Chicago opens bike-pedestrian trail on old rail bed

By Mary Wisniewski CHICAGO (Reuters) - A nearly three-mile strip of land that once carried freight trains through Chicago's Northwest Side opens on Saturday as an elevated park, with room for walking and bicycling. The "Bloomingdale Trail" will connect six new parks, four of which have been completed. The entire park and trail system is named the "606," after the first three digits of city zip codes. "People are really clamoring to get up there," said Beth White, director of the Chicago regional office of the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit conservation group which has led efforts to fund the project. "People have been dreaming about it since the 1990s, when most of the freight service went away." The cost of the park and trail system is $95 million. U.S. Transportation Department clean air funds provided $50 million, private donations $20 million and the city and county about $5 million, White said. The trust wants to raise $20 million more. Taking inspiration from Manhattan's successful High Line trail, cities across the United States have been converting old rail tracks, roads and bridges into urban parks. Washington is set to open 11th Street Bridge Park in 2018. Chicago's Bloomingdale Trail was conceived long before the High Line opened in 2009, and, at 2.7 miles, is about twice as long, White said. It will allow bike and stroller traffic on its 14-1/2-foot-wide surface. The trail will also serve as an alternative transportation corridor, linking four working- and middle-class neighborhoods with 80,000 residents. It connects to "L" stations, a Metra rail station, bus routes and Milwaukee Avenue, a popular thoroughfare for bike commuters. The idea for the trail grew out of neighborhood talks about the need for more parkland on the city's Northwest Side, White said. After train traffic stopped, the area was used by adventurous teens, homeless campers and dog walkers who scrambled up the sides of the embankments. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has supported building bike trails, pushed for the 606, and construction started in August 2013. Interest in the trail has led to worries that gentrification could drive away poorer neighbors. In response, Emanuel set aside funds to create nearly 700 affordable housing units within a mile of the 606, and proposed requiring developers to include such units if they want city help to build. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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