Construction Finally Begins on the Long-Awaited Bloomingdale Trail

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Rendering of the Bloomingdale Trail at Milwaukee Avenue.

It was a moment that was more than a decade and a half in the making. Yesterday workers began construction on the Bloomingdale Trail, the elevated greenway and linear park that Northwest Side residents have been pushing for since the mid-Nineties.

“It’s really exciting to see this idea come to life,” said Beth White, who heads the local office of the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the project for the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District. “This is the result of a lot of effort by a lot of people as we’ve been putting the pieces together. Everything from land acquisition to designing the access parks and creating the innovative and sustainable trail design has been a true collaboration. I think we’re building something that will be embraced by the communities that have been a part of this, and really driving it since day one.”

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A tractor on the trail. Photo: Trust for Public Land

CDOT will be overseeing Phase I of the project, the construction on the basic trail, which includes ripping out the remaining tracks on the dormant rail line and converting the railbed to a bike and pedestrian path, as well as rehabbing the retaining walls and viaducts. The basic 2.7-mile trail should be open to the public by fall of 2014.

“I’ve made a commitment to Mayor Emanuel that the trail will be ready for him to ride from one end to the other by next fall, maybe November,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan called for building the trail by 2015. “It’s a multiphase project, but the Bloomingdale is going to feel fairly complete by then, outside of the additional bells and whistles like playgrounds for the access parks, public art and additional landscaping that we’re currently fundraising for.”

The pricetag for Phase I is $53.7 million, covered mostly by federal grants, plus local funds from Cook County and the park district, and donations of $5 million from Exelon and $1 million each from Boeing and CNA. TPL is working to raise $40 – $50 million more in private donations to pay for building parks at the access points, plus the trail and access park enhancements, maintenance and programming.

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The railbed near Milwaukee and Leavitt. Photo: Trust for Public Land

Along with building the trail itself, Phase I includes cleaning and removing paint from the existing viaducts and retaining walls in order to make sure that the concrete is strong enough to safely withstand heavy trail use. Unfortunately, existing murals on the walls will be destroyed as part of this process. During the ground level work, Bloomingdale Avenue will generally be open to traffic, although parking will be prohibited on Bloomingdale while the project is underway.

A cul-de-sac at Ridgeway and Bloomingdale, next to the McCormick YMCA, has been closed to serve as a construction staging area. It will eventually become the western trailhead. “There aren’t many traffic issues outside of Bloomingdale Avenue, so our workers can basically buzz along,” Klein said. “That’s why we’re confident we can knock this out in 12 months.”

Although community members have long referred to the proposed greenway as the Bloomingdale Trail, earlier this year the project team renamed the entire system of the trail plus its multiple access parks as “The 606,” which they felt would be a better name for attracting corporate sponsorship, although the greenway itself will still keep its old name. “The 606” refers to the first three digits of all Chicago zipcodes, and it eliminates possible confusion with Bloomingdale’s department store and the suburb of Bloomingdale. Weekly updates on the construction project will be posted on The 606 website.

  • Roland Solinski

    Do you know if the brick will be restored on Bloomingdale Avenue? It’s exposed in many places, but there are lots of ugly asphalt patches. Creating an attractive brick street would really make the trail work at ground level as well as in the sky.

  • Ted King

    The 606 ex-Bloomingdale Trail :
    http://the606.org/

  • Anna

    “The Bloomingdale Trail is the centerpiece of the entire trail and parks project, known as “’The 606.'”

  • Ted King

    Thanks for the summary. My comment was made to replace a glitched link at the end of article.

  • Seems like a likely scenario. I’ll check in on this.

  • Reader

    Thank you for continuing to call it the Bloomingdale Trail, rather than supporting a name that reflects an attempted conformity to car culture. Highways are referenced by their numbers in part for efficiency. In the same way, driving is about getting the journey over with, not enjoying the travel or the travel environment. “Bloomingdale” breathes of hope and potential (a la *bloom*). Keep the name and travelers will create their own appropriate nicknames for it when use is commonplace. Don’t be surprised when eventually, in the bordering neighborhoods, you simply hear “I took The Trail,” accompanied by a finger pointing skyward…and a smile.

  • Anonymous

    There is some precedence for this. I believe the sculpture in Millennium Park is officially called Cloud Gate, but I’ve never heard anyone say anything other than “The Bean.”

  • I think the BT team acknowledges that most people will continue to call it the Bloomingdale Trail, but they renamed it the 606 because they felt it would be hard to get the necessary corporate sponsorship otherwise, an understandable decision.

    That said, I’ll continue to call it by its old name, just as I still say Sears Tower, Marshall Field’s, and Comiskey Park instead of Willis Tower, Macy’s and U.S. Cellular Field.

  • BlueFairlane

    That’s a stupid name. I will never use it.

  • The one that drives my Toronto-born husband up the wall is when I talk about the Standard Oil Building — you know, that tall white one with the vertical stripes all up it just north of Millenium Park? :->

  • Oh, you mean the Amoco Building, I mean the AON Center?

  • urbanleftbehind

    Hopefully, it doesn’t become the “what you be about?” trail, considering some of the “territories” it may serve as boundaries to or cross through.

  • There was already plenty of negative activity on the rail line: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-bloomingdale-trail-urban-oasis-or-devils-playground/Content?oid=1176747

    Turning it into a proper public trail, probably with some patroling by security guards ala Millennium Park, should help eliminate these issues, as well as provide “Eyes on the Street” benefits for the neighborhoods below the line. There should be a net drop in crime in these areas.

  • David Altenburg

    Absolutely.

    I live literally next to the trail. I’ve actually been grateful for the joggers, etc.who trespass up there because of the “eyes on the street” factor, and I think that will be much better once it is a proper park. That said, those “territories” aren’t so scary. They are in fact, “neighborhoods”.I live near Kedzie, which is is towards the western part of the trail. While I don’t want to downplay the crime in my neighborhood, I’ve seen a dramatic transformation in the area in the last few years.

  • I really, really hope that there’s not a private security team patrolling the Bloomingdale Trail. The ones at Millennium Park just LOVE to tell you about the park’s buzzkill rules.

  • I understand this, but this point doesn’t seem to be widely understood.

    The Bean is a part of Millennium Park, and the Bloomingdale Trail is a part of The 606.

    The 606 = Bloomingdale Trail + the 5 access parks.

  • rick

    How come they couldn’t think of that in the 2000s were no white people could be found

  • Actually, people were proposing the Bloomingdale Trail back in the Nineties: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-bloomingdale-trail-urban-oasis-or-devils-playground/Content?oid=1176747

  • Myra Lugo

    I hate it! It’s a major inconvenience for everyone who lives near the bridge. It’s almost impossible to get home or get the kids to school. They are already 4 months behind and $60million and counting. Could have used that money elsewhere. Why was it necessary to spend that kind of money on a TRAIL!? Streets are getting more damaged who’s gonna pay for that? Not worth it!

  • Myra Lugo

    It will, and now gives gangbangers easy access to rival gang neighborhoods and a new quick get away. And it only costs over $60million. So money well spent? I think not!