Off and rolling

As thousands of people, not only from across the region, but tourists from around the world, descended on the High Line on a beautiful Sunday, they found they had to wait in line to get up on the intriguing new — or rather, newly renovated — structure.

Indeed, 12,000 people visited the new “park in the sky” on Sunday alone. Admittedly, the weather was spectacular, plus it was the first weekend before the start of summer and the High Line had only opened the previous Monday. Despite rainy weather for much of the time, more than 70,000 people visited the High Line in less than a week.

In fact, on days when attendance is expected to be heavy, the Friends of the High Line will be “clicking” people in as they enter the park. The waits, if there are any, will be short, like last Sunday. This monitoring is so the Friends, the park’s conservancy, can get a sense of how many people are using the park and when, and this will be ongoing during the next several weeks.

As of now, for the park’s first completed section — between Gansevoort and W. 20th Sts. — there is a cap on the amount of people who can be on the High Line at once. The Parks Department has been advised by the Department of Buildings and the Fire Department that — based on the park’s ability to provide emergency egress — the High Line’s capacity is currently 1,632 people. So far, this cap has only been enforced once, on Sunday, when the park’s walkways reached capacity, and people entering the park were told to wait until crowding was reduced. When the High Line’s second section, between 20th and 30th Sts., opens in summer 2010, the number of parkgoers allowed up will increase relative to the High Line’s greater capacity.

Another issue some may have contemplated is whether the High Line will be frequently off limits for private affairs. After all, high-powered private donors who gave millions of dollars — like Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller and Philip Falcone — played a key role in making this extraordinary project a reality. The park’s first section cost $86 million; section two will cost $66 million.

Monday night, in fact, the High Line was closed off from Gansevoort to 18th Sts. after 8 p.m. for a private affair. However, it was the Friends of the High Line’s annual Summer Benefit, and $2 million was raised in just one night. As the Friends contend, and we agree, it’s worth it to shut down most of the park for two hours to raise that kind of money. Under an agreement with the city, the Friends must raise 70 percent of the funds for the park’s maintenance and operation. This figure for the Friends currently is $2 million — though it’s sure to grow as the park does.

Actually, during the park’s “opening season,” through the fall, there’s thankfully a moratorium on private events or movie or photo shoots. However, the Friends say, in the future, there will likely be some events on the converted viaduct, as there are in other city parks, most likely in wide areas — such as under and around the Chelsea Market and the new High Line Building.

What is clear is that the High Line is a bold and imaginative step forward in park thinking and in reuse of our city’s infrastructure — just as, before it, was the redevelopment of the Hudson River waterfront and its former shipping piers into the Hudson River Park.

Here’s to the successful completion of the High Line’s section two, and, hopefully, of a section three — the majestic loop around the Long Island Rail Road yards up to 34th St., still unfortunately in limbo. But the High Line is off and rolling — off to a stunning start. Bravo!