The community planning process to convert the elevated rail line known as the Bloomingdale Trail into a public park and recreational path is underway. The three mile embankment, twice the length of New York’s High Line, will feature five access points from adjacent pocket parks, as well as eight access points from intersecting streets. The trail winds through Chicago’s Logan Square, Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, and Bucktown neighborhoods.
During public meetings residents who live near the abandoned line have expressed concerns about privacy and security, while some have objected to opening up the structure to the public (urban adventurers have long accessed the line illegally). The planning team, which includes ARUP, Ross Barney Architects, and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, has worked to address those concerns in a number of ways. Where a house has a window overlooking the trail, the planning framework will call to the path to curve away from the house toward the opposite side of the trail (which is approximately 30 feet wide at it’s narrowest points). The project is much more earth-bound than its New York predecessor with direct connections to the city’s sidewalks and neighborhood parks system. A small number of parking spaces will be eliminated at the street access points, which the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) has supported.
The plan also calls for using the depth of the embankment as a design element. “We have a lot of material you can remove or add to,” said Andrew Vesselinovitch, a project architect with Ross Barney. “We worked with Van Valkenburgh Associates, and they came up with the pretty brilliant idea of giving the path a subtle undulation.” Not only would this create a varied experience for the visitor, it will allow for different micro climates for plants as well as create more privacy for neighboring windows.
The project is being funded largely through federal transportation funds, so it must accommodate cyclists as well as pedestrians. “It was very helpful explaining to the public that it would have to accommodate bikes as well as people walking to the bus stop,” Vesselinovitch said. “People understood that you can either allow bicycles or try to find $40 million somewhere else.” The line will have a shared bike/pedestrian path running the length of the trail as well as shorter, additional pedestrian-only segments along the wider portions.
The planning team is wrapping up with a framework plan for review by CDOT and the Parks District. A new team will take over the final design for the Parks District, with only MVVA continuing on. Since the High Line opened there have been many disputes about who deserves credit for the design between the architects (Diller, Scofio + Renfro) and the landscape architect (James Corner Field Operations). At the Bloomingdale Trail, it seems MVVA won’t have any significant rival claiming design credit.
The first phase is tentatively scheduled to open in 2014.