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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Bronzeville Trail Organizers Launch Fundraising Effort As City Planners Sketch First Steps For 606-Like Path

Leaders are mulling three options to overhaul the Kenwood Line embankment to create the start of the 2-mile trail.

Green Line tracks parallel a section of the embankment of the abandoned Kenwood CTA train tracks at 40th and State streets on Apr. 13, 2022. Plans are underway to convert the tracks into two miles of parkway for walking, biking and jogging.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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GRAND BOULEVARD — The task force organizing the long-awaited Bronzeville Trail are ending the year with a crowdfunding campaign to push the elevated path closer to reality.

Organizers launched a GoFundMe campaign last week to raise $100,000 for operational costs. The money will also support initiatives with the trail, such as commissioning a monument and plaque near the west entrance in honor of Major Taylor, the 18th century Black bicyclist who was forced to compete overseas when racism derailed his career stateside.

The elevated trail would start near 40th and Dearborn streets and go east to 41st Street and Lake Park Avenue. A block away, an access point from the 41st Street Pedestrian Bridge would connect it to the Lakefront Trail.

The plan dovetails with the city’s larger plan to add nearly 50 miles of interconnected trails and corridors, including the Kenwood Line. It would be similar to the north side’s Bloomingdale Trail, the elevated trail of The 606.

The Kenwood Line embankment that once served as a train stop for residents commuting to and from the stockyards would serve as a possible entry point.

Organizers held a kickoff event for the trail in April after receiving $75,000 from Chicago Community Trust for predevelopment planning. Overall, the all-volunteer group has raised $350,000 for the project.

Members of the group held their first open house for the trail Thursday at the Timothy Community Corporation, 4351 S. Drexel Blvd. Representatives from the city’s department of planning and development and the National Park Service and nearly 100 residents ready to learn about the project also attended.

Credit: Provided
A map of the Bronzeville Trail, a 2-mile walking, cycling and jogging path planned between 40th Street and Dearborn to 41st Street and Lake Park Avenue
Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
The Kenwood Line embankment, part of a 2-mile stretch of abandoned railway to be converted into the Bronzeville Trail.

The project has won the endorsement of Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Sophia King (4th) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The task force hired civil engineering firm T.Y. Lin to conduct a feasibility study on the embankment that would serve as an entry point for the 2-mile stretch of abandoned rail.

From there, engineer Dan Drew said the team created three possible scenarios:

  • Total repair and connection as a basic elevated trail with bridges, access ramps, paths and lighting, which would cost $60 million.
  • Demolition and repurposing of the embankment as a street-level trail for $73 million.
  • Maintaining the embankment “as is” for $19 million.

The latter option would not mean doing nothing, “because we have this aging piece of infrastructure that requires some state of good repair,” Drew said.

The total cost of the project is $100 million, with money coming from federal transportation funds, according to the task force.

Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
T.Y. Lin’s Priya Ramakrishnam talks to a resident at the Bronzeville Trail Open House Thursday.

Kathy Dickhut, deputy commissioner from the city’s planning department, said the project is “doable.” With another trail being planned for Englewood, Dickhut said the idea is to learn from past mistakes.

“One of the things we learned later in Logan Square [with The 606] is that we didn’t do planning for the entire neighborhood in conjunction with building the entire infrastructure, so there were issues regarding gentrification,” Dickhut said. “We need to do the planning for the neighborhood as well as situating the trail and explaining why that’s important.”

Another important job for the task force will be deciding on the trail’s identity. The Bloomingdale Trail is known for simple recreation, while the Englewood Trail will have an agricultural tie-in, city planner Justin Petersen said.

“There are a lot of active projects going on in Bronzeville. … We need to begin to understand how all of this is tied together with Bronzeville Trail at the center,” Petersen said.

One story the task force hopes the trail will tell is that of Taylor, who spent the last years of his life in Bronzeville living in the Wabash YMCA, just a few blocks from the planned western end of the trail.

Bill Gaston, a former captain of the Major Taylor Cycling Club, said he is excited about the trail and the effort to honor a man more Chicagoans should know.

“This is so historical. Major Taylor is buried out south, so this and the [far South Side trail] ties it all together. He’s starting to get the recognition he deserves,” Gaston said.

Some residents expressed concerns about safety and parking, saying neighbors have had issues with visitors using the pedestrian bridge leading to the Lakefront Trail. Task Force Chair John Adams said he understands their concerns and hopes to work towards a compromise.

“Reach out to us and we’ll try to address whatever their concerns are. One of the things we’ve done is take residents over to the Bloomingdale Trail so they can get a sense of what to expect, and that really helps. There’s no easy answer, but the positives outweigh the negatives here,” Adams said.

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