Charleston’s linear park, dubbed the Low Line, is still a few years away from a finished state.
Formal plans for the route along a disused railway along the spine of the peninsula, mostly under the end of I-26, haven’t been drawn up yet. And an environmental review will need to be completed as well.
But the city and the Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line organization own the land that will eventually become the park, and it doesn’t make much sense to let it sit around empty when there may be ways to put it to good use that wouldn’t undermine the final product.
The most obvious need is an anti-flooding system. In keeping with the Dutch Dialogues approach to combine water management efforts with community amenities, the Low Line could eventually incorporate some sort of water feature.
In the immediate future, however, absorbent landscaping could help soak up runoff from surrounding neighborhoods and improve some chronic flooding problems.
Better lighting could improve safety on existing paths under I-26 as well, and turn the route of the future Low Line park into a more viable transportation option now, even before a more robust bike and pedestrian path can be built.
Painting crosswalks where the existing path crosses roads could also help make it safer for people on foot or on bicycles. Community-led efforts to paint artistic crosswalks in parts of the Upper Peninsula last year suggest that safer infrastructure can be aesthetically attractive too.
And any gaps in the sidewalk network within a few blocks of the Low Line should also be closed before the park officially opens.
Certainly, it would be unwise to invest too much in the Low Line before plans for its future are finalized. But given the potentially lengthy timeline before a formal opening, it’s worth considering how to engage the surrounding community in that park’s future success well before a ribbon-cutting.
Indeed, that's a useful mindset for other projects in the Charleston area. If tiny adjustments can make a difference today, why not go ahead and make those adjustments while working toward bigger goals?
Small-scale improvements in the area could also spark other ideas about how the Low Line can function better and be more beneficial to residents in its finalized state. Implemented smartly, they could either enhance the final product or be easily adjusted to fit it.
The Low Line is more than just a park. It’s a critical piece of transportation infrastructure, helping pedestrians and bicyclists travel north and south through the heart of the peninsula without fighting against car traffic.
It’s a piece of open space that has largely been neglected since I-26 was built, and which has the potential to improve health and quality of life for nearby residents.
It’s a potentially useful place to divert and store water so that it stays out of surrounding residential neighborhoods and roads.
And right now, it’s not being used for much. That won’t be the case forever, of course. But there’s no reason Charleston shouldn't try to get started making some smart improvements to the Low Line in preparation for its future success.