Though often prefixed by the words "long-awaited," and "delayed,"
the Bloomingdale Trail project to convert an elevated rail line in Chicago into
a multi-use recreational space is moving ahead pretty quickly these days.
The development of a 3-mile rail-trail along Bloomingdale
Avenue to the northwest of the city has been seriously discussed since about
2004. And though eight years is certainly not a long time in the world of
rail-trail development, the tremendous potential of the disused elevated structure,
coupled with the great success of New York's High Line, has made many Chicagoans
impatient for progress.
Today, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce
the city has raised the final $9 million needed to begin construction of phase
1 of the project, which will involve creating the basic trail system along the
elevated tracks and establishing access points so it can be opened to the
public. Construction is expected to begin next year and be completed by 2014.
The remaining $37 million has already been secured, courtesy
of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program, a
federal funding program which facilitates transportation projects aimed at
reducing vehicle congestion.
Emanuel and the city were able to gain the support of a number
of large companies. Exelon will donate $5 million, while Boeing Co. and CNA are
contributing $1 million apiece. The remaining $2 million will come from Chicago
Park District funds.
The Mayor's announcement follows last week's release of the
official framework plan for the rail-trail. At an open house-style meeting at
Yates Elementary School, one of four schools along the corridor, a large group
of locals got the first look at the product of months of community input and
And the immediate reaction to what is being called the
Framework Plan is positive, with most residents and proponents agreeing the
preliminary plan accurately reflects the hopes and concerns of the community.
The major takeaways from new plan include the eight proposed
access points from ground level to the trail, about 15 feet above the street.
The access points would be at parks next to the trail as well as existing
The designers have been conscious of the mixed-use nature of
the Bloomingdale Trail, as both nonmotorized transportation pathway and park
space. The trail's multiuse path would be used designed primarily for bikes,
but with an emphasis on controlling speed and reducing conflict with
pedestrians and people using the space next to the trail.
The path would be at least 10 feet wide, with two feet of
clearance on each side for a total of 14 feet. About one and a half miles of
the trial would have a separate pedestrian path that would run parallel to the
Ben Helphand, President of Friends of Bloomingdale Trail,
says the framework plan represents "an incredible balancing act," referencing
the corridor's role as both trail and park, and the need to be conscious of the
privacy of nearby landowners in what will be a very public space.
"They've been able to do this with some very smart
landscaping, and path alignment," Helphand says, adding that "although privacy
concerns were brought up, they weren't overwhelming."
Helphand stresses this is not the final plan, and there will
be continual feedback and response between designers and the community in
"This has been very much a conversation," he says. "There's
been genuine back and forth, and thanks to that we are approaching a good
solution. Right from the start this has been a very fun, and civil, process.
That has a lot to do with how the city and the nonprofit partners, the Trust
for Public Land and Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, have approached it."
The Trust for Public Land will continue to seek private and
corporate donations toward the $36 million needed to construct trailside
amenities and gathering spaces.
Keep updated on the Bloomingdale Trail at:
Photo of the disused Bloomingdale Line courtesy of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail
Framework Plan designs courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates