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Files with Federal Surface Transportation Board to Commence "Rail-banking" Negotiations with Railroad

Signaling an important change in policy towards the High Line elevated rail structure, on Manhattan's Far West Side, the City of New York filed this week with the Surface Transportation Board (STB), in Washington, DC, requesting that negotiations begin to transform the High Line into an elevated public walkway.

"The City seeks a Certificate of Interim Trail Use for the Highline viaduct," stated the City's December 17 filing to the STB. A Certificate of Interim Trail Use, or CITU, would start a process called "rail-banking," which allows out-of-use rail corridors to be reused as recreational trails.

"This is a major first step towards the creation of a spectacular new public space that will benefit New Yorkers for years to come," said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line (FHL), a non-profit group working to transform the out-of-use rail structure into an elevated walkway. "Much work still needs to be done, but we are confident that a walkway on this unique, historic structure will ultimately allow residents and visitors to walk between three vibrant neighborhoods without ever encountering motorized traffic. It will provide much-needed public open space. And by adding value to surrounding properties, it will contribute to the City's long-term economic health. We applaud the Bloomberg administration for its visionary appreciation of the High Line's potential to be a vital asset to the City."

If the STB grants the City's request for a Certificate of Interim Trail Use, a period of negotiation would begin between the City and CSX Corporation, leading towards a trail-use agreement for the High Line.

The City's request was included in a filing that rebuffed a petition by a small group of demolition proponents who sought to speed proceedings to tear down the High Line. Chelsea Property Owners (CPO), whose members own land under the High Line, had requested the STB's approval of a 2001 demolition agreement that the City signed during the former mayoral administration. That demolition agreement was found to be "undertaken in violation of 'lawful procedure' and... an 'error of law,'" by a New York State Supreme court justice in March 2002. The case is on appeal.

Arguing on December 17 against CPO's petition to the STB, the City stated, "There is serious doubt whether or not a [Demolition] Agreement will ever become a final, valid, and binding agreement among the parties thereto." It noted that the demolition agreement was missing at least one crucial signature; that the railroad that manages the High Line had requested changes to the agreement; and that the 4-week period for completion of the agreement had long passed.

Friends of the High Line has advocated for the reuse of the High Line as an elevated walkway since 1999. The group is about to announce the start of an open design competition seeking ideas for the High Line's reuse. Updates about that competition can be found on the competition's website,

Built in the 1930s to remove dangerous freight trains from City streets, the High Line structure and its easement are owned by New York Central Lines, a wholly owned subsidiary of Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail). As a Conrail shareholder, CSX acquired asset management of the Line in 1999. The federal legislation that permits rail-banking of the High Line was enacted by Congress as part of the National Trails System Act, signed by President Reagan in 1983. Railbanking and similar rails-to-trails initiatives have created 12,000 miles of rail-trails across the United States.

The High Line reuse initiative is supported by, among others, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, City Councilmember Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, State Senator Thomas Duane, State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, and U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Earlier this year, FHL published "Reclaiming the High Line," the first-ever reuse study of the structure, conducted in partnership with the Design Trust for Public Space. In March, the Preservation League of New York State included the High Line on its "Seven to Save" list of the State's most valuable, threatened historic sites. During the summer 2002, FHL conducted a study examining the feasibility and economic impact of the High Line's conversion. That study is expected to be made public in early 2003. For more information, go to

Friends of The High Line is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and reuse of the High Line, an elevated rail structure on the West Side of Manhattan. For more information please visit the FHL website at or send e-mail to


Friends of the High Line
Hudson Guild
441 West 26th Street, Room 225
New York, NY 10001
(212) 631-9188
(212) 631-9185 fax

To help us launch the design competition with the excitement and festivity it deserves, Diane von Furstenberg has generously offered to host a party at her West Village studio, a few blocks south of the High Line's Gansevoort Street terminus.

January 29th, 6:30 – 8:30 PM
DVF Studio
389 West 12th Street
Tickets start at $75
To reserve, call (212) 631-9188, or email

FHL will launch its eagerly anticipated design competition later this month. The open, one-stage ideas competition will challenge entrants to create compelling visions for a new, urban, public space on 1.45 miles of existing New York City infrastructure – the High Line. Specifically, entrants will be encouraged to define a comprehensive vision for the High Line; to identify design solutions to the challenge of providing universal (A.D.A.-compliant) access to the structure's elevated platform; and to provide a creative response to the High Line's urban context – especially the structure's unique ability to interact with existing and future construction. The contest will culminate in a well-publicized exhibition at a high-profile Manhattan venue, accompanied by a publication and a Web site.

Who can enter: The competition is open to architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers, artists, community members, and all other interested parties. Multi-disciplinary teams are encouraged to enter.

Registration fee: $100 for individual/team entries. Architecture schools can pay a per-studio fee of $300 and enter up to 15 separate student entries.

Deadlines: Registrations will be accepted between the competition's launch, in mid-December 2002, and April 4, 2003. Deadline for submissions: May 5, 2003.

Jurors: Architects Steven Holl, Bernard Tschumi, and Marilyn Jordan Taylor; curator Lynne Cook, of Dia Center for the Arts; a FHL representative; and four additional jurors, to be announced.

For more info: Following the official launch, the competition guidelines, registration forms, and background research will be available at

On November 25, 2002, the Surface Transportation Board (STB), in Washington, DC, issued a decision favorable to Friends of the High Line.

The STB denied a petition for a declaratory order requested by Chelsea Property Owners (CPO), proponents of High Line demolition. In brief, CPO had asked the STB to declare that New York City's 2012 Olympic bid, which includes a proposal to build a stadium at the 30th Street Rail Yards, would make it impossible to convert the High Line into a public, elevated walkway through the federal "rail-banking" program. FHL filed a brief in opposition to CPO's request, citing the many undecided issues that currently surround both the Olympic bid and the High Line reuse initiative. The STB decided in favor of FHL, denying the petition for a declaratory order, stating, "there is no reason to institute a declaratory order proceeding to resolve issues that may never arise."

Two other High Line-related cases are still pending before the STB. Both await filings from the City of New York, which are due on December 17, 2002, before they can be decided. In addition, a decision is pending on CPO's appeal of FHL's State Supreme Court victory last March. FHL will report decisions in any of these cases via this email newsletter.

Get-together for Neighborhood Business Owners Tuesday, October 15th, 6-8pm

Five leading business owners in the High Line neighborhood, in partnership with Friends of the High Line, have formed a coalition of business owners whose mission is to work towards the preservation and reuse of the High Line. If you own a business in the High Line area, and you support preserving the High Line for reuse as an elevated public open space, please contact Chelsea-Village Business Owners (CVBO). Virtually no work is required. But your name and business name, added to letters and statements, can greatly energize the movement to save the High Line.

CVBO will be hosting a casual, social get-together for neighborhood business owners on Tuesday, October 15, 6-8, at Glass, 287 10th Avenue, between 26th and 27th Street. RSVP required. If you’re a business owner or manager and would like to be a part of it, please contact Dahlia Elsayed at (212) 631-9188, or email CVBO at

“A Magic-Carpet View of the City”

By Philip Connors
Thursday, August 22, 2002 – New York

Having moved here from Montana nearly four years ago, I found it difficult to suppress the urge to climb, to explore, to seek out remnants of wilderness. I was eager to get up – not by an elevator but by my own two feet. A few climbing adventures in industrial Queens provided gorgeous city views, but factory rooftops were no match for timbered peaks.

Then I noticed the High Line.

A strip of elevated railroad on Manhattan's West Side, it runs from 34th Street and 12th Avenue to Gansevoort Street in the meatpacking district. It is a treasure now mostly because it's the structure that time forgot.

It beckoned because it was . . . green. From 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, I looked up and saw a strip of meadow in the sky. I had to get there. But how? Now owned by CSX, a Virginia-based rail and shipping company, the track was built in the 1930s as a freight line. It carried its last shipment, three cars of frozen turkeys, in 1980. Passenger trains never used it. Thus, no stairs or other means of pedestrian access. I followed its path several blocks north until I spied a route up. This required climbing a fence, heaping old automobile tires into a pile, scaling the pile and heaving myself onto a factory rooftop, then shimmying up steel support beams onto the tracks. (Only later – much later – did I find an easier way.)

Behold! The city opened like a flower, the towers of Midtown cupping the Empire State Building like petals around a gleaming silver stamen. Even more remarkable than the urban panorama was the view at my feet. A swath of Manhattan had gone to seed, reverting to a kind of native prairie: knee-high grasses, white and yellow wildflowers, a miracle born of neglect. I fell for it instantly and have gone back again and again.

At 30th Street the tracks run east-west for two long blocks, then curve south again. Here a corrugated tin barricade blocks the way, but someone has torn a gash in it just big enough to allow a man to slip through. Recently, an artist painted a mural on the back side. It depicts the view to the north and west, including the river and the low-slung black box of the Javits Center. In the sky are the words "save the tracks," as if written by an airplane skywriter. On the right-hand side of the curve, going south, a sculpture collection sits on a rooftop: funky-looking abstractions fashioned of multicolored hoops and painted wire mesh, like the offspring of a Slinky and a tennis racket.

Soon you come to another tin barrier. This one you must crawl beneath on your belly. When you emerge on the other side, you see something sublime: a small garden with a tiny maple tree, a miniature pine and a patch of daisies and sunflowers. The gardener tends this lovely plot by stepping from a third-floor apartment window on a plank laid across to the tracks. For a few seasons, the little pine was wreathed by a string of Christmas lights.

Forgive me if I make the High Line sound like an elevated Eden. In fact, part of its charm arises from juxtapositions of what might be considered the sacred and the profane.

In a shady spot where the tracks are bracketed by two old warehouse buildings, a miniature forest has risen; yet just beyond it the tracks are littered with rusty buckets, old spray-paint cans (graffiti detritus) and a lonesome-looking pair of turquoise underpants. In this way the tracks are like the streets below – elegant here, grubby there – and they turn Henry Adams's dictum on its head. "Chaos," he observed, "was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man." On the High Line nature has restored order to a chaotic sliver of Manhattan's West Side, and the only evidence of chaos appears in the flotsam left behind by humans.

In a passing scene is his novel "Great Jones Street," Don Delillo imagined a distant future when archaeologists would scale the mounds of rubble in our abandoned cities and attribute our culture's demise, in part, to the fact that we stored so much of our beauty high in the air, out of eyesight. I thought of Delillo as I looked down onto the roof of a grimy little auto-repair shop and saw two immaculately carved wooden owls perched on a ledge. From the street I would never have noticed them.

The High Line, though, is increasingly drawing notice. A group called Friends of the High Line ( has been working to transform the structure into a seven-acre strip of levitating parkland, by making it part of the federal government's vastly successful Rails-to-Trails program. West Side property owners dream, instead, of dismantling it and building condos and office buildings. A very talented photographer, Joel Sternfeld, has taken pictures of the tracks in all seasons and published them in a marvelous book, "Walking the High Line," published by Steidl. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has even ordered a study on the High Line's future, and his administration's report is due this month.

It's hard to root for the real-estate developers in this case. A park along the High Line would be a stunning amenity in a city as dense as New York. Walking the tracks, it's possible to feel as if you're on a slow-motion magic carpet ride. Admittedly, a selfish and proprietary part of me wishes the tracks would simply be left to another 20 years of benign neglect. But then I remember the commanding city views we New Yorkers so recently lost. And I think that in its relative humility, its unprepossessing message that beauty and nature endure in the unlikeliest of circumstances, a park on the High Line could be a consoling gift we give to ourselves and the future of the city. [ ]

Friends of the High Line (FHL) has just moved to Hudson Guild, just steps from the High Line. Please note FHL’s new contact info:

Friends of the High Line
Hudson Guild
441 West 26th Street, Room 225
New York, NY 10001
(212) 631-9188
(212) 631-9185 fax

As we move into our first dedicated office, we would like to acknowledge the crucial support we’ve received from the the Greenacre Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Merck Family Fund, the New York City Council, the Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, and hundreds of generous private donors.

FHL has many people to thank for their help in creating the new space:

The room we occupy is leased at an affordable rate by Hudson Guild, a vital provider of social services to the Chelsea community for over 100 years, located at Elliott- Chelsea Houses, a New York City Housing Authority residential complex. Special thanks to Janice McGuire, Susan Gershen-Tyler, Vivian Lekhter, and Yvonne Rivera.

FHL’s office interior was designed by Yen Ha and Ostap Rudakevych of Front Studio, who generously donated their services and created a simple yet visually striking design that maximized the utility and look of a small space. For information about this exciting, young firm, go to:

Front Studio’s designs were constructed by Chris & Ted, a fast-working young team of fabricators that does terrific work. (718) 383-1130.

Robert Greenhood, of Greenhood & Company, set up FHL’s computer and office systems on a pro-bono basis. Greenhood also manages the production and distribution of FHL’s e-mail newsletter. Companies interested in the services Greenhood offers can go to:

Thanks go to Hamilton Rabinovitz & Alschuler (HR&A), who generously donated FHL’s desk chairs.

FHL’s airconditioner was generously sponsored by Josh Feuerstein and Jessica Bride and has been much appreciated during these hot August weeks.

Finally, we must thank everyone at Neighborhood Preservation Center (NPC), our previous home. NPC, at 232 East 11th Street, supports numerous organizations concerned with the city’s social and built environment. One way it does this is by offering temporary office space to fledgling non-profits. FHL has occupied an “incubator” office space at NPC for about a year, and we could not done all we’ve done in the last year without NPC's support. Special thanks to Felicia Mayro, NPC’s director. For more info, go to:

The study that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced last April, to review the feasibility of converting the High Line to an elevated pedestrian greenway, is nearing completion. The office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding has overseen the study in collaboration with the Department of City Planning. The City retained Turner Construction to evaluate the High Line’s structural integrity. FHL’s role was to identify the costs of rehabilitating the structure and building an elevated greenway with public access points, and to compare those costs with the public benefits that a park atop the High Line could reasonably be expected to create.

After the results of the study are presented to Deputy Mayor Doctoroff, presentations will be made to other City and State officials and to the public.

FHL’s component of the study is being managed by Hamilton Rabinovitz & Alschuler (HR&A), with participation from Gary Edward Handel & Associates, Beyer Blinder Belle, Hanscomb International Construction Consultants, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Friedman & Gotbaum, and a major engineering/infrastructure consultant.

The feasibility study has been made possible by support from the Greenacre Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the New York City Council.

FHL seeks a highly organized, self-motivated, full-time office manager/project coordinator to hire immediately. The position will be responsible for all daily operations at FHL’s Hudson Guild office; will maintain FHL’s database; will maintain FHL’s accounts; and will coordinate community outreach and volunteer activities. Strong computer skills and a minimum of one year post-academic work experience are required. Email resumés to; or fax them to 212-631-9185; or mail them to FHL, address below. No phone calls, please. FHL is an equal opportunity employer.

FHL has been working at the federal level to ensure that the High Line is preserved for reuse as an elevated greenway.

In August, FHL petitioned the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in Washington, DC, asserting that a 1992 ruling that opened the door to demolition proposals for the High Line is “outdated and invalid” and must be reconsidered. FHL’s legal team at Covington & Burling, in Washington, DC, wrote an extremely strong and well-argued filing. If it succeeds in getting the 1992 ICC decision reopened, we will have scored a major win in our efforts to preserve the High Line for pedestrian reuse. [for more information, click here]

The urgency of our petition was underscored by a filing, several days earlier, by demolition proponents. They requested STB approval of their contested demolition proposal, even though that proposal is missing crucial signatures and still being challenged in State courts because of its attempt to skirt required public review procedures.