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, www.thehighline.org/competition
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 www.thehighline.org