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Bloomingdale Trail Extension

The planned Bloomingdale Trail extension is short, but it would get you past Ashland and the Kennedy car-free

Here's hoping that this nifty new trail segment happens sooner than later.

Rendering of what the trail might look like crossing over Ashland and under the Kennedy. Image: CDOT

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

One reason why, contrary to what the advocacy group People for Bikes recently reported, Chicago is not one of the very worst large U.S. cities for biking (although we do have lots of room for improvement) is the Bloomingdale Trail. Opened in 2015, this 2.7-mile elevated greenway, aka The 606, currently spans across Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. It's a wonderful corridor for recreation on foot and bike, as well as a useful car-free route for east-west commuting.

The Bloomingdale Trail on opening day in 2015. Photo: John Greenfield

And the Bloomingdale is slated to become even better in the coming years. Last week the Chicago Department of Transportation hosted a community meeting on plans for the eastward extension of the trail. Its eastern terminus is presently Walsh Park, just west of Ashland Avenue. Plans call for extending the trail east a block or two, over Ashland, below the Kennedy Expressway and Metra's Union Pacific Northwest line, and over Elston Avenue. It will end at the North Branch of the Chicago River and the $6 billion proposed Lincoln Yards megadevelopment (whose future is in question.)

Plan for the next phase of trail extension. Image: CDOT

Lincoln Yards developer Sterling Bay is coordinating with CDOT on the project. The new stretch of path will use land controlled by the department, the Chicago Park District, Cook County, and Union Pacific Railroad. The trail extension is now in Phase I (preliminary engineering), and the planners hope to start construction in the third quarter of 2025.

The project will create safer and more pleasant bike-ped connection with neighborhoods to the east, without trail users having to take streets to get past Ashland, the Kennedy, and the UP-NW tracks. That will let people avoid the intimidating Cortland Avenue/Ashland intersection just north of the trailhead.

Cortland below the Kennedy, looking east towards Ashland and the UP-NW tracks. Image: Google Maps

Last week's presentation was held at Lincoln Yards' first and only building so far, its life science center at 1229 W. Concord Pl. The block, located just north of North Avenue and East of Elston, features a short stretch of European-style raised bike lanes. That would have been more impressive if the bikeways weren't largely clogged with parked cars on one side during the meeting.

The raised bike / car-parking lanes at 1229 W. Concord during the meeting. There are more bike racks near the front door. Photo: John Greenfield

About 100 people attended the hearing and, unsurprisingly, many got there by bike. The chief presenter was CDOT planner Soliman Khudeira.

Khudeira explained that Sterling Bay is paying for Phase I, which has taken place from 2021 to the present and is costing $750,000. Phase II (detailed engineering) is planned for early 2014 to early 2015, at a cost of $1.4 million. Phase III (construction), slated for late 2025 to the end of 2026, is supposed to cost $30-40 million.

The crowd and presenters at the meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT has already applied to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning for funding approval. Khudeira said he believes about half of the money is already secured, thanks in part to advocacy by local Congressman Mike Quigley (5th), who's been know to join CDOT for bike facility tours.

The scope of the work include a new bridge over Ashland, a new bike-ped underpass at the UP-NW (which will require a permanent easement from rail corridor owner Union Pacific), and rehabbing an existing abandoned rail bridge over Elston. The work is supposed to have no effect on the Kennedy, which is currently seeing traffic delays due to bridge reconstruction work.

Designate bike routes near the trail extension. Image: CDOT

The presenters noted that this short link of bike path would be part of the puzzle for Chicago's goal of creating a grid of bike-friendly streets, since it will connect with Elston, a popular northwest-southeast cycling route that has stretches with curb-protected bike lanes.

Rendering of how the trail will get under the Kennedy and the UP-NW line. Image: CDOT

During the Q & A, someone from Chicago Agent Magazine asked why Sterling Bay, which should benefit greatly from the significantly improved access from Lincoln Yards to the Bloomingdale, isn't putting more than $750,000 into the project. One of the presenters responded that the boundary of the Cortland/Chicago River tax-increment financing district, which is helping to bankroll the megadevelopment, lies outside the trail construction area. Perhaps they were implying that it's good that the developer is chipping in at all.

Rendering of how the trail will pass under the UP-MW line. Image: CDOT

After the meeting, an attendee asked Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail president Ben Helphand, what barriers there might be to building the trail extension, and how supporters could help make sure it becomes a reality. "Talk to your neighbors, and talking to your alderperson is never a bad idea," Helphand replied. "There will be a new CDOT commissioner. We want to make sure they're onboard. These thinks can get derailed if there's political will, so people should continue to support it. But the balls are already in motion, so it will be hard for it not to happen. It's just a question of will it be three years or will it be eight years."

Here's hoping that this nifty new trail segment happens sooner than later.

Looking at project renderings in the lobby. Photo: Dave Glowacz

Slides from last week's presentation can be viewed here.

Check out more of Dave Glowacz's photos from the meeting here.

Written comments will be accepted until August 16. Email them to soliman.khudeira[at]cityofchicago[dot]org, or mail them to:

CDOT-Division of Engineering
2 N. LaSalle St., Suite 820
Chicago, IL. 60602
Soliman Khudeira, PhD, PE, SE
Section Chief - Major Projects

Inside Chicago Government reporter Dave Glowacz contributed to this

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