The Bloomingdale rails-to-trails conversion is chugging along


One the perks of co-writing this blog is attending events that I probably wouldn’t get to go to otherwise. Case in point was last week’s swanky benefit party, “The Bloomingdale: An Ideas Salon,” at the Hotel Allegro, 171 W. Randolph. According to Beth White, Chicago director for the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the nonprofit which is assisting with the community input process and private fundraising campaign for the 2.65-mile elevated park and trail, about 150 people attended. She’s yet not sure how much will have been raised after expenses, but the $100 ticket price means the event grossed about $15,000.


At the party attendees kibitzed over cocktails and small plates, shared ideas for the trail with staffers TPL staffers and city planners, and recorded their personal stories about the Bloomingdale with the Chicago Park District’s Inferno Mobile Recording Studio.

Will Rogers, President and CEO of the trust, visiting from San Francisco, addressed the crowd, boasting that the Bloomingdale is going to be even better than the High Line, the mile-long, elevated park on the lower west side of Manhattan. “There is nothing that we’ve done that has the potential to be more transformative and have more impact than the work that we’re doing right here,” he said. “And guess what, I love the High Line but this is longer and wider [laughter and applause]. Chicago’s going to be the ‘First City’ on this one.”


Will Rogers.

Yesterday White gave me an update on the planning and fundraising process for the Bloomingdale. The basic construction of the trail is budgeted at $46 million. “That’s what’s needed for engineering and construction to build a safe, accessible park from end-to-end,” she said. After securing $39 million in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds, in March the city announced that it had raised the remaining 20% (of the total project cost) in local funds required by the grant. This $9 million includes $2 million from the park district plus donations of $5 million from Exelon and $1 million each from Boeing and CNA.

The design team for the final design and engineering phase of the Bloomingdale was established a few weeks ago, and plan for the trail will be finalized over the next six to eight months. Construction should start in late 2012 or early 2013. “The goal is to have the trail be operational in the fall of 2014 and have enhancements done by the fall of 2015,” White said. “Mayor Emanuel heard loud and clear that the community wants to get up there sooner than later.”


Emanuel, left, at the press conference last March to announce the additional $9 million.

Around the time of the city’s announcement, TPL launched the campaign to raise an additional $30 – $45 million in additional private donations to fund the enhancements as well as ongoing operations. This money will be used for building parks at some of the access points, landscaping, public art, and some design and construction work, as well as maintenance, security and programming. White said TPL is not yet disclosing how much cash has been raised by the campaign, but she expects that there will be another announcement soon, once other major donors are ready to go public.

Steven and I agree that agree that the Bloomingdale team has been doing a great job in engaging citizens in the planning process via multiple community input meetings, and responding to their concerns. Most notably, many people have called for creating separated bike and pedestrian paths in order to avoid the kind of conflicts that are common on the Lakefront Trail. The next public meeting takes places on Tuesday, May 15, 6 pm at the Humboldt Park Boathouse, 1440 N. Sacramento. White says the event will focus on the access points and their relationship to the elevated trail, with much of the time spent in breakout sessions where attendees can discuss their ideas with team members.


Checking out renderings of the trail at a community meeting in March at Yates Elementary.

At this point the initial access points have been finalized. Access parks will include Walsh Park, Churchill Park, Park #567 (currently being developed at Milwaukee/Leavitt), Albany/Whipple Park (which will be renamed in honor of Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos during a celebration on Saturday, May 12, 11 am – 2 pm), a new park at Kimball and a new pocket park at Ridgeway, the western terminus. There will also be access points without green space at Western and California. In addition, future access points may include Wood, Rockwell, Humboldt, Kedzie and Central Park.


Albany/Whipple Park by the Bloomingdale embankment – photo by Payton Chung.

White said she’s very happy with the progress of this project to convert the dormant railroad right-of-way to an iconic park and trail. “To-date everything is on track,” she said. “Sorry for the pun.”

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

18 thoughts on “The Bloomingdale rails-to-trails conversion is chugging along”

  1. The access points – Churchill Park and Walsh Park – have Dog Friendly Areas along the elevated line. Any idea what the impact on those parks will be yet? 

  2. Sorry dudes. When I got involved, it was a nice  3 million dollar trail. The kind of money it’s at now, I’d rather see go to depaving LSD.

      1. As much I dislike highways because of their negative influences on neighborhoods (like noise, pollution, and intense land occupancy), I don’t think removing Lake Shore Drive is a good idea. There are definitely some things we can do to improve the Drive so that our accordion buses can become more express, serving more people on transit, the most efficient vehicles on the road.

        1. Agreed on both counts. A well-enforced (key phrase there) bus-only lane in both directions seems like a no-brainer.

  3. I’m a long-time Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail volunteer and I also attended this event. It was indeed swanky. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk about the trial with a new group of people (than the ones who attend the many community input meetings).
    Good write up.


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