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The Bloomingdale: A Quick Tour of Planned Bike Path and Parks

By Alisa Hauser | April 18, 2013 6:17am | Updated on April 18, 2013 10:28am

WICKER PARK — The Bloomingdale Trail has a new name.

Officials are now referring to the 2.7-mile elevated linear park as "The Bloomingdale" — named after the street it runs along,  east-west Bloomingdale Avenue.

Last month the city announced ambitious plans to start groundbreaking on The Bloomingdale this summer, which is elevated 16 feet above the ground and runs through Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park.

Though long known as "Bloomingdale Trail, said the word "trail" was dropped because "It's more than a bike path" — it's a trail connecting five ground-level parks,said Brie Callahan, a spokeswoman for the project.

Gia Biagi, chief of staff for the Chicago Park District, told a busload of urban planners on a mobile tour this week that, "It's not just a trail, it's a open-space system."

Ben Helphand, executive director of Neighbor Space, a nonprofit organization that creates community gardens on public land, further elaborated ditching the word "trail."

"People say trail, and they think of just the top of it. It's an archipelago of green space. The 'trail' never encompassed the park-ness of it, and didn't make people think of all the access parks, which are great in their own right," said Helphand, who's also president of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

Helphand added: "Hopefully, people will think of it as more of a network, a whole symbol. It's more than a narrow trail to get from point A to point B."

While the dropping of the word "trail" sparked controversy from readers of the Grid Transportation blog not all of whom were sold on the name, "The Bloomingdale" — a busload of urban planners from around the nation were enthusiastic about the project's potential.

Jeff Schlotter, an urban planner for Lochner firm in Raleigh, N.C., called The Bloomingdale "a great example of an adaptive re-use of an obsolete facility."

Jamie Simone, urban parks program manager for The Trust for Public Land, which is developing the five access parks in partnership with the city, led a mobile workshop on the past, present and future of The Bloomingdale. 

Though the $91 million project has been compared to the High Line in New York, Simone went over the main differences, such as the fact that The Bloomingdale allows both bikes and dogs, while the High Line doesn't.

While the High Line is accessed by stairs and elevators, the Bloomingdale will have an ADA-accessible ramp leading to the trail.

Other Things to Know About "The Bloomingdale."

• The two-way, 14-foot wide path will be made of "a sustainable material," with crushed stone on each side.

• The railing around the trail will be 4 feet, 6 inches tall, and there will be 10-foot-tall mesh metal privacy screen on some areas of the trail where it's adjacent to homes.

• Walsh Park, 1722 N. Ashland Ave., will be the largest of the five access parks and offer a "wheel-friendly event plaza" that will welcome skateboarders and wheelchairs.

• Existing murals will be removed, according to Angel Ysaguirre, deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. 

Referencing "a large change in mural administration polices," Ysaguirre said that, "Our existing stand is murals are temporary pieces of art, intended to exist for a certain amount of time."

Ysaguirre said that "Art will exist in a number of ways at the park" and that the group is still working on how it will curate the art.

• Police plan to do a vehicular sweep every night to ensure there are no people on the trail after the park closes at 11 p.m. There also will be dedicated bicycle police patroling the trail.

• Since the bulk of the trail's federal funding came from a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, the trail will be snow-plowed and maintained like a regular commuter street, though it may need a smaller plow, Simone said.