Bloomingdale Trail Plans Move Forward

New York City’s High Line (visited last summer by Professor Carl Zimring, as described in this post) has been a popular addition to that city’s parks system since its opening and recent expansion.  That success inspired similar plans to repurpose a stretch of abandoned railroad on the northwest side of Chicago.  Known as the Bloomingdale Trail, this project moved forward last week when three design firms submitted bids on the project.

City officials say they have secured more than $37 million in federal anti-congestion and air-quality funding for the project’s $46 million first phase — the remaining $9 million is to be raised privately. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is an avid backer. Construction could start next year, with portions of the project opening in 2014.

The trail took a significant step forward Thursday night when three design firms unveiled a carefully conceived, long-range plan meant to guide its development. The plan is a distinctly post-industrial exercise, seeking to breathe new life into a nearly century-old rail spur that was raised above city streets to prevent deadly at-grade collisions between trains and people.

“The whole structure was built to keep people out,” said Chicago architect Carol Ross Barney, who leads one of the three design firms. “Our work has been to get people in and up there.”

That work has been done well for the most part, addressing, if not fully resolving, a wide range of conflicting needs — between speeding cyclists and slow-moving pedestrians, neighboring homeowners who cherish privacy and advocates of a vibrant public space that serves as a focus of community.

Barney’s firm and the other lead designers, the global engineering firm Arup and the landscape architects at Cambridge, Mass.-based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, propose eight access points to the trail, which would be spaced at reasonable intervals of roughly half a mile.

Five of the eight entries would be small, ground-level parks from which berms would form gentle upward slopes. Two would be ramps leading up from street level. The last would be an L-shaped berm at the trail’s western end.

The trail itself has been smartly designed, avoiding the monotony of straight lines and an institutional plant palette. The multiuse path, a total of 14 feet wide and running the entire 2.7 miles, would have gentle curves and would dip occasionally. Such changes in level and direction would serve many aims, providing ever-changing views, reducing the distance from street to trail and slowing down cyclists.

Trees and shrubs also would do double (and triple) duty, providing shade, attracting birds and separating quiet pedestrian zones from the more active bike path.

In a further attempt to avoid the crashes between pedestrians and cyclists that plague Chicago’s lakefront trail, the designers call for 1.5 miles of pedestrian pathways that would run parallel to the multiuse trail. For safety’s sake, however, more pedestrian-only paths may be needed, as some suggested during Thursday night’s Q and A.

The use and reuse of the urban landscape are themes evident in Roosevelt University’s seminar SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation, and Planning, which Professor Brad Hunt will teach at the Schaumburg campus this fall, and SUST 210 The Sustainable Future, offered at both campuses and online.  If you are interested in taking this or any of our courses, please contact your RU academic advisor for registration details. If you are not currently a Roosevelt University student, we encourage you to investigate our degree options and our course listings. For more information, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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