The Bloomingdale Trail: Not Just an Elevated Dream (PDF)

December 22, 2007

Newsletter Winter 2007-2008, Trust for Public Land

Download the full newsletter here

For years, local runners, hikers, cyclists, and inline skaters have envisioned the Canadian Pacific right-of-way above Bloomingdale Avenue as an elevated “rail trail,”a counterpart to Paris’ Promenade Plantee or New York City’s upcoming High Line.

These outdoor enthusiasts have seen the future, and it offers a three-mile, leafy, linear oasis over a dense urban streetscape. With no intersections or motorized traffic to interrupt the flow, they’ll make their way through Logan Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Humboldt Park on viaducts over Daniel Burnham’s Humboldt Boulevard and 37 other streets, from Ashland to Ridgeway avenues. The trail eventually could link to trails heading north to Ravenswood and south to the Loop.

While this is enough to stir the imaginations and keyboards of hiking and biking bloggers even beyond Chicago, The Trust for Public Land is taking these dreams and helping the City and the community make them real.

Along with Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, TPL co-chairs the Bloomingdale Collaborative, a public/private partnership with Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail and more than a dozen other agencies and organizations that meet periodically to review progress, generate ideas, and facilitate communication about the trail.

TPL and the collaborative organized Envisioning the Bloomingdale, an exhibit of conceptual design proposals by architects, designers, students, and kids from Chicago.

The exhibit, curated by Michael Wilkinson and the Chicago Architecture Club, was displayed throughout the summer at Acme Art Works in Bucktown and showcased creative visions of what the trail could become. The exhibit was such a success that plans are underway for re-launching the exhibit in the near future.

In addition to spotlighting ideas for using the trail, TPL has made significant progress in acquiring lands adjacent to the viaduct that are needed to create some of the trail’s many future access points.

With strong support from Alderman Billy Ocasio (26th Ward), TPL purchased the properties between Albany Avenue and Whipple Street for expansion of this proposed neighborhood park and access point.

“It’s the whole big project-little project aspect of this work that makes it pretty remarkable,” says Jeffrey Greenspan, senior project manager of the Chicago Area Office.

“Of course, the impetus for TPL acquiring these properties was so the land could one day be used as access to the proposed trail,” Greenspan says. “But as a big fringe benefit, the land will be developed into a neighborhood park long before the trail comes into existence.”

With a generous donation from the MetLife Foundation, TPL will assist the Chicago Park District with the improvements necessary to turn the site into a neighborhood park for the public to enjoy. A new park will be a significant addition to this neighbor- hood. Logan Square is among the most park-poor of the city’s 77 community areas.

The city’s standard for adequate park space is two acres per every 1,000 residents. In Logan Square, every 1,000 residents share just over a half acre, according to the city’s 1998 inventory. Another 33 acres are needed to meet the standard.

“More than 4,000 children under age ten live within a half mile of the Albany-Whipple site,” says Beth White, director of TPL’s Chicago Area Office. “The development will be a boost to the Bloomingdale Trail, but it’s also vital to give a lot of children a place to play sooner rather than later,” says White.

In addition to the access point at Albany- Whipple, TPL has negotiated a land donation at Kimball and assisted the City of Chicago in its acquisition of land near Milwaukee Ave. and Leavitt St. for development as other future entrances to the trail. In September, this site also served as the perfect venue to highlight the Bloomingdale Trail during TPL’s celebration of National Park(ing) Day, a day to promote the need for more parks in America’s cities by converting public street parking spots into temporary public parks.

The event was a great success as community partners and Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) gathered in the shadow of the Bloomingdale Trail to celebrate the city’s parks and call attention to TPL and the City’s recent efforts with the Bloomingdale Trail.

Despite these significant strides, TPL’s work on the trail is just beginning. Funding is still needed from federal, state, and local sources to rebuild the century-old right-of-way and its 38 viaducts to the standards of a 21st -century park.

“This is a complex, expensive project, and an unusual one,” White says. “But a rare challenge like this, along with the community support it generates, is what makes our work fun.