Image: New High Line park
Richard Drew  /  AP
An abandoned elevated rail line in New York is reopening this week as a landscaped public park called the High Line.
updated 6/8/2009 6:28:46 PM ET 2009-06-08T22:28:46

Supporters of turning an elevated rail line into a lofty, 1.5 mile-long park are walking on air — because it's almost ready.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday helped unveil the first half-mile section of the High Line park, a transformed rail line sitting three stories above the city's streets that was abandoned nearly 30 years ago. The park is scheduled to open to the public Tuesday.

The High Line stretches 1.5 miles from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District all the way up to 30th Street along Manhattan's West Side, with views of the city and the Hudson river, including landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

The rail line stands as high as 30 feet, and is 60 feet wide in some places, with railings of about three feet.

Many of those attending the opening ceremony noted how the High Line provides a new window for viewing the city's famous skyline.

"Anytime you usually look at the city from high up, you're inside a building," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "But to be able to look from an elevated level and be outdoors is just a wonderful feeling."

Former eyesore
Paris recently converted a rail viaduct into an elevated park called the Promenade Plantee, but officials say the High Line park is the first of its kind in the United States. Similar projects are being considered in Philadelphia and Chicago.

The New York rail line was built in the 1930s for freight trains carrying dairy products, produce and meats to warehouses and factories in the area. The goal was to avoid the increasingly crowded street level, which had become so treacherous for pedestrians that 10th Avenue was nicknamed "Death Avenue."

The last train ran on the High Line in 1980, and for many years, community groups and parks advocates sought to have it made over into a public space; some neighborhood residents wanted it torn down.

"People called it a blight, eyesore, crumbling relic," Bloomberg said.

It was nearly destroyed in 2001, but a judge blocked those plans after community advocates and the City Council sued. The campaign attracted celebrity advocates who helped raise money and advance the cause; several, including designer Diane Von Furstenberg and chef Mario Batali, attended the ceremony Monday.

No dogs for now
Construction on the project began in 2006, and the first section, from Gansevoort to 20th streets, will open Tuesday. The part from 20th to 30th streets is expected to open next year.

The total cost is $152 million, funded in part by private donations, as well as the city, state and federal government.

The park is a mix of concrete and green landscaping, with features like a wading pool and trees in some areas. Designers incorporated the train tracks into some of the landscaping, as well as preserve many of the wildflowers and other plants that have grown there for years.

There will be access points every two to three blocks, including some with elevators, organizers say. The park will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dogs will not be allowed for the time being because many of the new plantings are fragile.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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