Bloomingdale Trail: A first time exploration plus development update

I ventured onto the Bloomingdale Trail this Independence Day weekend, an abandoned elevated railroad viaduct owned by Canadian Pacific. I encountered at least six other “trail” users in 30 minutes, including people on a stroll, a runner, and a person walking two dogs. I can’t wait for the day when I can ride my bike on a smooth asphalt path between neighborhoods without encountering noisy and polluting automobile traffic. Read on for updates on the contract and design process.


A Blue Line train passes over the (future) Bloomingdale Trail.

Grid writer John published in the Chicago Reader on June 2, 2011, “Stalled on the Bloomingdale Trail,” discussing the delay in awarding Arup the contract:

…in July 2009 the city announced its choice of Arup, a London-based multinational firm, to do this work, which is expected to take 18 months.

At that time, CDOT spokesman Brian Steele told me that his department hoped to officially award the contract to Arup by the end of the year. “Once the contract is awarded, the contractor can start work right away,” he said.

But more than sixteen months have elapsed since then, and the contract still hasn’t been approved.

The City of Chicago finally signed the contract with Arup, effective May 25, 2011, for preliminary design and engineering services. It essentially means Arup and its subconsultants (all listed in the contract) will inspect the structure to determine what work will be needed to make it safe for public use. And to outline in more detail exactly what the City will be acquiring when Canadian Pacific transfers ownership. The Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) website was updated June 8, 2011, with a press release describing the award. Specifically, Arup will “inventory the condition of 37 viaducts along the line” and “perform geotechnical and environmental studies.”

Arup will involve the public as part of this contract. They will hold the first public meeting this summer and “lead a design charette in the fall.”┬áCDOT staff were passing out postcards at the Bike To Work Week Rally that asked people to submit their comments to CDOT via email or its Facebook Page.


The viaduct is very easy to access from multitude locations. Visitors will note lots of evidence of a variety of activity.


Looking north at Damen Avenue. The trees on the right are bordering Churchill/Holstein Park, a likely future access point.

I’d like to see separate paved paths: one for people to bicycle on and one for all other users. I think the Bloomingdale Trail will become a popular commuting and recreation route, much like the Lakefront Trail. I believe the two trails will have vastly different use numbers, a dual-path setup on the elevated railroad can be seen as an experiment for future changes to the Lakefront Trail.

What features do you think the Bloomingdale Trail should have? Don’t suggest that we imitate the High Line – this is Chicago, not New York City, and second to none.

15 thoughts on “Bloomingdale Trail: A first time exploration plus development update”

  1. The two paths seems like a good idea. Another option would be to create a westbound path separated from an eastbound path. I rode on a path like this between St. Louis Park and Minneapolis and liked it. Both could have crushed stone next to the asphalt for walkers and runners (but it wouldn’t work for roller bladers and strollers).

  2. Two paths with a 2-3 inch sloped (think bell curve) berm dividing the two. Let’s learn from the accidents stemming from the combo of foot/bike/stroller traffic that happens on the lakefront.

  3. As a Chicago native who’s lived in NYC for the past 12 years, I’d say don’t even THINK of the High Line as the model. Yes, it’s pretty. But it’s a park. It’s crowded and people move very slowly. It’d be difficult enough to walk a bike through it on a summer day; riding is impossible. So two paths, yes!

  4. Why not dream? The High Line is a fancy, expensive “concept park” — Chicago can build a Commuting Trail That Works. My dream is the “Interstate” model.

    I’d say: ped lane–crushed stone–bike lane–divider–bike lane–crushed stone–ped lane


    Put “crosswalks” every so often with some “traffic calming” like speed humps or whatever to encourage bicycles to slow down.

    1. We’re all dreaming until the park actually is legally accessible!

      I definitely don’t want a linear Millennium Park. This needs to be useful to Chicagoans and not a tourism draw.

      The “interstate model,” as you call it, has already been done – it’s the Lakefront Trail and a lot of other trails in/around Chicago.

      I want to try something different. This trail in Minneapolis has three paths: one direction for bikes, opposite direction for bikes, and two-way for everyone else.

      1. Do you have any pictures of “interstate model” commuter paths like the one I described? I have ridden in a lot of places and grew up riding the Lakefront but never have I seen anything like what I described above.

        It sounds like we’re both talking about pretty much the same thing, but my think is to have a little room for the joggers to get around the pedestrians, and also offer the pedestrians views from either side of the scenic trail.


  5. Not sure if separate paths are needed, especially if that drives up the cost of the project. I doubt we will ever see the use numbers you see at LFP with no tourists and beachgoers nearby and a general lower population density of the surrounding areas. I would guess the use may be equivalent to North Shore Channel trail or the North Branch trail, which have plenty of space for all users.

    What I would like to see is the trail to become part of a network, not just a fancy trail. This means clearly established feeder routes both on the west as well as east terminus. For example, on the east side it needs a clear route to Cortland as well as improvements to Cortland between Ashland and Clybourn.

    1. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it would be a neat experiment. Already the cost is being predicted at about $67 million (as listed on the project table from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning).

      On the same table, the trail is noted as connecting to the Milwaukee Avenue bikeway, the most popular bike route.

      Additionally, but not noted in that table, is that it comes within 2 blocks of the Clybourn Metra station – but access between the two will need to be signed and improved.

    1. The estimate will be refined and could go up, down, or stay the same, depending on the contractor’s (Arup) study of the railroad viaduct’s structural condition.

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