The New York Central Railroad ran its last train, three cars filled with frozen turkeys, along the lower-Manhattan West Side Line in 1980. The elevated spur line opened in 1933. For eighty-plus years prior to that, the New York Central used tracks along 10th and 11th avenues to transport commodities it the heart of New York City. Heavy rail did not mix well with street traffic. A 1910 study estimated 548 fatalities and 1,574 other injuries along what came to be known as “Death Avenue.”
The Westside Improvement Project, begun in 1929 and spearheaded by the infamous Robert Moses, included an elevated railroad spur to replace the grade-level tracks. The new line ran through the middle of blocks instead of over the streets, enabling the unloading and loading of rail cars inside warehouse and factory buildings. In true Robert Moses fashion, construction necessitated the demolition of 640 existing buildings.
After the railroad had abandoned the line, property owners along the route agitated for its demolition. A citizens group formed to promote its re-purposing. Thus was born the Friends of the High Line. After years of debate and red tape and searching for funding, work began in April 2006 for the new High Line Park.
The pedestrian-only park has become popular with residents and tourists alike. Visitors stroll along its mile and a half length, in some parts alongside rusted tracks left as a reminder of its history. Since the elevated park’s opening, the storied and deteriorating Chelsea neighborhood has seen a revitalization. New residential construction has risen along the High Line’s route. Rents are higher than neighboring apartment buildings and new residents are now complaining about the tourists. The Whitney Museum’s new digs recently opened at the base of the park.
The Friends of the High Line is responsible for the park’s maintenance and has done major fund raising for its support. They also are adamant that the park is for everyone’s enjoyment, as evidenced by prominently-placed signs.