Birds-Eye View of the Elevated Railroads, Parks, and Boulevards of Chicago

This birds-eye view from 1910 takes a visual cue from one of the more famous views of Chicago in Burnham and Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.  From its vantage point in the sky over Lake Michigan the city and both branches of river stretch to the western horizon, giving the viewer a full appreciation of the city’s ordered street grid.  The view also includes the “green necklace” of parks and boulevards designed by William Le Baron Jenney and built in the late nineteenth century, and which had in turn inspired Burnham and Bennett. In this view the boulevards appear to blend almost seamlessly with Chicago’s elevated lines, which are color-coded to note their separate ownerships, transfers, and fare systems. 

This geometric but, for practical purposes, disjointed and uncoordinated system, requiring that a passenger might experience of multiple fares for a single journey across the city, prompted a series of referenda in the early twentieth century calling for public ownership and a single fare system.  Consolidation took place the following year, in 1911, but the system would never entirely come under public ownership or receive sufficient public funding to keep pace with residential or commercial development patterns.  The 1945 establishment of the quasi-public Chicago Transit Authority rescued the system from episodes of bankruptcy and receivership, but support for the system’s improvement was overshadowed by the power of the highway lobby, and the system lost more stations than it gained in the latter half of the twentieth century.  Burnham and Bennett’s aestheticized vision of moving downtown transit lines underground was only partially realized with the construction of the State Street and West Side Subways in 1943 and 1951, though plans in the 1970s to also bury the elevated “Loop” shown at bottom center never moved beyond planning stages, and this element of 1890s elevated transit infrastructure remains in service today.



Barrett, Paul, The Automobile and Urban Transit: The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago, 1900-1930.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.

Chicago Public Works: A History. Chicago: City of Chicago, Department of Public Works, 1973.

Yago, Glenn, The Decline of Transit: Urban Transportation in German and US Cities, 1900-1970.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Young, David. The Iron Horse and the Windy City: How Railroads Shaped Chicago. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.



Chicago Transit Authority, “Facts at a Glance”:

Banich, Terence, “Remnants of the ‘L,’” Forgotten Chicago:

“’L’ System History, Chicago “L”.org:

Birds-Eye View of the Elevated Railroads, Parks, and Boulevards of Chicago: Supplement to the Elevated Railroad Directory.  Chicago: J.B. McComber, 1910.  The Newberry Library, map4F G4104.C6P34 1910 .M3