Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail Is One of Our Favorite Bike Paths, Anywhere

My favorite bike path up to this point had been the Boondall Wetlands Bikeway in Brisbane, Australia—5.2 miles of off-road paths weave over streams and through paperbark, casuarina, and eucalypt forests. I communed with the kookaburras while speedy people in neon cycling kits overtook me. In the middle of a long-term bike trip, I felt for the first time in months like I could relax in motion. I didn’t have to think about cars. 

During my first year of college, I taught a friend to ride on the streets of Boston. I warned her about car doors and blind spots.  “You have to have your head on a swivel,” I told her, adopting the words of an ice hockey coach from years before. “You have to anticipate what the cars are going to do before they do it, and always be on the defensive.” 

On car-free bike paths, your focus is freed up to take in your surroundings, and the designers of the Bloomingdale Trail make the best use of your full attention. 

No matter where you live, you’ll likely have to ride near cars. Navigate traffic more safely with this move:

“To recreate the mystery and excitement that was the experience of people who were going up here illegally and getting a thrill from that, in a space that is sanctioned—you do that through plants,” Helphand says. “You do that by how you direct people’s view.”  

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the landscape architecture firm that took over the project, deliberately modified the gradient of the trail so that it digs in and rises up. It added sections of maple and sumac and poplar that would grow and bloom over time. 

As you move along the trail, your head moves up and down. “The feeling changes as you move through it,” Helphand says. It’s a simple idea with a profound impact: Whether you’re paused or in motion, there’s always something new to look at. 

I stopped to read poetry spray-painted on the concrete: “u listen: and now u r undr an ash sea.” After jogging a bit…

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