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The Bloomingdale Trail: Chicago’s Elevated Greenway

August 12, 2019

– By Tom Schaffner

Learn more about the Bloomingdale Trail (the 606) and its history in Chicago.

The Bloomingdale Trail

We generally use this space to write about Chicago’s elevated transit system, the “L.”  Our business, L Stop Tours, is all about the L and the 77 city neighborhoods it passes through.  Today we’re going in a slightly different direction and writing about a different elevated railroad system, the Bloomingdale Trail and its larger park-encompassing cousin, the 606.

The Bloomingdale Trail is a former elevated railway line that the City of Chicago converted into an elevated greenway in 2015.  It runs west from Ashland Avenue (along W. Bloomingdale Avenue) to Ridgeway Avenue (3732 west). At 2.7 miles in length, the Bloomingdale Trail is the second longest greenway project of a former elevated rail line in the world, trailing only the Promenade Plantée in Paris (2.9 miles in length).  Today the only traffic on the Bloomingdale Trail are hikers, bikers, joggers and pedestrians of all shapes and sizes.

Bloomingdale Trail Construction

Originally constructed in 1873 by the Chicago and Pacific Railroad Company as part of a 36-mile link to Elgin, Illinois, the railroad was built at street level and carried both passenger and freight traffic.  In the 1910s the railroad was elevated approximately 20 feet when as ordinance designed to reduce pedestrian fatalities at street level was passed by the City of Chicago. As businesses began to move out of the area (such as Schwinn Bicycle Company), freight traffic on the rail line began a long, steady decline into irrelevancy.  The last freight train ran on the line in 2001.

Though the City of Chicago had investigated converting the Bloomingdale Line into a greenway as early as 1997, it wasn’t until 2004 that the project was revisited and made part of the Logan Square Open Space Plan, which prosed a linear park with public access ramps every few blocks.  Groundbreaking for the project occurred on August 27, 2013. In addition to extensive landscaping and access ramps, the trail consists of a 10-foot wide paved path with a 2-foot soft shoulder on either side.

The Bloomingdale Trail is central to a larger series of parks and a trail network in the area called “The 606,” which derives its name from the first three digits of all Chicago ZIP Codes.  The intent is to symbolize the linkage between parks and the neighborhoods they serve, as opposed to the elevated rail line which served to isolate and “wall off” neighborhoods. The four newly-linked neighborhoods are Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square.

Access to the Bloomindale Trail via public transportation from downtown is easy — take the CTA Blue Line to either Damen or Western Avenues.

Bloomingdale Trail

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, a newsletter for former Chicagoans. Tom is also the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

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