The Roving Runner: Elevating the Jog
No smoking, dog-walking, biking, skating or scooting.
There is a sign stating certain things you may not do on the High Line, Manhattan’s celebrated, elevated pedestrian park that was once a freight railway.
Do not throw objects, amplify sound or walk on the gravel or weeds.
But something is missing from the list: a prohibition against jogging. For those of us always searching for new places to run, that omission is an invitation.
If you are one of the 4.4 million people who visited the High Line in 2012, the question isn’t so much whether you are allowed to jog up there, but why you would even try? It is often so packed with people that simply walking through can be a trick.
The park was an instant entry to the city’s must-see list when the first phase, from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street, opened in 2009. “You haven’t been to the High Line?” people would say. “You must go to the High Line.” And some days it seems as if everyone does. Crowds grow so thick that there are pedestrian bottlenecks and stop-and-go traffic.
The secret is an alarm clock. The park opens at 7 a.m., and to go to the High Line at that hour is to enter a peaceful, even solitary atmosphere that is a world away from the throngs that will arrive in a few hours.
I jogged there recently on a crisp early spring morning, heading west on Gansevoort Street into the heart of the meatpacking district.
Despite the nightclubs and boutiques, Gansevoort remains a sweet timepiece of industrial New York, especially early in the day. I turned my ankle ever so slightly on the cobblestones and hopped on the sidewalk until I crossed Washington Street and climbed the stairs to the High Line.
There are two major construction projects at the southern end of the park. One is a permanent headquarters for Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit group that runs the park. The other one, much larger, is the downtown branch of the Whitney Museum of American Art, which will feature multiple rooftop exhibitions facing the High Line.
A wall separating the path from the headquarters site posts information about the park. I stopped briefly and brushed up on my history.
If you ran on the industrial West Side from the 1850s to the 1930s, it might well have been to dodge freight trains, which operated at street level. So many people were not fast enough that the train route was called Death Avenue. The High Line was built to get the railway off the street.
Interstate trucking and air travel eventually doomed the High Line, which had its final run in 1980. Over the next three decades the structure sat unused as self-seeded vegetation grew on the tracks; those plants inspired the park’s current horticulture.
The High Line was scheduled to be demolished. But in 1999 two prescient residents, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, formed Friends of the High Line, which sought to preserve it and turn it into something special for the public.
After a decade of campaigning, fund-raising and restoration, the park opened, and it succeeded beyond its supporters’ wildest dreams. The High Line has spurred development and inspired other cities to reuse their own abandoned infrastructure. It also has its share of detractors, who say the neighborhoods below it are becoming gentrified and saturated with tourists.
But I was just here for an innocent jog, so uptown I went. A collection of bare white-barked birch trees reminded me of an Ansel Adams photograph, except the backdrop was the Standard Hotel rather than the splendor of Yosemite. The Standard straddles the High Line, and was the first of three buildings I ran under.
At this point, the High Line is wide enough to have alternate parallel pathways, which let me take a different road back. Around 17th Street, the railway shifts diagonally to the west, crossing over 10th Avenue. This gave me the sensation of looking through a camera that was panning to the left. The northern vista was wide open.
Two buildings just ahead and to the left seemed to capture the new architecture that blends with old warehouses and tenements: the wavy IAC headquarters and the Chelsea Nouvel, a condominium just to the north that features colored windows with funky geometric shapes.
This area around 17th was like an open clearing that leads into the forest. The path narrows sharply to barely more than the width of one train track. Buildings begin to hug the High Line, with a couple of new condominiums seeming to angle over it on higher floors.
Public artwork is a feature of the park, but the only work I noticed on this run is Broken Bridge II, by El Anatsui. It is a striking collage of rusted metal and mirrors that covers the entire side of a building. Just across the path is the Spanish-tiled roof of the Church of the Guardian Angel.
I was running slowly — this was no time for a speed workout — craning my neck to absorb as much detail as I could and playing a game of name that building. Here to the right was the General Theological Seminary (soon to house the High Line Hotel). And there up ahead is the New York Times building, peeking from above the London Terrace co-ops.
Around 26th Street, a scaffolding cover begins and construction steals the show. Major developments are planned around and above the Hudson Rail Yards. At the park’s end, at 30th Street, I soaked in the sweeping northern views, knowing they would probably disappear as a new neighborhood sprouts up. A completed High Line would wrap around the development and end at the Jacob Javits Center at 34th Street, making the entire park 1.45 miles.
My mile back was just as rich, with fine views of New Jersey and countless details I missed on the trip uptown: a wall mural, some buds beginning to emerge, a cleverly designed set of benches. The morning light angled in from the east in scrumptious ways.
I was lucky enough to be weaving through the fabric of New York City, 30 feet above traffic. Yes, you can jog on the High Line. But let’s keep it our little secret.
A version of this article appeared in print on 04/03/2013, on page B12 of the NewYork edition with the headline: High Line Elevates The Morning Jog.