Elementary student bike clubs along Bloomingdale Trail gear up for opening

Steven Vance


West Town Bikes and students at five Chicago elementary schools are planning a spectacle for The 606’s grand opening on June 6.

All the schools are within a couple of blocks of the 2.7-mile bicycling and strolling path—which most know as the Bloomingdale Trail—that’s been under construction for three years and planned since the early 2000s. West Town Bikes’ Emily Leidenfrost and her cadre of seven youth biking instructors are in the midst of the first semester of after-school bike clubs at Moos, Yates, McAuliffe, Stowe and Funston schools.

Leidenfrost, her team and the students—in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades—will finish the semester with a bike parade for the opening celebration.

West Town Bikes is a bike shop and youth education center in Humboldt Park, six blocks from the trail. Aside from getting youth to ride bikes to school, run errands and lead healthy lives, West Town Bikes for years has been helping adults like myself keep riding. I was there last Saturday during “Open Shop,” one of three during the week, to build a new wheel.

Chicagoans are able to use any tool, with professional supervision, at the shop, but a sign reading “if there’s a tool in your hand, put some cash in the can” encourages donations. In addition to “Open Shop” they have maintenance and build-a-bike classes. Like West Town Bikes, I also want more people riding bikes in Chicago—especially youth—and I’ve opened up my wallet to support the programs.

Leidenfrost explained that one reason West Town Bikes expanded the bike clubs from a few area high schools to several elementary schools along the Bloomingdale Trail is to teach youth how to use and own it.

“We want this trail in our neighborhood to be for our neighborhood, and we want people [from the neighborhood] represented on the trail.”

The new bike path and complementary parks are a big deal for Logan Square and Humboldt Park—two of the neighborhoods the Bloomingdale Trail slices through.

The Bloomingdale Trail, along with what will be six parks allowing access to the trail, comprise The 606 and will add several acres of open space with playgrounds and passive lawns. Logan Square was shown in a study 11 years ago to have the second lowest amount of open space per Chicagoan.

Instructors—most of whom have graduated from West Town Bikes programs and are in their late teens and early 20s—teach kids bike basics and traffic safety: how to make sure brakes are working and tires are filled with air, and how to navigate in the street. Those who do exceptionally well, Leidenfrost said, will take home a bike at the end of the semester. “Half the kids in the program have a bike at home … but I think there’s a need to get more bicycles to kids and their families in the neighborhood.”

Funding for the program, Leidenfrost said, is local too, coming from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, donations to West Town Bikes and the schools themselves.

Involving families is an important part of the program. Parents talk to the instructors when Bike Club ends for the day, and “the kids have take-home worksheets to practice the information they learned,” Leidenfrost said. “They’re showing excitement in sharing this information with their families.”

At the June 6 opening of The 606, more than 70 bike club members will gather their families and their bikes onto the trail at the access point nearest their school. “Each bike will be completely decked out and decorated,” Leidenfrost said.

“As the parade passes each access point, we’ll get more and more kids.”

The procession of bike clubs will arrive at the big party at Humboldt Boulevard and culminate in the first of hopefully many semesters of elementary school Bike Clubs.

Steven Vance is a transportation planner who writes for Streetsblog Chicago.