RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 20

will soon be home to colorful plantings and
art installations. There’s already a 14-foot-
wide ribbon of concrete that will become
the multiuse path. “The story of The 606 is
a unique combination of passion and per-
severance,” White says. “Those things don’t
often go together.”
Completed in 1913, the rail line served
a number of small Chicago manufactur-
ers during the 20th century, including the
makers of bicycles, furniture, candy, Lincoln
Logs, Ludwig drums, and Harmony gui-
tars and ukuleles. As the surrounding areas
transitioned from industrial to residential
in recent decades, rail traffic slowed to a
trickle. It ended completely by 2000.
Meanwhile, neighbors became inter-
ested in turning the right-of-way into a
recreational path. Josh Deth, owner of
Chicago’s burgeoning craft beer company
Revolution Brewing, was the founding
president of Friends of the Bloomingdale
Trail (FBT) (
), a grassroots group
that formed in 2003 to push for building
the greenway. “My first experience with the
Bloomingdale was sneaking up there with
buddies to ride bikes,” he says. “We called
them ‘urban assault rides.’”
Ben Helphand, current head of FBT,
also first experienced the rail line’s charms
as an unsanctioned user. “I crawled up there
one day and fell in love with the views,”
he says. “The space was just crying out
to become a path. It was overgrown with
weeds, but people had already blazed a
The same year FBT formed, the city of
Chicago included the Bloomingdale Trail
in its open space plan for Logan Square.
Adjacent to the rail line, this neighborhood
was found to have the second-worst parks-
to-people ratio in the city. Mayor Richard
M. Daley voiced support for the trail, and
the project moved forward at a slow but
steady pace during his administration.
Occasionally, FBT members staged
guerrilla interventions to try to speed things
up. They ambushed the mayor one year
with a giant thank-you card at the Bike to
Work rally, thanking him for “elevating
the trail.” Helphand says, “He had already
endorsed the trail, but that added a little
more pressure; you can’t really say no to a
thank-you card.”
Momentum to build the greenway
increased dramatically in 2011 after mayor-
elect Rahm Emanuel vowed to open the
path by the end of his first term, as one of
several bold transportation goals. It soon
became clear that Emanuel intended to
make the Bloomingdale not just a sim-
ple trail but one of the hallmarks of his
administration, along the lines of Daley’s
Millennium Park, the $475 million down-
town arts space.
“There’s no chance the Bloomingdale
would be happening in 2015 if Emanuel
had not made it a marquee project,”
Helphand says. “There are a lot of great
plans out there, and many of them sit on
the shelf for decades. Emanuel fast-tracked
the project and showered it with attention.”
The city enlisted The Trust for Public
Land (
), a national nonprofit that
preserves land for open space, as project
manager, responsible for coordinating sev-
eral city departments and contractors as well
as the community input process. Of the
$95 million projected as the total cost for
the trail, $50 million is coming from fed-
eral Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality
(CMAQ) grants, which are bankrolling the
design and construction of the basic trail.
The trust is working on raising an addi-
tional $45 million in private donations to
fund the construction of access parks, trail
landscaping and public art, as well as main-
tenance, security and programming.
Engaging the Neighborhood
Lucy Gomez-Feliciano, director of early
learning and health programs for the Logan
Square Neighborhood Association (
), was one of the early members of FBT,
along with Deth and Helphand. She has
been active in efforts to inform members of
the Latino community about the trail and
involve them in the public input process.
Initiatives have included a youth mural
project and an oral history project in which
teens photographed and interviewed local
residents about their experiences with the
A number of new, market-rate housing
developments are planned for land next to
the embankment in anticipation of the trail
opening. Gomez-Feliciano says many long-
time residents are worried that, as property
values rise, higher property taxes and rents
may force them out of their homes. She
thinks Chicago should address the gentri-
fication and displacement issue head-on.
One possible strategy, she says, is to have
new homeowners pay into a fund to build
affordable housing. “I’d like to see the city
create a space at the table where creative,
concerned people could come together to
figure out some solutions,” she adds. “It’s
about maintaining economic diversity in
the neighborhoods.”
White and I make our way to the west-
ern end of the trail, where a mound of dirt
is being transformed into the site for an
observatory, which will be accessed via a spi-
ral path. From the top of the mound—10
feet above the rest of the trail—visitors will
be able to watch train movements on an
adjacent, live, north-south rail line and view
the heavens through telescopes.
We head back east to Julia de Burgos
Park and then continue a few more blocks
until the new Milwaukee Avenue bridge
comes into view. Two weeks earlier, workers
had installed a 35-foot-tall, 55,000-pound
steel arch on the bridge. I’m impressed by
how much progress has been made on the
trail over the past few months, and I know
I’m not the only one who can’t wait for the
grand opening.
Rolling Out the Cal-Sag
A month later, on a snowy, windy Sunday
in early January, I haul my bicycle aboard
a Metra commuter train for the south sub-
urbs to check out the mostly completed
western portion of the Cal-Sag Trail
). The path is
covered with a couple inches of snow, so
it’s tricky going on my skinny-tired three-
speed. But it’s silent and serene as I roll
past the canal on my left, with its many
imposing steel bridges.
The Cal-Sag Trail is not a new idea;
planning maps go back as far as the 1970s,
when local urban planners proposed build-
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