Tuesday, June 11, 2013

After Transportation

I had never paid much attention to abandoned railroads till the time I first heard of the High Line Park in New York City; I often thought of Transportation Planning as planning for a new system to move people efficiently from one place to another. This popular urban design project introduced to me the dilemma of what to do with a transportation project once it has served its original purpose.

The High Line, New York City

The High Line is a raised linear park in the lower west side of Manhattan that was recycled into an urban park from the abandoned West Side Line of the New York Central Railroad. The park became an overnight success, catalyzing a real estate boom in the surrounding Meatpacking and Chelsea districts to make them one of the most coveted neighborhoods in Manhattan. The presence of the park also has encouraged greater density along the elevated urban park. Threatened by demolition, some residents gathered to form the ‘Friends of the High Line’ organization to save the West Side Line. Their collective activism gave rise to the highly popular urban park that stands today.

The Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago is another such example of a rail converted to a trail, inspired by the High Line. Scheduled to open in 2016, the Bloomingdale Trail is to be built on the site of a commuter rail operational in 1895. The design proposal includes walking paths, bike lanes and recreational open space. The City of Milwaukee has commissioned an art project, ARTery, along a 2.5-mile stretch of an abandoned railway that incorporates old tires into the design of the park.

ARTery site
ARTery detail
Making several of these conversions possible is Rails to Trails, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC that provides support and expertise to communities wanting to convert abandoned rail lines into recreational trails. It specifically helps communities overcome political barriers, environmental challenges and physical design issues.

Converting abandoned rail lines into urban parks or recreational trails is a great way to breathe new life into a once-active corridor and can unburden cities of the unused space, which is a barrier to the urban fabric and an eye sore to the surroundings (1). It is also an interesting way to connect a region or neighborhood’s history to the present. Moreover, using rail lines as sites for developing trails is a good idea because rails provide an existing right-of-way that connects neighborhoods, providing for place-making opportunities along the way. Finally, as was the case with the High Line, such projects help in community building, bringing residents closer for a common cause.

Thank you, Brenda for editing this post!

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