A velodrome recently opened at 8615 S. Burley, on the far, far South Side of Chicago on the grounds of the US Steel South Works Site, and judging from the response of residents, it’s already making a difference.
“Have you seen our new velodrome?” one neighbor proudly yelled to us, from his yard, as we cycled past en route. “We’re headed that way now,” we called out.
When we arrived in the giant parking lot, surrounded by wire fencing topped with barbed wire, the circular bike track loomed ahead of us. Knowing its history, it’s an impressive site. Volunteers worked for a little more than a month to construct the structure, doing everything from building and painting the track to stacking wood beneath it. It was a true community project.
In mid-August, the track opened to its first races and training sessions. Cyclists can rent equipment on site (you have to ride a brake-free track bike) and take a class to become certified. We watched them zip around the curves, working to get their speed high enough to practically float to the top of the steep track.
The current track is meant to serve as an interim incarnation while President Emanuele Bianchi works to raise an estimated $45 million to fund a permanent structure. The goal is to create an all-out Olympic training ground, with a 250-meter bike track, a 400-meter running track, indoor pools and more. Bianchi calls it “a launchpad for Olympic dreams.” It’s only appropriate that the seed has been planted at the US Steel site, which is also the home to the failed Chicago Olympics 2016 bid.
Whether or not the main campus takes shape, it’s making ripped through the neighborhood.
“Today is the first time my daughter was ever allowed to play in the front yard by herself,” said a woman in biker shorts as she stood on a stand, watching track bikes zip by the inclined circular track. The track and its new audience were somehow already instilling a feeling of safety and activity in the community. She went on to say that she grew up in this neighborhood, and this was the only development she’d seen in her lifetime (aside from the recent Dave Matthews festival).
She added that not everyone is happy with the velodrome. “Some people are afraid it’s going to raise property taxes,” she laughed.
To learn more go to www.chicagovelocampus.com.