City Escapes

Cities across the United States are Revamping Dated Infrastructure into Public Space


Rendering of The Underline project in Miami, Florida, USA. At right, a rendering of Phase 2 of the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas, USA. Below, an artist impression of the Presidio Tunnel Tops project in San Francisco, California, USA

Why can't an old rail line be an urban oasis? Across the United States, city governments have found that it's cheaper—and more engaging for residents—to rebuild infrastructure into public green space than to simply tear it down.

The High Line, the once-abandoned, elevated rail-line-turned-promenade in New York, New York, is the inspiration behind a new spate of projects that are refashioning underutilized infrastructure. Eighteen similar initiatives have now been built or are planned across the U.S., as well as one in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The High Line Network, an advisory group for these projects, is helping to facilitate knowledge sharing. Lessons learned proved helpful for Irene Hegedus, chief of transportation enhancements and the county's program manager on the US$123 million Underline reclamation project in Miami, Florida. (She is also based in Miami.) Ms. Hegedus drew on lessons from a wide variety of projects, including the Atlanta Belt-Line in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the lessons from the BeltLine project was that it “received complaints about having a combined path for both bicyclists and pedestrians,” she says. “We made a conscious decision to design a separate path wherever we could.”

There's a lot to gain from these projects, she says. “If you go to Atlanta's project on weekends, you can see 2,000 people just congregating and walking and having a good time. This is exactly what we want to see with The Underline.”

While urban reclamation initiatives share some similarities regardless of location, three projects highlight the diversity of challenges that can crop up.

The Low Road

The Underline—as the name implies—will run underneath 10 miles (16 kilometers) of elevated train tracks. The project, which broke ground in November and will wrap in June 2020, is a linear park that will include an urban trail for public exercise and restored natural habitats, and also will connect to public transportation.

The project is broken into nine phases, which has proven helpful to allocate the required funding and allow the team to adapt based on lessons learned, Ms. Hegedus says. For instance, traffic studies performed for the first phase indicated that rapid flashing beacons would not sufficiently increase the level of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists—an insight that will be applied to the remaining phases. Another item the team discovered is that one site has light levels of contamination due to a previous railroad line, which the team is assuming will remain constant for the full 10 miles, she says. They are using that information to modify their schedules and cost estimates.

“We have used all that we have learned from this first phase, including costs and schedules, and extrapolated them into the rest of the project.”


—Irene Hegedus, Miami-Dade County, Miami, Florida, USA

The Divide

In Dallas, Texas, the US$76 million Klyde Warren Park Phase 2 will add green space and a 20,000-square-foot (1,858-square-meter) pavilion to the existing park, which sits over a highway. The project is a public-private partnership among the city government, Texas Department of Transportation, North Texas Council of Governments and Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation, among other construction and design partners.

“With all of these stakeholder owners, communication is one of our biggest challenges,” says Keith Bjerke, program manager for the project, Dallas, Texas. (He is also the founder of Bjerke Management Solutions, which is the program manager for the project.) “It does require additional meetings in person than what you would normally do on a commercial project, because there are so many different entities.”


—Keith Bjerke, Bjerke Management Solutions, Dallas, Texas, USA

But the collaboration has also proved fruitful—the Texas Department of Transportation's recent experience in building tunnels and navigating bureaucracy, for instance, is helping the team avoid potential schedule delays and cost impacts. Construction is scheduled to start in 2020, with completion set for late 2023.

Nature Reservations

The US$100 million Presidio Tunnel Tops project, located in Presidio National Park, San Francisco, California, is building a 14-acre (5.7-hectare) park over a newly constructed highway. Construction is expected to begin in October, with completion due in 2021. But first, the project team must navigate two distinct hurdles: the area's status as both a national park and a historic landmark.

“We have a wildlife ecologist doing nest surveys of the area by walking the site once or twice a week,” says Paula Cabot, senior project manager, Presidio Trust, San Francisco, California.


Her team has to be especially cognizant of bird migration. Because nesting season happened to coincide with when soil was being laid on-site, she needed a way to discourage birds from nesting in the area. Her team did so by scattering cat and owl decoys around the site and getting creative with the sprinkler system. “It was really working with the wildlife ecologist to protect birds and remain on schedule with construction,” Ms. Cabot says. —Michael Wasney



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