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Bicycling

Could Northeast Illinois Lose Its Only Operating Velodrome?

5:25 PM CDT on September 6, 2017

In July of 2016 the South Chicago Velodrome Association announced that the city’s only bike racing track, at 8615 South Burley on U.S. Steel’s former South Works site, would be shutting down, largely due to the landlord’s insistence on insurance costing about $2,500 a month. According to Marcus Moore, who spearheaded efforts to keep the facility in place, the velodrome owner, Detroit-based V-Worldwide, still hasn’t repossessed the portable wooden track, so it’s still sitting there, but there’s been no maintenance in over a year, since SCVA’s lease expired and wasn’t renewed.

Moore says the current process of selling the South Works land to Emerald Living, which plans to build up to 20,000 housing units is still in the review process. “Once that’s completed I’d expect the land to be cleared, although it might be another long process.” At any rate, it looks like there’s virtually no chance that the velodrome will be reopened for riding and racing in Chicago.

That leaves one functional bike racing track in all of Northeast Illinois, the Ed Rudolph Velodrome, located in Meadowhill Park in northwest suburban Northbrook. That facility is a frequent pilgrimage destination for Chicago bike racers and fans, and it’s the only such facility that’s fairly easy to reach by bike for many Chicagoans – it’s about a 20-mile pedal from Logan Square. (The Washington Park Velodrome in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the oldest operating 333-meter bike track in the country is accessible via Metra’s bike-friendly Union Pacific North line.)

But according to a report yesterday from the Northbrook Star’s Irv Leavitt, the future of the Northbrook velodrome is looking less-than-rosy. During An August 29 public forum on the future of Meadowhill Park, which is located next to a junior high school, Northbrook Park District President Penny Randel argued that it might make sense to replace the track with indoor recreation facilities, such as a running track.

Randel called the velodrome a “tremendously costly amenity” that is largely used by people who don’t live in Northbrook, according to Leavitt. "The time is coming around again when we're going to have to have major repairs,” she said, adding that she like to see more space made for field hockey and lacrosse.

The park district’s former leisure services director Sandra Whitmore also voiced support for closing the bike track, the paper reported. "If they keep the velodrome, there's not as much space [for a new indoor facility.]”

Leavitt noted that back in 2003, when the track needed an estimated $325,000 to repair the velodrome, the park district asked racers to come up with half of the money. The rehab only wound up costing $204,000, but track supporters raised $230,000 and put the surplus towards future maintenance.

Local bike shop owner George Garner told the reporter that he believes the racing community could raise money for maintenance again if needed, and opening the track and the green space within the oval for stunt and bmx riding would attract more users, according to the paper. Racer Chris Mailing said that enclosing the track to make it a year-round facility would make it much more useful, although this would be costly.

There will be another meeting next month to discuss the results of the community input process. If you live in Northbrook and support keeping the velodrome, let the park district know by emailing them at info@nbparks.org. It would be a shame if the facility closes and Northeastern Illinois residents are forced to cross the Cheddar Curtain to enjoy the thrills of track racing.

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