Construction on Philadelphia’s long-anticipated Reading Viaduct Rail Park broke ground yesterday, reports Hidden City Philadelphia, with phase one of the project slated for completion in early 2018. The full vision encompasses three miles of abandoned railroad transformed into an above- and below-ground park. Phase one, designed by Studio Bryan Hanes, tackles a 25,000-square-foot section of elevated tracks spanning from Broad Street across 13th and 12th Streets to Callowhill. It will feature a walking path, seating, landscaping, lighting and gathering spaces.
If the entire right-of-way was converted to park, it would create three miles of parkland and a pedestrian and bike path spanning all the way from Philadelphia’s Poplar neighborhood to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and beyond to Brewerytown.
Friends of the Rail Park President Sarah McEneaney, who helped launch the effort in the 1990s, told Hidden City, “Cities are constantly changing and evolving. What was once a train corridor, then a feral garden will next be a fabulous public park for Philadelphians and visitors to experience.”
“I believe getting the first phase completed and people using and enjoying it will do so much to move the rest of the project forward. Once the whole three miles are complete, it will serve bicycle and pedestrian commuters through many neighborhoods and be a venue for all sorts of cultural, educational and social programming,” she says.
Competing visions for sections of the former rail corridor have battled it out over the years. The underground section of the project in particular, a 25-foot-deep tunnel spanning 10 city blocks, has been considered for use in new transit projects, including a bus rapid transit line and a “tourist line” to connect visitors to nearby museums and the Philadelphia zoo. One possible solution for the space included both transit and park features.
Bird's eye view of phase one (Credit: Studio Bryan Hanes)
For now, Friends of the Rail Line are moving forward on phase one — the elevated portion of the track — with a $3.5 million grant from the state, while keeping the underground portion on the back burner as phase two. “Certainly the tunnel is a little more challenging for some people to envision as public space,” McEneaney told Next City in 2014. “But the entire [city branch] is part of our vision.”
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.