The Katy Trail is a recent Rails-to-Trails project transforming an abandoned rail corridor into a hugely popular pedestrian-bicycle corridor linking over 20 neighborhoods in Dallas, Texas. As a networked infrastructure, this transformation has responded to an urban populace hungry for access to open space.
With a strong design vision unifying its entire 3.5-mile length of obsolete infrastructure, this urban park has catalyzed an upsurge in local property values and established new venues for civic life at distinctive plazas, outlooks and access points.
As locals like to say…“The trains don’t run here anymore….Dallas does.”
Constructed in 1870, the Katy Railway provided the primary rail connection from Dallas to the East Coast. After termination of service a century later, the rail line deteriorated into a public eyesore that divided Dallas’ core and contributed to urban decay.
Today a portion of that earlier abandoned corridor forms the vibrant Katy Trail: a 3.5-mile pedestrian and bicycle trail system and linear park that links 95 acres of Dallas parklands along the Turtle Creek greenbelt. Running through the most densely developed section of Dallas, this park connects several important districts and links residents to shopping, jobs, entertainment venues and university destinations. It also provides a major recreational destination for the more than 300,000 people who live and work within a mile of the trail and numerous others from across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
The sheer scale and vast resources spent on network infrastructure present tremendous opportunities to leverage unrealized potential in the urban environment. Katy Trail extends from north downtown Dallas to the University Park neighborhood near Southern Methodist University following the route of the railway and connecting to urban parks. The project includes four major accessible (ADA compliant) entrances, three major connections, ten additional ADA entrances, and seven stair entrances.
A strong design vision unifies all project elements and promotes the central goals of the master plan:
- To create a safe and easily accessible trail system,
- To celebrate the history and natural environment of the area,
- To promote community involvement and stewardship, and
- To establish a beautiful urban city park.
Working with the non-profit Friends of Katy Trail and in collaboration with the City of Dallas, SWA started by helping to change public perceptions of the unused, overgrown, and unmaintained rail right-of-way known primarily for gangs and drug dealers. With input from an extensive community outreach process, they established the larger vision of connecting individual City parks into a single linear system. They also extended the city’s original two-mile long, 12-foot wide concrete path to include an additional 1.5 miles and added a 6-foot wide padded running trail for 2.5 miles.
Key Project Elements
The master plan became a built reality through years of study, design and phased implementation.
Knox Henderson Intersection – The first public entrance completed, this project contains two 40-foot square plazas flanking the busy Knox Street intersection. Free-standing native limestone seat walls form the plazas and provide a visual clue to users approaching the road crossing. Detailed pavement, donor benches, interactive art, lighting, plantings of Mexican Plum trees, flowering trees and shrubs, and ornamental grasses enliven the plazas and create a resting place off the trail. The Knox Henderson public plazas became the cornerstones of the trail’s new image and the standard for future entrance designs.
American Airlines Overlook – In 2004, Hillwood Development developed the American Airlines Center and Victory Park at the far south end of the trail. Thanks to their donation, the Friends of Katy Trail were able to complete a portion of the trail from the entertainment venue to the overlook at Reverchon Park. The landscape architect designed Victory Overlook and the trailhead at Lyte Street connecting to Victory Park, a new major residential/entertainment district. Native limestone blocks distinguish the overlook and serve functional needs for retention.
Reverchon Overlook – This access point connects to historic Reverchon Park, which traces its origins to the WPA era. The privately-funded project includes a prominent overlook of native limestone blocks, a large galvanized steel trellis covered with trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), shaded seating, water fountains for both human and canine users, and litter receptacles. The design includes a 750-foot long ADA compliant ramp and a staircase connecting to the 36-acre Reverchon Park below. In the park itself, Briggs Freeman Plaza incorporates two stone benches and stonework replicating the WPA-era relics found nearby. This access ramp also provides easy trail access from nearby Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
Snyder’s Union /Carlisle Entry – This overlook/entry includes a plaza and access to the trail from Carlisle Street. The dramatic ellipse-shaped plaza and glass observation platform cantilever beyond the rail bed and over the park located some 18 feet below, offering a unique vantage point toward Lee Park and Turtle Creek. The guardrail consists of 24 six-inch thick Korean Sage granite slabs angled at 15 degrees. Opposite the observation platform, the trellis of sandblasted architectural concrete is capped by African Mahogany timbers. Five solid Korean Sage granite benches represent the five-decade marriage and five family members of private donors who funded this most recent project along the Katy Trail.
The Katy Trail rediscovers a hidden and neglected part of Dallas by revitalizing an infrastructural corridor. This regenerative urban park has revitalized local neighborhoods, spurred an increase in retail/ restaurant sales, and improved the vitality of wildlife habitat and mature trees that dominate the scene. A healthy new green ribbon now follows the footprint of Dallas’ historic railway, converting an eyesore to destination for generations to come.