Chicago Mayor Announces Funding in Place to Begin Building the Bloomingdale Trail

Posted 03/12/12 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Building Trails

Photo of the disused Bloomingdale Line © Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail

Though often prefixed by the words "long-awaited," and "delayed," the Bloomingdale Trail project to convert an elevated rail line in Chicago into a multi-use recreational space is moving ahead pretty quickly these days.

The development of a 3-mile rail-trail along Bloomingdale Avenue to the northwest of the city has been seriously discussed since about 2004. And though eight years is certainly not a long time in the world of rail-trail development, the tremendous potential of the disused elevated structure, coupled with the great success of New York's High Line, has made many Chicagoans impatient for progress.

Today, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce the city has raised the final $9 million needed to begin construction of phase 1 of the project, which will involve creating the basic trail system along the elevated tracks and establishing access points so it can be opened to the public. Construction is expected to begin next year and be completed by 2014.

The remaining $37 million has already been secured, courtesy of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program, a federal funding program which facilitates transportation projects aimed at reducing vehicle congestion. 

Emanuel and the city were able to gain the support of a number of large companies. Exelon will donate $5 million, while Boeing Co. and CNA are contributing $1 million apiece. The remaining $2 million will come from Chicago Park District funds.

Framework Plan designs © Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The Mayor's announcement follows last week's release of the official framework plan for the rail-trail. At an open house-style meeting at Yates Elementary School, one of four schools along the corridor, a large group of locals got the first look at the product of months of community input and design suggestions.

And the immediate reaction to what is being called the Framework Plan is positive, with most residents and proponents agreeing the preliminary plan accurately reflects the hopes and concerns of the community.

The major takeaways from new plan include the eight proposed access points from ground level to the trail, about 15 feet above the street. The access points would be at parks next to the trail as well as existing gathering points.

The designers have been conscious of the mixed-use nature of the Bloomingdale Trail, as both nonmotorized transportation pathway and park space. The trail's multiuse path would be used designed primarily for bikes, but with an emphasis on controlling speed and reducing conflict with pedestrians and people using the space next to the trail.

The path would be at least 10 feet wide, with two feet of clearance on each side for a total of 14 feet. About one and a half miles of the trial would have a separate pedestrian path that would run parallel to the multiuse path.

Ben Helphand, President of Friends of Bloomingdale Trail, says the framework plan represents "an incredible balancing act," referencing the corridor's role as both trail and park, and the need to be conscious of the privacy of nearby landowners in what will be a very public space.

"They've been able to do this with some very smart landscaping, and path alignment," Helphand says, adding that "although privacy concerns were brought up, they weren't overwhelming."

Helphand stresses this is not the final plan, and there will be continual feedback and response between designers and the community in coming months.

"This has been very much a conversation," he says. "There's been genuine back and forth, and thanks to that we are approaching a good solution. Right from the start this has been a very fun, and civil, process. That has a lot to do with how the city and the nonprofit partners, the Trust for Public Land and Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, have approached it."

The Trust for Public Land will continue to seek private and corporate donations toward the $36 million needed to construct trailside amenities and gathering spaces.

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