Looking west on the Bloomingdale Trail from approximately Leavitt and Milwaukee. The Blue Line towards O’Hare crosses here. Photo by John Tolva.
The first public meeting for the Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated abandoned railroad line, soon to be an elevated linear park, happened last Thursday at the Congress Theater in Logan Square. This was the first meeting where members of the public got to hear from and meet the consultants the City of Chicago hired through a competitive bidding process.
The City awarded ARUP North America the contract to do Phase I engineering and Phase II design over a year after the company was selected. ARUP has nine subcontractors, several of which are based in Chicago (see page two of the FAQ). They are collectively called the “design team.”
The team is currently in phase one of the trail project which includes two parallel approaches.The first is the obvious engineering scope; land acquisition and safety and infrastructure concerns. The second is to establish a framework with a full schematic design, envisioned themes, phasing and cost estimation.
Once complete, the Bloomingdale Trail will be 12 acres of brand new park space that directly connects an additional 3 acres for a total of 15 contiguous acres of much needed greenery. [The Logan Square Open Space Plan mentions that “Logan Square has the least amount of open space per capita of any Chicago community area except South Lawndale.” This plan, from 2004, helped readers envision the Bloomingdale Trail.]
There will be many future opportunities for people to contribute their ideas, ask questions, and learn about the progress. There are three events in the first week of October.
Enough about the Bloomingdale Trail. It’s sailing in the right direction. Where are the other Bloomingdale Trails? Where are the other elevated abandoned railroads we can transform into linear parks, unimpeded walking paths, and car-free bikeways?
Building more Bloomingdale Trails
This question was answered by my friend and classmate, Daniel Miodonski*, in the Fall 2009 semester at the College of Urban Planning and Public Policy (CUPPA). We shared a geographic information systems (GIS) class learning how to dissect, manipulate and represent geodata. For his term project, Daniel analyzed the location of abandoned railroads in Chicago and selected eight distinct lines at least 0.5 miles long. He then confirmed through satellite photos that they still existed (some in the dataset he used were paved over or built upon). The final part of his analysis involved calculating the population living within 0.5 miles as a way to determine the potential use or popularity of a multi-use trail in that location. I will focus on just two locations Daniel identified.
Shot from the Bloomingdale Trail, this scene shows several miles of abandoned elevated railroads look like in various, geographically diverse neighborhoods. This article focuses on two abandoned railroad lines. Photo by John Tolva.
49th Street, Leavitt to Wallace and 47th
Back of the Yards, New City – 2.4 miles
WEST END: This abandoned railroad can be seen by looking east from the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) Western Orange Line station at 49th Street. The railroad starts approximately two blocks away, where Leavitt Street (2200 West) would be if it weren’t itself an active railroad here. An east-west grove of trees and Oakley Park separate Western Avenue and the beginning of the abandoned railroad line.
EAST END: As the line travels east, it curves northward at Wallace Street (600 West) and crosses 47th Street and immediately ends. At this point it is 0.27 miles away from the CTA’s 47th Street Red Line station.
A great way to build a bikeway network is by incorporating transit stations as nodes. This route has two, one at each end. In 2009, over 45,000 people lived within 0.5 miles of this 2-mile long line. If access points were well situated, in these neighborhoods, and ideally at the ends of the line, these residents would have easier access to the Orange and Red Lines.
The line crosses Damen Avenue, Ashland Avenue (a commercial corridor), and Halsted Street. It passes within two blocks of Tilden Community Academy High School (680 students), Daley Elementary School (775), Hedges Elementary School (808), Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academic Center (781), and Hamline Elementary School (715). That’s a total of 3,759 students that could take advantage of a protected bike lane. It would be particularly advantageous for those students from outside the neighborhood that might take the Orange or Red Lines and a bus.
View 49th Street abandoned railroad line in a larger map.
1000 East, South Chicago and 73rd to Blackstone and 93rd
Grand Crossing, Avalon Park, Burnside, Calumet Heights – 2.8 miles
NORTH END: The first viaduct of this abandoned railroad crosses 73rd Street at South Chicago and Ellis. It’s within spitting distance of the Cary Comer College Prep (294 students), Paul Revere Elementary School (365) and the Gary Comer Youth Center, where the South Side Drill Team practices.
SOUTH END: The line follows the Metra Electric corridor but splits to the east at 85th Street, ending at Blackstone and 93rd Street. This is 0.8 miles away from a warehousing center (think jobs), 1.4 miles away from Olive Harvey College, and 1.5 miles away from Chicago State University.
In between, this multi-use trail would connect several Metra Electric (Blue Island) stations, at 75th Street (Grand Crossing), 79th Street (Chatham), 83rd Street (Avalon Park), and end near the 87th Street (Woodruff) station. The line also passes many baseball fields, tennis courts, a medical center and, again, more schools. It connects with bike lanes on South Chicago Avenue (a northwest to southeast diagonal) and 83rd Street. In 2009, 40,000 people lived within 0.5 miles of the route.
View the 1000 West abandoned railroad line in a larger map.
How to get it done?
The Bloomingdale Trail is progressing for many reasons: A neighbor support group (Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail) run by a passionate citizen (Ben Helphand), partnerships with the Trust for Public Land and Chicago Park District, official recognizance of the significance of the project from several City departments and the Chicago Plan Commission, and enthusiastic citizens. Oh, and don’t forget Rahm Emanuel said he would have it “built and functional during his first term.”
For these two abandoned railroads (and the others Daniel identified) to transform into multi-use trails, connecting neighborhoods and community amenities with a separated facility for walking and biking, community members will need to gather themselves and call attention to them. Active Transportation Alliance could help organize the geographically diverse communities into a group that asks for investigation into the feasibility of turning these abandoned railroad lines into active transportation and park spaces.
A map showing the locations of the Bloomingdale Trail, 49th Street railroad, and 1000 East railroad in Chicago.
Contemplating bikeway geography
Both locations are south of Roosevelt Road – I’ve heard many times at Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meetings that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) neglects the “south side” by paying more attention to adding bikeways on the “north side.” These discussions are unproductive unless it includes reference to actual work completed, as well as how bike lanes are selected and approved. But that discussion won’t happen until someone gathers and presents the work data (on existing, new, and newly maintained bikeways, which is publicly available) and the process of bike lane location selection and approval is explained. Hint: Aldermen can and do say no and CDOT respects that desire. It should be CDOT’s goal, from this day forward, regardless of its past actions, to equitably install bikeways within the city, paying special attention to places where bike crashes could be reduced or where gains in cycling could be realized (the two goals of the Bike 2015 Plan).
*Note: Daniel now works for Sam Schwartz Engineering and is involved in several projects I’ve covered on Grid Chicago and Steven Can Plan, including the new Streets for Cycling Plan and the 35th Ward Student Active Transportation Plan.