Stretching 2.7 miles through four Chicago neighborhoods, the 606 is a linear park and trail built on the mass concrete-and-infill structure of a former elevated rail line. After the railway was decommissioned, neighborhood groups created an informal trail that became the basis of the 606. The City of Chicago commissioned MVVA to co-author the Framework Plan and then lead the design of the project. MVVA worked with the community, the Trust for Public Land, and a wide range of governmental agencies to establish a set of guidelines for designing, implementing, and managing this new neighborhood amenity and eventually to develop and execute a design that brought those concepts to fruition.
Lush planting responds to residents’ requests for ample vegetation and helps unite the park’s character from end to end. The 606 turns what had been a dilapidated and imposing barrier to circulation into a transportation artery, while providing green open space within a 10-minute walk of 80,000 households.
Most of the elevated structure is 30 feet wide, but it occasionally broadens to as much as 60 feet. To comfortably accommodate bikers and pedestrians traveling in both directions, the MVVA team made the trail itself 14 feet wide. Like passing lanes on highways, higher-speed bicycling lanes are located along the median, with walking paths on the outside edges of the trail.
The 606 combines a pedestrian and bike trail with seating areas, dense perimeter planting, and rolling topography to create a park-like experience linking the Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square neighborhoods. Ramps and stairs connect the trail to a new plaza and four new “access parks”: neighborhood hubs that complement the linear 606.
At key moments, MVVA cut into the structure and lowered the existing trail by a few feet. This strategy reduced the burden on access ramps and revealed the originality of the existing structure, which, unlike other elevated rail lines, is a solid mass rather than a bridge. It also introduced variety into the experience of what would otherwise have been a perfectly flat 2.7-mile walk or ride.
MVVA outfitted the access parks with familiar elements: standard Chicago Parks Department lights, benches, trash cans, and fences. Along the trail itself, a more modern aesthetic prevails, with custom lighting and galvanized steel rails. This duality reflects the 606’s hybrid nature as both a transportation route and a welcoming neighborhood amenity.