By the 1930s, Manhattan’s congested West Side had far too many accidents caused by freight trains sharing the street with street traffic. That problem was solved when the 22-block “High Line” train tracks were built 30 feet above ground. They ran from W. 34th Street south to St. John’s Park Terminal at Spring Street to maximize the West Side’s flow of goods, produce and mail. By 1980, the last High Line train carried three carloads of frozen turkey. By 1999, a wrecking ball loomed over the tracks covered with weeds.
Just Imagine If…
But thanks to local residents Robert Hammond and Joshua David, the two visionaries, when they learned the High Line might face demolition, founded the community-based, non-profit Friends of the High Line organization.
Its sole mission was to turn the structure into an elevated public park, which would later have the support of the City of New York, thousands of volunteers, celebrity backers and a $170 million budget. Those efforts produced the rebirth of the 1.45-mile-long High Line at the Rail Yards. Its first section opened June 2009, followed by a second. The final section opened September 21, 2014, making it possible to walk the entire High Line that traverses 22 city blocks — uninterrupted 30 feet in the air — with expansive views of New York City and the Hudson River, from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street.
Highlights of the High Line
There’s a sense of entering a secret, almost forbidden, place when the High Line is accessed by its staircases or elevators. Thirty feet above ground isn’t that high for most New Yorkers, but to walk almost two miles where the trains once traveled and view the Hudson River on one side and the Manhattan skyline on the other is a dramatic first. The planners did indeed “capture the quiet, contemplative nature of the High Line after the trains stopped running, creating a world apart from the bustling streets of Manhattan.”
Planting beds around the tracks and elsewhere contain roughly 210 different seasonal plant species, ranging from a meadow-like mix of asters, goldenrod and big blue stern grass in the low beds to a grove of gray birch and service berry trees in other areas.
The Sundeck, located between W. 15th and W. 16th Streets is a popular spot, with its wooden lounge chairs that are movable on the old train tracks. Also present along both sides of the High Line are ample and comfortable benches. An upper walkway is skimmed with water, making it ideal for visitors to refresh bare feet.
High Line Art
The covered Chelsea Market Passage was a former loading dock and now houses large-scale art installations. Artist Spencer Finch transformed the area’s 700 casement windows with individually crafted panes of glass. They represent the water conditions on the Hudson River over a period of 700 minutes on a single day. He photographed a floating object beginning upriver and as it flowed down to New York City. The artist then carefully matched each unique colored pixel to a pane of glass.
There are numerous site-specific commissions, exhibitions, performances, video programs and billboard interventions that enhance the High Line. Free map.
Friends of the High Line volunteers walk along the pathways answering visitors’ questions. The guides are identifiable by their gray T-shirts with the green High Line logo (train tracks). Weekly events are free.
All pedestrians are welcome. There is no entrance fee. No Segways, Rollerblades, smoking or dogs. No bikes on the High Line, but there are rakes outside the stairs. Food is allowed and there are food vendors on site, plus tables and chairs. Visitor access may be limited during the summertime due to high volume.
If You Go
The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to W. 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. There are nine access points and two elevators. The High Line meets guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Restrooms are available as are water fountains. Hours open are from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily and seasonal. For information call 212-206-9922.
Photo Credit: Judith Glynn