Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail
Principle: Develop a vision
Josh Deth first became acquainted with the Bloomingdale railroad tracks, on the North Side of Chicago, on his bicycle. He used to ride along the abandoned tracks that tower above Bloomingdale Avenue, which he described as "a dead man's space. The railroad was not taking care of them. My explorations gave me a feel for what the space could be."
What the abandoned tracks could be, it turns out, is an elevated park that stretches for nearly three miles above 37 streets and across four neighborhoods.
City planners previously has considered the Bloomingdale in the 1997 Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) Bicycle Facilities Development Plan—albeit in the lowest grouping due, in part, to lack of perceived demand and minor ongoing rail use. In fact, some city staffers recommended demolition. Then, in 2003, the City of Chicago, Dept. of Planning and Development, CDOT, and Chicago Park District held numerous community meetings to consider the project as part of the city's Logan Square Open Space Plan.
In the wake of those meetings, Deth and a group of cohorts formed the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail not only to show support for trail development on the embankment, but to back up this support with community-based planning. Following an initial informal meeting at a bar in Wicker Park in 2003, the organization has spread its vision through organized trail cleanups, a children's coloring contest, and public lectures about the trail. The initial group of 20 people has swelled to almost 1,000 through outreach and community meetings. Through it all, Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail has remained true to its goals: preserve the trail and create a beautiful and well-used public space that connects the neighboring communities and institutions.
According to Deth, a primary activity of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail has been out- reach. Building community and political backing allowed them to approach other organizations with a plan that had a strong base of support. Ben Helphand, a co-founder of the Friends of Bloomingdale Trail, said "by meeting with the alderman and community groups, the city came to the project more easily because they knew the consensus was there." The project soon became a keystone of the Logan Square Open Space Plan and, when the Bicycle Facilities Development Plan was updated as the Chicago Trails Plan, community demand helped move the project up to the top priority list.
Four years and countless meetings after the first gathering of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, the Trust for Public Land acquired vacant lots for the Chicago Park District to serve as trail access points. A year later, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning awarded CDOT federal transportation funding for design and engineering work. Step-by-step, Deth, Helphand, and the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail are working with their community, citywide civic groups, and public officials to make the vision a reality.