This is a modest but highly attractive application of what has come to be called adaptive reuse, taking otherwise underutilized patches and sometimes entire miles-long stretches of transportation infrastructure and bringing them into cultural, entertainment, or commercial use. It’s a topic well worth exploring and one we know well at TranSystems.
The world went its merry way for decade upon decade without giving much notice to the sometimes perfectly usable highway overpass – or rather the open land under it – which, if it considered it at all, considered it mainly as a gathering point for the homeless or on occasion, the day laborer.
Of late however, due to enduring human ingenuity and the discovering and documenting power of the camera or smart phone, numerous examples can be listed and pictured showing how these patches of seemingly unappealing real estate are being transformed or repurposed. By the time you see, as we have, a high end kitchen, a soccer field, and a horse stable taking their place in these environments you know that they can’t be the only one.
They fall into a larger category of underutilized urban space, often with a transportation flavor to them; alleys are another example of such space undergoing transformations.
We may think of it as the real estate version of the ride-hailing sector of the economy. In the same way that Uber and its peers simply put to use many hundreds of thousands of otherwise empty back seats, so too does underpass development bring these stretches of pavement back into the working economy.
These projects come in all sizes, notable lately are the High Line in New York, the High Bridge in New York, and the 606 in Chicago, the last two ours here at TranSystems. All are worthy, in the spirit of reverse order let us take a run through the 606.
‘Linear park design’ is the phrase that best gets the point across for Chicago’s 606 Trail. The projects take advantage of a notable characteristic of passenger and freight lines: they thread through the geography of a city linking neighborhoods that at street level are often separated by congested traffic flows, parking restrictions, zoning constraints, or simply that elusive quality known as ‘character.’
You can hardly miss the gritty origins of the parkway; this is a very muscular length of infrastructure, that type of robust foundations, bridges, and supporting elements being part and parcel of good freight rail design.
The freight lines were built in 1873 as street level trains to supply the robust manufacturing in the area. The stretch was eventually deemed a hazard to pedestrians and so the entire line was elevated in 1910, ‘grade separation’ in engineering parlance. The line fell entirely into disuse in 2001 however, and shortly thereafter the city took a keen interest in repurposing this structure in order to increase public parkland in Chicago.
Stretching 2.7 miles through four vibrant Chicago northwest side neighborhoods, the conversion of the elevated line into this trail and park now provides unprecedented connections to and among these communities, running adjacent to numerous private properties, and crossing over major arterials, an historic boulevard, bus and bicycle routes, and the CTA Blue Line.
There were 37 bridges involved and TranSystems brought its usual bridge expertise to the matter. As is suitable for a park the project includes a heavy landscaping component including tree preservation and the installation of many varieties of trees and plants in a very urbanized setting.
We expect to see and to take part in more and more of these large infrastructure repurposing projects. In the case of freight rail many of these lines have a hundred year design life, giving an ample number of years for the asset to make its economic contribution and then switch to a social or civic function.
Economic, population, and cultural trends are driving this. There is net migration into our major and medium sized cities, a trend we see no end to. Within those city confines are numerous infrastructure assets that can be repurposed, not just transportation-related. -- lsm