The Lowcountry Lowline

A transformative project through the center of the peninsula of Downtown Charleston is in the works – a linear park with attached parklets (re)connecting neighborhoods, existing infrastructure, and the natural beauty of Charleston. The Lowcountry Lowline project revitalizes a historic transportation route into an integral corridor for the city, with lessons learned from past mistakes as well as inspiration from current residents. 
It’s complicated though, requiring partnerships of public and private entities while also addressing concerns of transportation and stormwater management.

The Lowcountry Lowline will be a rebirth of a vital thoroughfare dating back to the 1830s. We anticipate this project will be terrific opportunity to elevate the livability of the entire peninsula, a chance to create a brand new vital artery for Charleston.

An artist rendering of the proposed Lowcountry Lowline, showing a paved path beneath a freeway overpass bordered by plantings and lights, with a man on a bicycle with a dog

An Historic Corridor

The South Carolina Legislature commissioned the SC Canal and Rail Road Company which led to the very first revenue rail service in the United States. ran on this line, connecting inland towns of South Carolina to the Lowcountry. The Best Friend of Charleston began rail service in 1830, ferrying passengers from inland towns of Hamburg and Summerville into downtown Charleston at the revolutionary speed of up to 25 miles per hour.

The railway remained active for over 150 years, changing ownership to the Southern Railway and ultimately Norfolk Southern, before being decommissioned in 2004. 

A black and white photo of the train Best Friend of Charleston on its rail tracks with residential homes in the background
A black and white photo of the reproduction of the train Best Friend of Charleston, dated 1970
A map of Charleston from 1901 overlayed with the path of the South Carolina Railroad in red, its path running northward between Meeting Street and King Street

Highway Scars

By the 1950s the urban landscapes of the United States were being transformed by the Interstate Highway System, ushering in an era dominated by automobile-centric infrastructure. Like so many other cities during this time, Charleston grappled with the consequences of that car-first paradigm. 

The portion of the I-26 Project entering the peninsula is largely elevated above and adjacent to the original rail line. 

A black and white aerial photo of Interstate 26 under construction in Downtown Charleston in 1968
The SC Railroad tracks passing beneath an overpass of Interstate 26
A map of Charleston from 1901 overlayed with the path of the South Carolina Railroad in red, and the path of I-26 and the Crosstown Expressway in purple

Parks and Recreation

With the 1970s began the era of Mayor Joe Riley, and one of the many beautification projects of his administration was the I-26 Linear Park underneath the elevated portions of the freeway. With sidewalks, sporting courts, and small parks, the development of unused SCDOT space below elevated freeways was considered to be among the first in the nation to do so.

Enter Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline, a local nonprofit connected to the likes of our cycling advocates at Charleston Moves. Its board proposed the development of a new greenway through the spine of the Charleston peninsula – a 1.5-mile-long strip of land from Mount Pleasant Street to Woolfe Street. The name Lowcountry Lowline stuck – an allusion to the lovely rail-to-pedestrian High Line conversion in New York City’s lower west side.

Conversion to a new greenway with pedestrian and bike paths would reconnect neighborhoods, spark new businesses, and beautify the city’s major gateway. Officials are saying it would help set the stage for improving Charleston’s economic future. 

“It’s an eyesore today, a place where people lurk. But if you can enjoyably, comfortably move north and south... safely, from one neighborhood to another, basically you see the city once again as unified.”

Poised for Development

Charleston’s director of Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Tim Keane has expressed enthusiasm for the potential transformation of a disused area into a green space, highlighting the significance of the public-private partnership with Norfolk Southern, which owns the land and decommissioned rail lines. This initiative aims to revitalize the area by converting it into an inviting public space, enhancing connectivity and livability for residents.

Various ongoing commercial and residential developments, such as Midtown of Charleston and Courier Square, have been designed with the proposed greenway in mind, demonstrating a concerted effort to integrate the project into the city’s evolving landscape.

Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline has led the way to transfer this unused railway into public hands, while bringing together design firms and the people of Charleston to create and implement a beautiful master plan to mend the divides at the heart of our city.

A clearing between new mid-rise buildings that will eventually be the Lowcountry Lowline

Update – October 28, 2015

Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline has worked out an agreement with Norfolk Southern to purchase the railroad corridor.

The group has two years to secure the funds, and intends to use that time to collect input and design ideas from the people of Charleston.

Update – December 29, 2017

The City of Charleston has purchased the railway for the Lowcountry Lowline from Norfolk Southern.

In addition to the 1½-mile railroad right-of-way, two additional properties were purchased, one that could be used to build new affordable housing, and another that could be a hub for a new Bus Rapid Transit line.

Update – December 16, 2020

Charleston City Council and Mayor Tecklenburg have approved a conceptual master plan for the Lowcountry Lowline.

The plan includes multiple park aeras along a two mile stretch beginning at Marion Square and terminating at a new transit hub, as well as additional dedicated stormwater infrastructure for the city.

Master Plan for Lowcountry Lowline

The North Central Corridor
The Parks
The Urban Core

Renderings provided by the Design Division of the City of Charleston

Homes along the Lowcountry Lowline

The southern portion of the Lowcountry Lowline winds its way through Midtown Charleston between King Street and Meeting Street, continuing northward into the Upper Peninsula in between – and in a very real sense reconnecting – the boroughs of North Central, Westside, and Upper Morrison.

Recent Sales:

Visions – Before & After