By Barney Blakeney
After more than eight years of planning, the Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline soon will be making community presentations about the proposed linear park that will transform the abandoned rail line that runs adjacent to I-26 on the peninsula into vibrant community spaces.
The Friends of the Lowline was organized approximately eight years ago to tackle the possibility of buying the unused Norfolk-Southern rail line along the spine of the Charleston peninsula. The nonprofit group saw it as a potential enhancement for Charleston, making use of an often-overlooked but important corridor. Some 30 years ago the City of Charleston leased space beneath I-26 for use as recreational space. Initially that was accomplished to varying degrees, but eventually the plan was abandoned. Residents however, adopted the space as a north/south bike and pedestrian corridor on the peninsula’s eastside.
The redevelopment process has been slow and arduous. Negotiations with the railroad were long and sometimes difficult. But finally, at the end of 2017 the nonprofit group and the city acquired the property. Not everyone has been enthusiastic about the project. Some city councilmen were skeptical. But the project’s opportunities won their support. Together the Friends and the city have developed a study about the opportunities the Lowline presents to residents, businesses, and visitors. What can Lowline be? Who will design it? What might it look like?
Those opportunities include: The ability it provides people to move about the city freely on foot or by bicycle reducing car traffic; The vastly increased recreational options it makes possible; The substantial storm water handling improvements it makes possible; The green park land it provides throughout the center of Charleston and beyond; The greatly increased ability to enjoy nature; The new venues for music and art it allows; Its vastly increased opportunities for social interaction; and The ample new opportunities for new business and for improvements to existing business.
What does that mean? It means that while the original vision for the Low Line was hemmed in by the narrow boundaries of the old railroad corridor it was mostly imagined as a single north-south path. But because additional land around and under I-26 can be used, the Low Line can be a north/south as well as an expansive east-west system. To people who have seen similar projects in other cities, there is no parallel for Charleston’s Low Line. Its potential is immense and unique to Charleston.
Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line Board Chairman Tom Bradford said, “Neither the Low Line nonprofit organization nor the city will make any effort to develop a focused vision for the Low Line without input from all Low Line stakeholders: our residential neighbors and neighborhood associations, our business neighbors, city council members and city staff. The study is now mostly complete and the real conversation about a Low Line community vision can begin. This will be a grassroots discussion and YOU have a stake!” he said.
Lowcountry Low Line Community Outreach Coordinator Megan Mills said presentations to community residents, neighborhood associations and businesses will be conducted beginning in March through April. For more information, reach Mills at [email protected] or go to their Facebook page at Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line.