CHICAGO — The planned June opening of the Bloomingdale Trail has residents who live near the 2.7-mile long path excited, but also concerned about potential crime.
Chicago Police Department spokesman Martin Maloney said the department has been working with the Chicago Park District and other city agencies "to make certain a proper level of staffing is provided to ensure the safety of the trail."
Adding, "we don’t divulge the specifics of our deployments for obvious reasons," Maloney said, "As we do with most parks around the city, the trail will certainly receive special attention and be frequented by patrols on foot and bicycle."
Alisa Hauser says nearby residents are taking the new developments in stride:
According to a ChicagoCAPS14 tweet, Shakespeare District police have been on the trail, a defunct railroad line, looking for trespassers during construction while the trail is off limits. They have been issuing tickets for criminal trespassers since last October.
Officers in all areas of the local district, including the trail, also will be wearing body cameras the department confirmed in a tweet earlier this month.
Clipped to their bodies and glasses, the test cameras will "record all routine calls of service, investigatory stops, traffic stops, foot and vehicle pursuits, emergency driving situations and high-risk situations," according to a police news release.
Adam England, who lives near the trail near the Milwaukee Avenue bridge, said while he eagerly awaits the trail's benefits, "I'm more concerned about security just off the trail than safety on it. "
He calls the trail "an elevated highway past peoples' living rooms and backyards."
The trail runs from Ashland and Bloomingdale avenues on the east to Ridgeway and Bloomingdale avenues in Humboldt Park on the west.
People will be moving freely on the trail, by foot, while pushing strollers, walking leashed dogs or cycling.
Privacy screens and planted landscape along the trail will mitigate some of the problems of having a boardwalk outside the windows of hundreds of neighbors living along the trail. England said neighbors will need to be very active in reporting to police, and each other, any issues they see.
The trail runs just near the living room of Mike Runkle who lives in Bucktown, along the east part of the trail near Damen Aveunue.
"People can look in pretty easily," said Runkle.
There is a newly constructed fence, about 5 feet high, separating Runkle's balcony from the park's fence that was installed by the park's planners.
Runkle said he met with planners from The Trust for Public Land — the private partners behind the park — to select a design choice of either a 10-foot-high fence that would obscure the trail or a shorter fence that permits a clear view.
Runkle opted for the shorter fence so he could have views of the path that he previously went cross-country skiing on after buying his two-bedroom condo in a former warehouse in 2007.
In regards to crime, Runkle said he is most concerned about "graffiti punks," and from a safety perspective, the mixture of dogs and fast-moving bikes.
"They are allowing leashed dogs, and I imagine people will be tearing through on bikes. When people have a dog on a leash, it is a few feet away and not next to them," Runkle said.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the trail confirmed that leashed dogs will be allowed on the path, a 10-foot-wide concrete area, with an additional 2 feet on each side of "soft shoulders."
Arguably one of the most anticipated city park projects, part of a greater system called The 606, named for the first three numbers of the ZIP code all neighborhoods spanning the park share, The Bloomingdale Trail has been compared to the High Line, an elevated "sidewalk of the future" spanning 20 city blocks in New York City.
The High Line, which opened in 2009, is flanked by a river on one side and high-rise buildings on the other. Some of the buildings are so close to the path it seems that you could high-five a person through a window, the New York Times reported.
The crowds of people on the High Line have helped to deter crime, police said. "The park might be elevated, but the crime rate is anything but," the Times reported.
New York City's Park Enforcement Patrol officers walk the High Line all day, and the access points are locked at 11 p.m. The High Line does not allow bikes or pets.
Officially a Chicago Park District facility, the Bloomingdale Trail will open at 6 a.m. and close at 11 p.m. daily like all of Chicago's parks, a spokeswoman from the Trust for Public Land said.
Steve Jensen, president of the Bucktown Community Organization, said neighbors would like to see a fast way to access emergency responders.
"We are concerned that the trail does not have panic buttons anywhere, like on a college campus. With lighting and electric lines being installed there, it is a no-brainer. Somebody could have found a way to fit it into the budget," Jensen said.
A spokeswoman for the trail said that, as is the case with other parks in the Park District system, it will not include emergency kiosks. She said the trail is designed to accommodate emergency and service vehicles.
Jensen and other volunteers and neighbors from an online Bucktown Neighborhood Watch group said they plan to ride their bikes and walk their dogs after dark to supplement the police.
"We as a community view the trail as an asset to our neighborhood. We anticipate the trail will attract more locals than people from afar using it as a thoroughfare or a connector," Jensen said.
Erin Bottcher, whose family has a view of the trail from their porch in the 1700 block of North Talman, considers the trail a safer way to walk through neighborhoods.
When the trail opens, Bottcher plans to walk her two children for about a mile on the trail, from their home in East Humboldt Park to a school near Elston and Cortland avenues. The school is just steps from Walsh Park, the trail's easternmost point of entrance and exit at 1722 N. Ashland Ave.
"My son calls it the 'Up Park' when we walk past it," Bottcher said.
Bottcher said she and her family are "over the moon" about the trail and hopes that it will be busy.
England predicts during the weekday working hours the trail will be "a dog-walker's/baby carriage pusher's mecca."
England said he plans to use the trail to ride his bike to and from the indoor Archery Bow Range Chicago at 1757 N. Kimball Ave. in Humboldt Park.
When asked if he believes property values will go up as a result of the trail, as several folks in the real estate industry have predicted, England said it's possible, but only if neighbors use the trail.
"If the 606 doesn't hit the mark, if it's a flash-in-the-pan, if it's not well-managed, if people don't feel safe on the trail, it'll be a drag on values. The 606 needs to have momentum from the day it opens," England said.
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