BUCKTOWN — Could extending the Bloomingdale Trail over the Chicago River help ease traffic congestion in an industrial corridor that borders Logan Square, Bucktown and Lincoln Park?
Though the trail is not scheduled to open until June, extending the 2.7-mile elevated path that will run through four Chicago neighborhoods was one of several crowdsourced suggestions given to the economic development group North Branch Works.
"That is a big barrier to the trail, it sort of ends abruptly," said Mike Holzer, executive director of North Branch Works, which was awarded a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection agency to come up with a plan for the future of a 40-acre site that runs along the Chicago River.
A. Finkl & Sons, which is planning to demolish its buildings in the coming months, encompasses about 23 acres on the 40-acre site and has declined to participate in the study, Holzer said.
At a recent meeting at the Bucktown-Wicker Park library, 1701 N. Milwaukee Ave., about 100 people, mainly residents who live near the site and those hoping to have a stake in its future, such as developers, shared their ideas for the North Branch Industrial Corridor — Diversey Avenue to North Avenue and Western Avenue to Halsted Street.
After the meeting, Holzer said he did not know if it was feasible, but the idea of the trail crossing the river "hit a nerve with a lot of people."
Reached by email, Beth White, executive director of the Trust for Public Land, the city's leading private partner in the 606 project, for which the trail is its centerpiece, said that an extension of the trail "is a long-term vision."
"We are heartened that people are sharing and maintaining that vision. The 2003 Logan Square Open Space Plan shows that vision, and that's what we are working toward. But that is phase two of the project, and we are now in phase one," White said.
Holzer said that connecting Armitage Avenue between Ashland Avenue to the west and Racine Avenue to the east, rather than being diverted around the site, could also help with traffic flow, as would reopening a three-block-long stretch of Southport Avenue between Clybourn and Cortland.
Years ago, Southport Avenue was vacated to help the Finkl & Sons steel plant expand, but now that Finkl has relocated to the South Side, Southport should be reopened, Holzer said.
Utilizing the Chicago River as a way to commute to work was another idea brought up, since there is a water taxi that docks under the North Avenue Bridge and goes Downtown, but it does not travel north along the corridor.
Reached after the meeting, Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the River, said properties along the North Branch corridor "all have the potential to turn the river into an amenity."
"People could kayak to work, take a river taxi. Clearly [the North Branch] is a place along the river that has not had that option until now. The ability to access the river comes in fits and starts. We have the emerging River Walk Downtown, but our goal is to continue the river along the entire system," Frisbie said.
When asked about the possibility of extending the Bloomingdale Trail over the Chicago River, Frisbie said she has been in touch with the Trust for Public land for many years about the topic.
"That corner where the trail ends [at Ashland], you stand there and say, 'where am I going to go from there?' It's exciting that the timing of the trail being almost done coincides with the redevelopment of the properties [in North Branch]," Frisbie said.
Holzer said that any redevelopment plans for the area, which include courting high-tech companies, small manufacturers and even breweries, should not displace the firms currently there, such as Ozinga, the Horween leather company and other "legacy Chicago companies."
"At the height, the corridor had 40,000 jobs, and now it's down to 20,000. Our mission is to retain and expand opportunities in the corridor," Holzer said.
The study is focused on keeping the area as a planned manufacturing district and would prohibit most residential and retail development.
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