NORTH LAWNDALE — A trail similar to The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail could be coming to the West Side — and residents eager for the project say it could bring a restaurant, public art and other amenities to the area.
City planners organized the first of several community meetings late last week about what is tentatively called the Altenheim Line, an elevated trail along a 2-mile section of the railway one block north of Roosevelt Road between Kostner and California avenues. Resident input on the trail’s name, features, design and economic impact is informing a feasibility study for the project.
The Altenheim railroad corridor is owned by CSX Transportation, and the trail would be built in unused sections where the train tracks have been removed.
At a meeting Thursday, several neighbors said they long have wanted something like this in Lawndale to boost the neighborhood’s commerce, make the area more walkable and create more beauty and park space for people to enjoy.
“I visualized this a long time ago … because I had been on The 606, and I walked those trails when I had my own dog. The potential of what could be up there, I had visions,” said Karen Castleberry, a resident and member of the North Lawndale Homeowners Association.
The widest part of the railway in the Homan Square neighborhood of North Lawndale has enough space that a small business could be there, Castleberry said.
“I see a restaurant overseeing Homan Avenue. … We don’t have a sit-down restaurant, and the view is fabulous from the tracks,” Castleberry said. “The view at night when the amber lights are on is simply beautiful, a really picturesque view. That’s an attraction that we need.”
The trail could also have public art and cultural activities that represents the neighborhood’s identity, its history and the challenges residents have overcome, Castleberry said. The trail could include a brick pathway engraved with the names of neighborhood elders and children who represent the future, Castleberry said.
“What we do want to see is a trail that reflects the history of the people who have been here in our path and people who are present where we going in a future, like to see the trail represent us our struggles as a neighborhood, how like the phoenix we rose up,” Castleberry said.
The city should hold an art competition for local youth and students to decide what kinds of public art gets installed on the trail, said Elizabeth Triplett.
“Have them decorate and draw things, their art, all throughout the trail. That will bring up their self-esteem and respect,” Triplett said. “All the kids, everybody should have a part.”
Older people should also be kept in mind when developing the trail, Triplett said. The trail could have a light trolley system so activities on the path could still be accessible to older people and people with disabilities,” she said.
The North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s transportation committee has discussed for years how the railroad could be transformed to improve transit and connectivity in the area, committee chair Rochelle Jackson said.
“Park space would be nice because it would be in addition to the parks we already have in Lawndale,” Jackson said. “It definitely would connect to Franklin Park, because Franklin Park is not that far from it. And, it’ll connect to Douglass Park.”
Since the railroad track passes through an industrial corridor, the development of the trail or surrounding area should include workforce training programs related to freight and transportation industry, Jackson suggested.
“It would be great to have a mobility hub there with all kinds of transportation programs to get people involved in trainings, like truck driving, buses,” Jackson said.
The trail could also make it easier for residents to access those job training programs since they could walk or bike along the greenway to get to work, Jackson said.
“It’s just a bike ride away,” she said.
City planners said the study will help them brainstorm how to ensure the West Side trail has positive economic outcomes similar to that of The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail while preventing widespread displacement. The study gives residents a voice in the design of the elevated trail and development in the area that may be sparked by the trail, city planner Brian Hacker said.
“We’ve seen from The 606, it spawned a lot of real estate speculation. I think a lot of lessons were learned from that,” Hacker said. “Spurring development is a good thing, but we want to make sure we’re driving equitable development and that we’re preserving affordability.”
Many of the vacant lots surrounding the railroad are owned by the city, so planners can incorporate the community’s recommendations for the types of commercial and residential development that could happen there, Hacker said.
“When new development comes in, the city is going to have a strong say in what actually gets built there. It will allow us the opportunity to implement some of the recommendations from this plan,” Hacker said.
Triplett suggested the city implement rent control and tax breaks to stop property taxes from skyrocketing and prevent legacy residents from being displaced. Despite fears of gentrification, many residents are hopeful that the trail could benefit the community.
“If the community continues to be a part of the engagement, we can control what happens in our community,” Jackson said. “You don’t want to see gentrification? Come out and be part of the process.”
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: