professional road cyclist on a training ride

Neighborhood News: Past Lake Michigan, Chicago’s Bike Trails offer summer adventures and fun

professional road cyclist on a training ride

With summer’s official entrance less than a week away, the great outdoors beckons! And what better way to experience Chicago’s unique neighborhoods than perched on a two-wheeler, the wind at your back?  Chicago’s Bike Trailswelcome you! 

While most people know the Lakefront Trail, there’s another trail you need to know. Along the way, you’ll see great artwork, Chicago’s landmark museums, and historic structures!

The 606 and The Bloomingdale Trail 

Among the best known of the city trails are ‘The 606,’ aka, the Bloomingdale Trail. As their website indicates, the trail known as ‘The 606’ runs along the Bloomingdale Trail (1800N) for 2.7 miles between Ashland (1600W) and Ridgeway (3750W). Walking, cycling or taking public transportation is encouraged. There are 12 access points, approximately every quarter-mile, with a total of 17 access ramps, all of which are accessible to people with disabilities.

The Bloomingdale Trail Is the elevated, multi-use linear park made out of the unused Bloomingdale railroad embankment. The Bloomingdale Trail runs through four Chicago neighborhoods, from Logan Square and Humboldt Park to the west, through Bucktown and Wicker Park to the east.

History Of the Bloomingdale Trail and The 606

The story of The Bloomingdale Trail (and the 606)begins just after the Great Chicago Fire, as their website indicates. As their story goes, the Chicago City Council gave permission for the Chicago & Pacific Railroad to lay tracks down the middle of Bloomingdale Ave. (1800 N) on Chicago’s Northwest side. The move helped connect goods from outlying rail ports to the busy Chicago River, and supported Chicago’s burgeoning industrial growth.

Following the Fire, Chicago’s population boomed, and dangerous conflicts between residents and rail abounded — with rail often the victor. Between the 1870s and 1890s, thousands were injured or killed each year due to treacherous rail crossings at grade (ground level). In response, elevating the city’s rail lines became a political hot button and a critical issue for social reformers.

In 1893, the City Council passed an ordinance mandating that railroads elevate their tracks within six years. The Bloomingdale Line, now operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company, was one of the last to conform to the new ordinance, beginning work in 1910 and completing in 1913. 

Trains rolled overhead until the 1980s, when activity slowed to a trickle. By the mid-1990s, the few trains that used the corridor were re-routed, and freight service ceased almost completely. The final freight train passed through in 2001. 

It was only a matter of time before the communities along the line rediscovered the space.  Official plans for converting the Bloomingdale Line into a public space date back to the late 1990s, when it was included in the City’s Bike Plan. In 2003, inspired by neighbors making their own unofficial trail, the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail (FBT) came together.

Around the same time the City’s Department of Planning and Development held a series of public meetings to determine how to bring new open space to the City’s underserved Northwest side, ultimately recommending an elevated park on the Bloomingdale embankment. This would become the Logan Square Open Space Plan, which was adopted by the Chicago Plan Commission in 2004. FBT also participated in the New Communities Program, which created Quality of Life Plans for Logan Square and Humboldt Park, both plans supported the construction of a new greenway on the old rail line. In 2006 the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail reached out to the national nonprofit, The Trust for Public Land, which helped bring together a coalition of city and civic organizations to move the project forward.

Ultimately, according to the website, the Bloomingdale Trail’s transformation from freight rail to multi-use path would become a reality due to a confluence of decades of community organizing and city planning. “From industrial beacon to impromptu nature trail, to innovative public space and alternative transportation corridor for the next generation, the Bloomingdale Line turned Bloomingdale Trail has been the site of innovation since its inception,” according to its website. 


As Choose Chicago notes, in addition to special events and programs throughout the year — from community bonfires and workouts to public art openings and astronomy nights, the 606 and Bloomingdale Trail are home to several checkpoints, including:

Exelon Observatory, the  “perfect spot for spectacular sunset views over the city. The observatory also hosts regular astronomy nights at The 606. The Observatory is located at 1801 N. Ridgeway Avenue, Logan Square.”

Damen Arts Plaza: Located at Damen and Bloomingdale in Bucktown, you can find rotating public art exhibits, creating one of the city’s most unique urban art spaces. 

Julia de Burgos Park, at1801 N. Albany Avenue in Humboldt Park, features a climbing web, spider sculpture, and a long sitting wall decorated with nature themes, led by the Chicago Public Art Group. The park is one of many access points to The 606. 

There’s so much more to the trails. Enjoy your summer! For more information, click here

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago