The South Side's 'High Line'? Old rail embankment could make a heck of a park

August 17, 2011

All the talk about The High Line in New York City and the planned Bloomingdale Trail on Chicago's North Side brings to mind another potential railroad-to-park conversion in the South Side's Bronzeville community.

If only the money and effort existed to actually make it happen.

The embankment, overgrown with vegetation, begins near 41st and Lake Park Avenue and runs east. At Cottage Grove, the embankment snakes north to about 40th, then runs a mile west to Wabash. 

The structure is a remnant of an 1860s freight rail line that ran from the Union Stock Yards to the lake. The line also carried passenger rail--and later "L" trains on the old Kenwood Line--to a now long-gone station at 42nd and Oakenwald. Passenger service ended in the 1950s, and freight service--at least on the portions east of the Dan Ryan Expressway--ended shortly thereafter.

There are gaps in the embankment where overpasses were demolished. Sections between Drexel and Cottage Grove were razed for residential redevelopment about a decade ago.

Still, there is a sizable amount left for an elevated park, if the money and will existed to build one. New pedestrian-and bike-friendly overpasses could be built to replace the rail viaducts that were demolished. Stairs and elevators could be built at key points for access.

At just over a mile long, the embankment is about the size of the celebrated High Line in Manhattan and about half the length of the Bloomingdale Trail.

But with that size comes cost.

Years ago the city estimated the costs of turning the North Side rail right-of-way into recreational space at about $41 million. New York City set aside $50 million in 2004 to begin construction of the High Line park. Both efforts were pushed by volunteers and nearby residents who saw the reuse potential for the old railways and lobbied their elected officials to make something happen.

And the results are remarkable, as the video below of the High Line shows:

It could be the kind of boost the South Side needs.