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Participants at Tuesday evening’s access parks charrette. Most photos by John. 

In 2015, when the Bloomingdale Trail and parks are complete, no one should be able to say that a feature or two isn’t supposed to be there. In a public planning process that continues to impress, with unprecedented, widespread community involvement, a new step was completed on Monday and Tuesday with the release of the framework plan and a trail access and park charrette, respectively. The residents of Chicago have designed this trail and its accompanying access parks by providing feedback probably totaling several million words. This is a process where votes are cast by showing up and participating; homeowners concerned about privacy met directly with members of the design team, and meeting participants stressing their concerns over people bicycling too fast were among the voters.

The design team, which consists of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), Trust for Public Land (TPL), the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, and TPL and the Park District’s many contractors, held an access park charrette on Tuesday, May 15, 2012, at the Humboldt Park Fieldhouse.

Download the presentation which includes renderings of proposed access park designs (follow along with this article).

Charrette

Residents gathered at six tables to talk about the first six access parks that are going to be built. The charrette’s setup was a mirror of the one I co-managed at CDOT for the June 2009 Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting. The design team is still working on introducing two places for street access (with three additional ones that need further study), most likely in the form of ramps.

Ridgeway Trailhead. This is the western terminus, immediately south of the McCormick Tribune YMCA.

Kimball. This “terrace site” is wider than most of the Line. Property is being acquired to expand the park and access ramp size.

Julia de Burgos Park, formerly known as Albany-Whipple Park. The retaining wall will be removed here on the east side to make way for a ramp.

Park 567 (commonly known as Milwaukee-Leavitt). The viaduct over Milwaukee Avenue has many good views of the city. The park portion of this access point is being designed in a separate process. Phase 1 of construction will build just the park while phase 2 of construction will create the access point.

Churchill Field and Park. The access ramp here will not impact the ball field and dog friendly area.

Walsh Park. There will be property acquisition north of the Line. The dog friendly area will be relocated. The park will be designed in such a way to allow for possible eastern expansion under the Kennedy and across the Union Pacific railroad.

In the groups, residents were supposed to answer five questions. A note taker at each table recorded responses.

  1. How do people currently use and move through the site?
  2. What is your initial reaction to the ideas that are proposed? (At all sites the design team had proposed modifications and features at the access parks.)
  3. What type of activities, programs, arts, and events would be appropriate?
  4. What age groups are important to consider?
  5. Are there opportunities for winter activities?

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Stan-Lee Kaderbek, a consulting engineer, walks through the evening’s agenda.

Ridgeway Trailhead

I joined the group with what I thought had the lowest attendance, Ridgeway Trailhead. I don’t believe I have as much interaction with any of the parks as people who live within blocks or a mile. I live 1.5 miles away. Julie de Burgos park had the most attendance, followed by Park 567, and Kimball. The remaining three were about equal.

In the Ridgeway group we talked about street access complications, involving guests and participants of the YMCA, wayfinding and connections to the neighborhood and nearby Metra station, park features, and winter activities. I had been to this location twice for Bloomingdale Trail meetings and twice been fooled by the cul-de-sac at Lawndale Avenue one-half block south of Armitage Avenue that doesn’t have a cut-through for bikes. I asked that this be dealt with. Access from south of the Bloomingdale Trail by the nature of Lawndale Avenue being one-way south of Cortland Street (which is one block north of the Line). Instead of requiring visitors and neighbors to bike in a roundabout way to get to the trailhead west of them, I suggested a contraflow bike lane or other modification be looked at.

Ridgeway was the least defined park at this time. Other parks, as you can see in the photos, had proposed features and property acquisitions highlighted. Ridgeway’s drawing only showed where they think the trail could drop down to Ridgeway Avenue. The group also suggested a ramp that leads to Lawndale so that people wanting to access the trailhead wouldn’t cut through the YMCA parking lot (to avoid another roundabout route). One group member noted that the YMCA sometimes closes the gate on Lawndale forcing an extra three-block route. Linda Rosul said, a Logan Square resident who lives 5 blocks north of the Line, “the transportation components [of Ridgeway Trailhead] should remain essential”. A clearly defined bike route to the Healy Metra station at Fullerton and Pulaski should be created.

The YMCA should be involved sooner rather than later. The organization plans to build a natatorium south of their building, but it’s unknown what they want to do with their property that abuts the Line. Rosul added, “Everything goes with the Y” here, adding that programming for this park should be done in coordination with YMCA staff and youth.

Other elements the group devised included:

  • Turnaround path for those who don’t want to leave the trail (similar to the turnaround path at the north end of the Lakefront Trail)
  • Slides for adults and children to exit the trail
  • The currently open lawn here (owned by the YMCA) could be used for ice skating.
  • The viaduct could be part of a sledding hill
  • Wayfinding signs should be present to direct people to local resources, like bike shops, the Metra station
  • Since this is the beginning (or end) of the Bloomingdale Trail, a guide sign should introduce visitors and talk about the project’s history and development

Other Access Parks

Churchill Field Park

  • Multipurpose park – attendees were not tied to keeping the ball diamond (in place or at all wasn’t clear)
  • Vehicle access
  • There’s space to create urban statement
  • Attendees like movies in the park here

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Residents discuss the Churchill Field Park.

Julia de Burgos

  • Schools and libraries are nearby and can assist in creating programming
  • Adults and kids should be considered in programming. Currently it’s oriented to youth
  • Residents had concerns about lighting and safety
  • The participants at this table are neighbors and want this park to remain a neighborhood-scale park
  • Some of the lighting could be an art installation

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A facilitator at the Julie de Burgos table. 

Kimball Avenue Park

  • Attention should be paid to bike functions through space; there’s a wider space; the trail should be slowed.
  • Kimball Avenue should have a bike lane
  • Demonstrate the history of the project and feature the railroad
  • Consider having a community garden
  • Create a water feature, which could be active or passive

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There were 3D models of all the parks. All access parks except the Ridgeway Trailhead had an additional piece that was overlaid on the existing park to show the design team’s proposal. 

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Chris Donoghue reports back on the Kimball Avenue Park group’s discussion. 

Park 567 (Milwaukee-Leavitt)

  • People want safe access across Milwaukee [I don’t know if this meant participants wanted access from the south side of Milwaukee, or just enhanced crossing at Leavitt
  • There’s a steep slope and attendees were concerned about cyclists cutting across the slopes
  • Some residents had privacy concerns

Walsh

  • Access to abutting residential properties should be restricted
  • The proposed new dog friendly area should be easy to get to
  • Other activities that were suggested: Movies, tai chi, tennis courts, Halloween dog parade

Framework Plan

The Framework Plan is a document that bundles the history of the Bloomingdale Line, the chronology of the community-based planning process that largely began in 2011, and the packaging and encapsulation of all discussion. It’s not different from the presentation on March 8, but every goal and concern presented up until then is presented in a colorful and straightforward design.

Download the Framework Plan (.pdf). Download the latest version of the Bloomingdale Trail frequently asked questions (.pdf).

Additionally

There was additional news revealed at the charrette:

  • An ordinance was introduced at the May city council meeting so the City can acquire the property from Canadian Pacific, the owning railroad.
  • Equipment and crews seen on the Bloomingdale Line are drilling core samples for environmental and structural testing.
  • The proposed timeline is: final design done by end of 2012, construction begins in 2013, Bloomingdale Trail complete in mid-2014.
  • See Steven’s full photoset.
  • See John’s full photoset.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/alottes Ash L

    I love that the concerns at each park get more stodgy the further east you travel. tai chi and dog parades? yeesh.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Heh, I didn’t catch that. I thought the suggestions for Walsh Park were interesting. I’m not sure I’d support tennis courts here because they take up a lot of space and I believe would be rarely used (by that I mean most of the time between 6 AM and 11 PM they would be empty). There was a lot of sentiment at other parks to have more passive programming space.
      Is there a bigger park nearby that has tennis courts already?

      • http://blog.theplannersdreamgonewrong.com jason tinkey

        Ah, a park facilities question…this is stuff I know too well. The closest tennis courts would be at Humboldt Park, and they are used heavily.

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          Excellent! Residents near Walsh Park can ride their bikes on the Bloomingdale Trail to the tennis courts there while the space is freed up at Walsh Park for other activities.

  • Brian Chasm

    Unfortunately I was not able to make it to this meeting.  I have been told that the design committee is considering adding equestrian trails to this park.  Does anybody know if there is any truth to this?  I for one would love to see this happen.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I’ve not heard any mention of an equestrian path. There’s not room for a separate equestrian path, so any horse riders would have to share the path. I’m not sure of the legalities of this.

      • Brian Chasm

         I’m not sure either.  I wonder how other cities have handled this.  I’m thinking it would probably make the most sense to allow bikes on certain days and horses on others.  I think this could be a really good thing to attract tourists to Chicago.

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          I doubt you’ll find any support for the idea of allowing cyclists on certain days. I don’t think that would be allowed as the trail is mostly funded by CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) grants, which only fund projects for commuting. It would be hard to make the case that a path for equestrians is a path for commuting.
          Where do people currently ride horses in Chicago?

          • Brian Chasm

             I see your point.  I guess I thought that this was more of a recreational project.  Kind of a catch-22 – Its hard not to commute by car when everything is set up to encourage driving.

            To answer your question – right now it is really hard to ride in the city.  There isn’t much  infrastructure to encourage folks to ride.  I enjoy parts of the Illinois Prairie Path but that gets really crowded.  Last time I tried riding in the city we were kicked out of Grant Park. The police officer said that it was unsafe for us to be in Grant Park.  I disagreed with her but in all fairness it was during Taste of Chicago.

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            I’m now really curious. Where is your horse stored and how did you get all the way to Grant Park with it?

          • Brian Chasm

             response to Steven below…

            My horses are all still in Kansas City with my family.  My girlfriend’s mother lives near Geneva, Illinois.  They have a stable there.  We drove her horses into the city and got on the lakefront trail at 63rd street.  We took that South to Grant Park.  It was a decent route except they got a little spooked by the aquarium where the path curves.

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