
Open: Daily 7am – 11pm
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:
Whether you’re a local or tourist, make this a must do when you visit New York City. Expect crowds and lines on the weekends and as the popularity increases. When the park first opened, it catered mostly to Chelsea neighborhood locals, but the secret is out!
I really enjoyed my walk up the entire line and there’s a lot to see and do. A great deal of thought has been placed on the design and each section is quite unique. Make sure you take some time and look around. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
There is also scaffolding over a section near the north end at 30th Street where a building is undergoing renovation.