How 5 cities gave new life to old rail bridges

While Ottawa ponders blocking all access to the Prince of Wales Bridge, here's a look at how other cities have reimagined disused bridges, viaducts and elevated railways.

Could the Prince of Wales Bridge become Ottawa's High Line?

New York City's High Line linear park follows a disused elevated railway through Chelsea and the Meat Packing District. (John Schults/Reuters)

News that the City of Ottawa is considering spending $250,000 to install permanent gates to prevent pedestrian access to the Prince of Wales Bridge has been met with a fair degree of public criticism.

Trespassers who nevertheless enjoy strolling across the rusting structure, which saw its last train 15 years ago and was acquired by the city in 2006, see the idea as an unimaginative waste of money and, more to the point, potential.

To get an idea of what could be, here's a look at what five other cities did with disused bridges, viaducts and elevated railways. 

New York: The High Line

Coun. Jeff Leiper, no fan of Ottawa's plan to block the Prince of Wales Bridge, happened to be in New York this week, where he visited that city's celebrated High Line.

The High Line is a 2.3-kilometre linear park built atop a disused, elevated freight rail line along Manhattan's West Side. Since its first section opened to the public in 2009, the public park has become one of New York's top tourist draws, offering high-design seating areas and unique views of the city's historic Meat Packing District.

Paris: La Promenade Plantée

​Sometimes called "the original High Line," the French capital's Promenade Plantée is another linear park created atop the 19th-century Vincennes railway viaduct. Designed by landscape architects Jacques Vergely and Philippe Mathieux and inaugurated in 1993, the park is also longer than its American protégé, stretching 4.7 kilometres from the Opéra Bastille to a spiral staircase leading down to Boulevard Périphérique. Being Paris, the viaduct arches house quaint cafés, studios and boutiques.

The brick arches beneath the Promenade Plantée in Paris house cafés, studios and shops. (Google Maps)

Minneapolis: Stone Arch Bridge

The Stone Arch Bridge is a historic rail bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, Minn. The last passenger train crossed the bridge in 1978, and in 1992 it was acquired by Minnesota's transportation department. Two years later, the city converted the bridge into a crossing for pedestrians and cyclists.

The historic Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minn. (The Associated Press)

Poughkeepsie: Walkway Over the Hudson

As its name suggests, the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is a pedestrian walkway spanning the Hudson River. The steel cantilever bridge served as a dual-track rail crossing from 1889 to 1974, and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places shortly after. In 2009 it was given new life as the longest footbridge in the world, part of the new Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. 

Visitors stroll 65 metres above the river across the Walkway Over the Hudson bridge in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (The Associated Press)

Fredericton: Old Train Bridge

Also known as the Fredericton Railway Bridge and the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge, after the founder of Fredericton, N.B.'s trail system, the 78-year-old steel truss bridge was converted to a pedestrian crossing over the Saint John River in 1997. The federal and provincial governments kicked in funding for the millennium project, which now forms part of the Trans Canada Trail. Locals say they have the world's longest walking bridge, but they aren't the only ones to make that claim. 

Runners cross the Old Train Bridge in Fredericton, N.B. The bridge forms part of the Trans Canada Trail. (CBC)