Even glimpses of the underlying historic bridge framework can now be seen, thanks to ample uplighting under the 37 viaducts. Photo: Kenall
Even glimpses of the underlying historic bridge framework can now be seen, thanks to ample uplighting under the 37 viaducts. Photo: Kenall

The Chicago DOT has set itself an ambitious goal: a walking/bicycle trail within half a mile of every single resident by 2020. In June 2015, the agency took a major step toward accomplishing that goal when it opened The 606.

Named after the first six digits of the city’s zip code, The 606 is also known as the Bloomingdale Trail. That’s because it used to be railroad tracks that ran above Bloomindale Road (now Bloomingdale Avenue).

Originally built at grade, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Co. elevated 2.7 miles in the early 1900s per city mandate. Built in just three years, the project was something of an engineering marvel at the time.

Thirty-seven viaducts, each 7 feet thick at the base and filled with soil, stones, and other drainage material like a French drain, support two tracks. The concrete embankments are still structurally sound.

Trucks eventually replaced trains for hauling freight. They sat unused, with trees and bushes sprouting from between their ties, for two decades.

In 2003, Chicago’s Transportation, Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Housing and Economic Development, and Police departments partnered with the city’s park district and the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to convert the tracks – which provide stunning views of the city – to much-needed public park space.

Illumination for safety and local art
The 606 is extremely popular, attracting families, bikers, runners, and walkers. Residents use it to get to and from work and school.

Below them are two to six lanes of traffic along with yet more cyclists and pedestrians. For safety’s sake, residents demanded bright, reliable lighting.

In response, Chicago DOT crews installed 186 LuxTran LED luminaires and 28 tunnel-specific high intensity discharge (HID) lamps under the viaducts. Both are made by Kenall of Kenosha, Wis., a manufacturer of high-abuse lighting fixtures for difficult-to-light areas.

The LuxTran DLD is a one-piece, marine-grade aluminum housing with polyester powder coat finish that withstands the constant vibration generated by viaduct traffic. The LED has a 150,000-hour lifetime (L70). Even though they’re on 24 hours a day, they consume less energy than the HID fixtures they replaced.

They also provide better color rendering index (CRI) values, which means restored artwork along the trail -- such as a 35-year-old “Children are our Future” mural -- looks better.

“We repurposed a 100-year-old piece of our industrial heritage for another 100 years,” says Beth White, Director of The Trust for Public Land’s Chicago regional office. “Now it’s a living work of art and a transportation corridor rolled into one.”