Even though it’s not the only city in the world to stick a train track above street level, Chicago is famous for its El (elevated) train lines. You’ll never hear a person in the city take "the subway" somewhere—even if their route technically runs underground. It’s always "the El."
So maybe that’s why, even though New York beat Chicago to it, Chicago’s plans for the Bloomingdale Trail feel so significant. The project, which is being designed by ARUP and still seeking funding, proposes to convert a 2.7-mile stretch of abandoned elevated track into a park in the sky (or, okay, a park that’s just a bit off the ground). It will make room for bikers riding up to 20 mph as well as pedestrians. And the view should be spectacular.
A skeptic might say that it’s less an ambitious project than it is a purely practical one. The existing rail line hasn’t been in use for over a decade, and the decade before that, it was only running about one freight a week. Yet at the same time, it’s an incredible infrastructure that runs through popular Chicago neighborhoods: Several miles of steel have been bolted and concrete has already been poured. As is a persistent problem in the U.S.’s relatively young infrastructure, these valuable urban build-outs can either rot (and eventually cost money to deal with the remains), or they can be retrofitted and repurposed. They’re just a redesign away from obsolescence.
In the Bloomingdale Trail’s case, it’s already a path on which people exercise and explore—even though it’s technically trespassing. A $100 million (or so) investment will make it safer, increasingly usable, and far more beautiful. As a Chicago native, I’m a bit biased to see the project work out. And I’m also curious, once you get up into the park, um, how will you get down?
[Hat tip: Inhabitat]