DOT Aims to Reimagine Elevated Spaces

The city's Department of Transportation thinks it's got an 'el' of an idea—transforming the largely ignored and forgotten spaces beneath elevated subway lines and highways so they can be enjoyed by New Yorkers. NY1's Jose Martinez filed this report.

There are nearly 700 miles of elevated highways and subway lines across the city. 

Underneath  it's often dingy, dark and loud.

"It's very grimy, dirty, gritty—it's like you don't get a good look of what we really are," one man says.

The city Transportation Department and the non-profit Design Trust for Public Space are taking a stab at changing that.

"We see that there's a great opportunity to reclaim some of this space for the public, to make it more inviting," says Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

On Thursday, they introduced "Under the Elevated," a study recommending ways to improve what's beneath all those elevated structures.

"The spaces are very varied. In some of them, you can actually make attractive places for people to sit, you can put art installations. In some, you can  make them safer and more inviting for people to cross the street," Trottenberg says.

 Last year, that led to this installation beneath elevated tracks in the Bronx...where the rumble of trains overhead met up with the work of local musicans.

"You had that authentic voice of the Bronx—from hip hop to jazz—really soothing and calming some of the passersby who were waiting for the bus," says Susan Chin, executive director at the Design Trust for Public Space. 

The study highlights locations ripe for reinvention—like beneath the elevated tracks at Broadway Junction in Brooklyn. It suggests using the space under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge as a charging station for electrical vehicles. It imagines a park and concessions belowr the Rockaway Freeway in Queens. 

"We can't afford to waste space any more, so we have to find multifunctional solutions and really, to have more space for more people," Chin says.

That approach worked wonders at what, for decades, was an abandoned railway.

One need look no further than the wildly popular High Line to see how the space above and below an elevated structure can be reclaimed. The Design Trust for Public Space was involved in saving the High Line.

The group says it hasn't yet figured out how to fund any improvements under the elevated structures, but says community input and imagination will be a must.

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