Other High Lines: A National and International Movement to Reuse Elevated Rail Structures

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Other High Lines: A National and International Movement to Reuse Elevated Rail Structures

The High Line's conversion to public open space will transform 1.5 miles of Manhattan, but it also will serve as a model for cities across the country – and around the world. In recent months, FHL has consulted with two new groups working to create public open spaces on elevated rail structures like the High Line: the Reading Viaduct, in Philadelphia, and the Hofpleinlijn, in Rotterdam.

Below, you will find information about the Reading Viaduct and the Hofpleinlijn, and other elevated rail structures, including viaducts and bridges, in various stages of conversion to public open space. As you can see, cities around the world contain underused, underappreciated structures like the High Line. It's part of our mission at FHL to make the High Line a model for the innovative reuse of these structures to create open space, sustainable transportation options, and social and economic benefits.

We would love to make this list more comprehensive. If you know of a project we should add, please e-mail josh@thehighline.org.

Reading Viaduct, Philadelphia
Reading Railroad commuter trains used this 4.7-acre, mile-long viaduct, near the center of downtown Philadelphia, to enter Reading Terminal, at 12th and Market Street (currently the Grand Hall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center). Built in 1890, the viaduct is a combination of embankment sections bridged by steel structures and arched masonry bridges. Service stopped on the viaduct in 1984, when an underground commuter tunnel replaced the viaduct. Today the viaduct's four elevated tracks have been overtaken by grasses and trees. It offers spectacular views of the Callowhill neighborhood and the downtown Philadelphia skyline. In 2003, residents of the Reading Viaduct neighborhood formed the Reading Viaduct Project, with the goal of transforming the viaduct to an elevated walkway in conjunction with the redevelopment of their neighborhood.

The Hofpleinlijn, Rotterdam
The Hofpleinlijn is a 1.2-mile-long concrete rail viaduct built in 1908. CityCorp, a partnership of housing associations based in Rotterdam, envisions reuse of the Hofpleinlijn viaduct – a national landmark – as a catalyst for development of the adjacent communities. In 2003, CityCorp commissioned New Amsterdam Development Consultants, a New York City-based company, to study New York's High Line and the work of Friends of the High Line as models for reuse strategies for the Hofpleinlijn.
(Web site information is limited. For more information, contact Frank Uffen, uffen@nadcny.com, (212) 371-9860)

Bloomingdale Trail, Chicago
This elevated embankment with 37 bridges on the North Side of Chicago is owned by Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail). The mission of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail is to transform the embankment into a mixed-use trail. The plan has the support of all the local aldermen along its route, and the City of Chicago has begun developing concept plans for the Trail as a component of its Logan Square Open Space Plan. In addition, the City funded an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project.

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
In development since 2000, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail will, when completed, stretch from Mile Marker 106 in Key Largo to Mile Marker 0 in Key West. In many sections, it will adaptively reuse overseas bridges of Henry Flagler's railroad route as bike/pedestrian trails. There are 23 historic bridges in total, and three of them have already been listed on the National Register. 17 can feasibly be retrofitted for trail use. Five of them have already been opened to trail use in the Saddlebunch Keys, with a combined length of four miles. Another historic bridge is open to bike and pedestrian traffic at Pigeon Key. Over the course of the next four years, the State Division of Parks will concentrate on retrofitting bridges between Key West and Islamorada.

Harsimus Stem Embankment, Jersey City
Built in 1902, the Pennsylvania Railroad Harsimus Stem Embankment is a former rail viaduct that runs for six blocks along Sixth Street in downtown Jersey City. It was entered into the State Register of Historic Places in 1999, is eligible for the National Register, and was named a Municipal Landmark in January 2003. The Embankment once served as the eastern freight terminus for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the most powerful railroad in the nation, and contributed to the growth of the Port of New York and the greater metropolitan area. Seven tracks ran on top of the structure, which descended almost to grade level at its eastern end, where it entered the Harsimus Yards on the Hudson River waterfront. Goods shipped via the Embankment were loaded onto a flotilla of boats for transport across the Hudson River, New York Harbor, and the East River. To the south, at the Pennsylvania Railroad passenger terminal—once the largest passenger terminal in the world—travelers ended their cross-country rail trips and boarded ferries for New York or destinations beyond. That terminal is long gone, but the freightway remains. In 1998, the Embankment Preservation Coalition formed with the mission of preserving the historic structure and developing its top as passive open space, integrating the site into a network of local and regional pedestrian and biking trails. In 2003, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, which is joining local trails in a 2600-mile pedestrian and bicycling path from Florida to Maine, endorsed a route through New Jersey that includes the Embankment. In 2004, Jersey City Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham announced he would take the Embankment by eminent domain from Conrail, and the Municipal Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of Green Acres funding for acquisition.

The Promenade Plantée, Paris
From the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, the city of Paris successfully converted the 19th-century elevated Viaduc Daumesnil, in the 12th Arrondissement, near the Bastille, into a pedestrian walkway called the Promenade Plantée. Rail traffic had stopped on the viaduct in 1969. The 3-mile linear park, designed by Philippe Mathieu and Jacques Vergely, is lavishly planted and offers stairs and elevators for access. Retail spaces, designed by Patrick Berger, were created in the spaces under the masonry arches supporting the structure. The project as a whole helped revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, inspiring new residents and businesses to come to the area. The Promenade Plantée also goes by two other names: le Viaduc des Arts, and la Coulée Verte.

Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis
This 2,100-foot-long granite and limestone bridge, crossing the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, was built in 1882-3 to move freight and passengers across the river. It is the only stone arch bridge to cross the Mississippi, and it incorporates an unusual 6-degree curve on the west bank of the river to provide smooth access to the Union Railway Depot (now demolished). It was a working rail bridge until 1978. Rehabilitation of this National Historic Engineering Landmark began in 1993. It now accommodates pedestrians and cyclists, and it is part of the two-mile St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail. The bridge offers excellent views of adjacent St. Anthony Falls, the only true waterfall on the Mississippi River. It also connects to Mill Ruins Park, a historical park containing the ruins of the 19th century flour mills that were major engines of the Minneapolis economy. Nearby, a former Northern Pacific rail bridge (known locally as "Bridge 9") spanning the Mississippi River just downstream of St. Anthony Falls was reopened as the Dinkytown Bikeway Connection in June 2000. The 1400-foot-long bridge was purchased by the city of Minneapolis for $1 in 1986 after years of disuse and was refurbished in 2000-2001 using federal TEA-21 funding. The rail-to-trail conversion is part of the city's extensive bikeway network and connects the East and West Bank campuses of the University of Minnesota.

The High Line, New York City
The High Line, a 1.5-mile-long elevated rail structure on Manhattan's West Side, was constructed in the 1930s as part of one of New York City's largest investments in transportation infrastructure, called the West Side Improvement Project. No trains have run on it in over 20 years. A lush urban wilderness has seeded itself on the High Line's tracks. In 1999, neighborhood residents founded Friends of the High Line, a non-profit organization, with the mission of converting the structure to an elevated public space – a greenway or promenade. In December 2002, the City of New York took the first step in converting the High Line to a walkway through federal rails-to-trails legislation. In March, 2004, Friends of the High Line, in conjunction with the City of New York, officially started the process that will lead to the selection of the design team that will create the master plan for the new public open space. A design team selection is expected by September 2004.