Chicago’s 606

Working together

Chicago's 606 - volunteers collect phenology data along the trail

Image credit: Joshua Lott, courtesy of The Trust for Public Land

As the project developed, its complexity in terms of cross-departmental coordination and fundraising became apparent. As a result, TPL’s role grew from that of a nimble land purchasing partner to one of a client representative, fronting the community outreach work, design process, and fundraising. “The Chicago Park District [the public agency responsible for parks in Chicago]’s community outreach process cannot be as in depth as it needs to be for a project like The 606. TPL engaged one person whose role was exclusively to do this, going out to all community meetings happening, rather than solely relying on holding dedicated meetings the community was expected to come toEqually, private fundraising, with wealthy individuals, corporations and foundations, was not something the City was well geared up to do” explains Caroline O’Boyle, TPL’s Director of Programs and Partnerships for The 606.

The City of Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT)’s early success in securing funding from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program was critical in providing the City with the financial capacity to work more closely with TPL and initiate Phase 1 of the design work, through the commissioning of the Bloomingdale Trail Framework Plan.

CMAQ is designed to support projects that reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. Since the late nineties, CDOT had identified the Bloomingdale line as an opportunity for creating a bike friendly off-road commuter route, intersecting with five bus lines and six surface bike paths, while also providing easy connection to Chicago’s ‘elevated’ transit system and to the region’s commuter rail link (Metra). Unlike other elevated rail park that preceded it, such as New York’s High Line or Paris’ Promenade Plantée (neither of which allow cyclists), transit was part of the plans for The 606 since the beginning. This created a tension in the initial design process. Local communities wanted to see The 606 become a full fledge park rather than simply a low maintenance active travel route. Community dialogue was key in helping the development team see that creating a park and a transit corridor needn’t be mutually exclusive, but instead offered an opportunity.

Collins Engineers was appointed as the Lead for Phase 2 of the design work. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), a contributor to the Bloomingdale Trail Framework Plan, was appointed as the Landscape Architect. Collins and TPL engaged Frances Whitehead, a Chicago artist and Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to contribute to the project. This collaboration gave The 606 a strong identity.