The Bloomingdale Ain’t No High Line — It’s Going to Be So Much Better

Blue Line viaduct high over the Bloomingdale Trail
Unlike New York City's High Line, the Bloomingdale trail will serve as a transportation corridor and neighborhood park.

The High Line in New York City has been lauded for transforming abandoned freight rail tracks into an elevated walking path and park on the west side of Manhattan, but The Bloomingdale (formerly known as Bloomingdale Trail) will be even better. This is simply because the High Line acts as a tourist attraction, while The Bloomingdale will serve as a neighborhood park in areas that sorely need more green space, and a very useful car-free transportation link for people walking and biking.

I took journalist David Lepeska on a tour of the Bloomingdale back in January. We climbed up the embankment in Julia de Burgos Park, then we walked all the way to Damen and perhaps even a bit further.

David described our journey in a piece for Next City’s “Forefront,” a digital subscription publication. (You can buy each issue for $1.99, and I highly recommend it.)

Bloomingdale Trail path evolution after construction begins
These renderings show the different phases of landscaping and path development planned for the Bloomingdale. See more renderings in the ## Plan##.

David’s article makes the point that the High Line is more of a destination to see than a place to use: “Visitor surveys in New York show that people generally do not use that park to go from point A to point B, and that more than half come to the West Side expressly to visit the High Line.”

At a fundraiser in January, David reports, Chicago Deputy Mayor Steve Koch shared this perspective on the difference between the two projects:

“A lot of people are familiar with the High Line. This is a concept far beyond that truly transformative project.” …

“This is the High Line on steroids,” Koch continued, relaying how his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, vowed to complete the Bloomingdale in his first term. “I think he was captured by this extraordinary vision. This was a chance to create this ribbon of green that transforms our industrial legacy, a chance to take that and bring it into the 21st century as this incredible urban green space.”

David also examines other cities looking to convert abandoned railways into parks and transportation links, including London, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Wuppertal, Germany. The Bloomingdale, he writes, will test the theory of why cities are building these amenities:

“Cities have really become aware that they are competing with each other for the businesses and well-educated mobile citizens that make cities work,” said [Will] Rogers [president and CEO of Trust for Public Land]. “These people get to choose where they want to live, and they tend to choose green, walkable cities with great neighborhoods, great parks, good cultural institutions. I think the reason cities are investing in these opportunities is that they are really trying to position themselves to attract these people.”

However, as I told David, the higher property values that will benefit the city in the form of increased tax revenues should be seen as secondary to the real benefit: The Bloomingdale will be “an asset these neighborhoods have needed, and a safe route to walk and bike.”

You can get the whole article on Next City and see more images of the Bloomingdale Trail, present and future, on Flickr.

  • Adam Herstein

    The main reason why the Bloomingdale will be better than the High Line is that bicycles will be allowed.

  • Why did they change the name?! Is it to sound more “hip”?

  • It’s because it will be more than just a trail. It will be a “linear park,” a place to hang out.

  • Joseph Musco

    I’m going to keep calling it the Bloomingdale Trail.

    Just because somebody had a meeting and decided The Bloomingdale sounds better doesn’t mean I have to agree. The High Line has two words that convey what the thing is; a high rail line used for a trail or linear park. The Bloomingdale conveys exactly nothing. This is why sensible people affixed “trail” to the end of it. This is why the Friends of Bloomingdale Trail formed nearly 10 years ago. Which is why they have a website called with a header that says The Bloomingdale Trail on it with a logo that is a stylized BT supporting an elevated trail. Which is why Steven affixed a small “trail” after the word “Bloomingdale” in the first image caption and why the second image contains the word “trail” twice. I’m going to spare myself The Artist Formerly Known as Prince / Puff Daddy / P. Diddy / The Bloomingdale drama and just call it the Bloomingdale Trail now and forever. As will almost everyone else.

    If you want to emphasize that the Bloomingdale Trail is also a park, you can do that and still call it a “trail”. The National Park Service somehow manages to run the Appalachian Trail without anybody getting confused. Has anybody ever been to Lincoln Trail Park is in Springfield? How about Johnson-Sauk Trail Park in east of the Quad Cities? Yes? No? But you have an idea what they are, right? Now what if I said “The Lincoln” or “The Johnson-Sauk”? Clear as gravy. Either tack “park” on the end of Bloomingdale Trail or include information about the park prominently in information about the Bloomingdale Trail. Deleting “trail” from the name is the dumbest option.

    The Bloomindale is dead. Long live The Bloomingdale Trail!

  • Another factor was the need to pitch the project to nearby residents as being more than just something for bicycle riding (although it will also be great for walking, jogging, roller skating, etc.) and have them think of it as being additional parkland in parts of town that don’t have enough green space. But you’re correct: most people will call it the Bloomingdale Trail.

  • david vartanoff

    Got to smile at the pic of the Blue Line overcrossing. While I know it is too late, my preference would be to create a branch of the Blue Line on the viaduct. Plenty of space for the ramps immediately south of the image. Alternatively a Light Rail line w/transfer station would add useful travel options. When I photographed that area 2 years ago there was vestigial evidence of a platform–there was passenger service on that route a century ago.

  • Ross Wallace

    Don’t overlook the Atlanta Beltline as you begin to market the trail. If people in Chicago want to see how this space will function, how awesome it can be, and how it can transform the surrounding neighborhoods just come visit the completed sections of the Beltline.

  • Oddly enough I have twice used the High Line for transportation. My friend worked a few blocks south east of the Gansevoort entrance, so I walked the entire length of the High Line, and caught my train home from Penn Station. People gave me very odd looks since I was carrying luggage and walking with a purpose.

  • “walking with a purpose”. For giggles, I’d like to see a demonstration of walking with and without purpose on the High Line.

    The High Line is also a great place on which to shoot films or commercials, like this one where people were practicing yoga moves.

  • The Bloomingdale Trail’s planning process is 100% complete and the construction documents are being drawn up now. Since it’s a more discrete facility – the Beltline has a lot of pieces here and there – the transformation message was easy to create and neighbor buy-in for the project was quickly obtained.

    For more details on the planning process, see my article on Grid Chicago:

  • I don’t think timing has anything to do with not creating a transit line out of the viaduct. No one proposed the idea in a serious way with any backing. So there were only two alternatives for the viaduct: build the Bloomgingdale Trail or do nothing.

  • Jennifer

    Otherwise known as a trail?

  • People generally aren’t encourage to hang out on a trail but just pass through.

  • Jennifer

    Since when?

    I applaud the enlightened view of how a “trail” functions, but seriously, if the majority of the population shared it, then there wouldn’t be so much perennial conflict on a certain waterfront multiuse path in Chicago. Unless visions of those very conflicts are what led local residents to object so strongly to the “trail” designation that it had to be dropped from the official name entirely, in which case ROFL.

  • Yep, that’s part of it. Many neighbors specifically said they did not want to recreate the Lakefront Trail. They wanted a space that would be safe to stroll and hang out on with their children. Accordingly, the planners tried to calm the bike traffic by designing a hilly, undulating path.

  • Anonymous

    A word of caution to the current hipster users of The Bloomingdale (Trail):

    Don’t urinate down from the trail onto Talman anymore. That area used to be dubbed “The Real Side” for a reason, and that culture hasn’t quite disappeared in the face of gentrification. What goes down isn’t going to be what comes back up if the wrong folks happen to observe your obscene behavior. Of course, though, you’re probably not Streetsblog readers, either . . .

    If anyone sees them doing it, snap their photo and send it to the Shakespeare Station.

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