Community weighs in on proposed elevated park and bike trail

BY QIXIN WANG
MARCH 09, 2012

Source: Medill Reports

Chicago Department of Transportation/MEDILL/Qixin Wang Chicago officials propose an elevated 2.7-mile bike-friendly recreational park on the Northwest Side.

Chicago Department of Transportation/MEDILL/Qixin Wang
Chicago officials propose an elevated 2.7-mile bike-friendly recreational park on the Northwest Side.

West Logan Square resident Ryan Westrom says when he visited New York City, he was impressed by its High Line – the one-mile recreational park created on an abandoned elevated railroad track in Lower Manhattan’s West Side. With a similar but even bigger park coming to Chicago, the transportation engineer says he could not be more excited.

Westrom was among Northwest Side residents briefed on the project Thursday evening at Yates Elementary School, 1839 N. Richmond St.–and rendering their judgments.

“I might be biased, but I really think it’s a great idea,” said Westrom of the 2.7-mile multi-use facility. “It’s so close to where I live so I can take my two daughters for a walk here whenever possible.”

The facility, called Bloomingdale Trail and Park, will be built on an old elevated rail line along Bloomingdale Avenue (approximately 1800 North) from Ashland Avenue (1600 West) to Ridgeway (3732 West), touching Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods.

It’s a project that Janet Attarian of the Chicago Department of Transportation called “the next age of parks,” saying it “grows out of the community.” She roughly estimated the cost at $46 million, and said the city will endeavor to raise $9 million of that from private sources not yet identified.

It is designed to bring a dormant 100-year-old railroad track back to life and provide families with handy access to recreation. Talk about building it started in early 2008 but the actual design did not take shape until last June.

Qixin Wang/MEDILL Janet Attarian of the Chicago Department of Transportation introduced the Bloomingdale Trail and Park's "framework plan" during a presentation Thursday evening.

Qixin Wang/MEDILL
Janet Attarian of the Chicago Department of Transportation introduced the Bloomingdale Trail and Park’s “framework plan” during a presentation Thursday evening.

At the meeting Thursday, city officials and designers unveiled a “framework plan”–lacking details because they termed the design and engineering “tentative,” but intended to respond to previous community surveys regarding several hot button issues.

One question that especially concerns community members is how to balance between the bike trail and the park. The city wants to create another long-distance bike trail similar to the existing lakefront trail, but some residents worry the bike trail could undermine the park’s family-friendly environment.

“I am a recreational cyclist, but I am more interested in all the greens and plants that are proposed here.” said Christine Esposito, president of TerraCom, a green public relations firm.

Gaby Machuca, whose son said he wants “an apple tree” to be planted in the park, declared the project should be primarily designed for families, not competitive riders.
Anticipating such concerns, the framework plan suggested a number of solutions, such as limiting the maximum cycling speed to 20 miles per hour, creating one 1.5-mile pedestrian-only trail, and putting out signs.

Privacy is another issue that has irked some residents whose houses are within feet of the proposed project. They fear that the project, while providing better inward and outward views for visitors, will inevitably put their privacy at risk and might even lead to criminal activity.

The city’s answer to privacy concerns was adding fences and vegetation screens, placing the path away from the neighbors or lowering it. But regarding security concerns, the officials merely suggested that residents watch out for each other.

Some at the meeting worried about potential damage to neighborhood historic sites and the park’s  access to public transit and other parks. Since the project is still in its first design phase, officials responded, more details will be developed as the design team reviews feedback.

The second phase of the project, which will start in the spring, calls for implementing comments and recommendations gathered in the first phase. The city says the approval process for the project will begin in August, and once the design is completed and approved, scheduled for next year, construction will start.

Officials said that residents could expect some parts of the Bloomingdale Trail and Park to open in 2014.