Just under a year ago, Chicago saw the opening of its very own elevated greenway, similar to the more well-known High Line in New York City. Titled “The 606,” after the prefix on all Chicago zip codes, the space is intended to function both as a green space and as a bikeway, connecting many parks and neighborhoods on the city’s North Side. The 606 was built on what was originally a train line called The Bloomingdale Line. As train ridership decreased, The Bloomingdale Line was decommissioned with the intention of eventually turning it into public green space. This development took some time; the Logan Square Open Space Plan was penned in 2004. During this wait, the Bloomingdale Line was abandoned, left to be overgrown.
Now, The 606 is settling into its status as property value-increasing boon to North Side neighborhoods. How well is The 606 making its transition from abandoned train tracks to a green space that’s integrated into the communities it serves?
Today, the nearly three mile-long trail is becoming a neighborhood staple. It is seeing heavy usage as a green space for residents to engage with and explore. While no estimates exist for the number of visitors, there are over 80,000 residents within a ten-minute walking radius of the trail. The trail’s website bills The 606 as “an urban oasis and a new way to explore.” The 606 has provided users with plenty of ways to engage the space beyond travel. The trail connects six Chicago park districts with direct access to each park, with trail maps marking the way. Planters on the side of the trail contain over 200 species of plantings. Even local artists are being invited to create cultural programming along The 606 via the Open AIR Program.
The trail is also important to those who simply wish to commute by bike and avoid some of the larger intersections in the neighborhood. Several signs point to The 606 being intended as a commuter project first and foremost. The 606 now has bike repair stations, sponsored by West Town Bikes, allowing trail users to repair their bikes without much hassle. It is arguable that the trail is largely for these commuters, since most portions of the path are only ten feet wide, with lanes going in both directions. The trail was funded by Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grants, which frequently funds transportation projects.
This multifaceted identity has led to some confusion, including how the Chicago Police Department and the Parks District should manage the trail at night. The CPD is enforcing the strict 11 PM curfew to which all Chicago-area parks are subject, but the Parks District allows commuters to travel via the trail at all hours of the night. The Parks District understands the importance of the trail as a safer bike route, especially on weekend nights. Still, questions crop up about The 606’s safety as a nighttime commuter route. Several reports of violent and nonviolent muggings have cropped up. Debates about The 606’s identity crisis covers daytime problems too. Users of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail Facebook group complain about overly aggressive cyclists and inconsiderate-in the way-pedestrians.
Despite this confusion, The 606 has been an overall positive presence in many North Side residents’ lives, as evidenced by the numerous reports of The 606 being used for regular commutes and as a location for workshops and events. In order to celebrate, The 606 hosted a large party, further enforcing its presence as a neighborhood gathering spot. The event saw thousands of attendees, for a nearly 12-hour celebration, involving local arts organizations such as Theater Oobleck and Opera-Matic.
Are there multi-use gathering spots in your community, similar toThe 606? How do you use them? Does your city have designated bike commuter paths? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.
Credit: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.