The bike-pedestrian bridge connecting two sides of the North Shore Channel Trail near Lincoln and Peterson avenues is one piece of infrastructure I can’t wait to see completed. Its absence symbolizes the power of Chicago’s aldermen to obstruct improvements as the city grows its car-free transportation network.
Back in 2006, the Chicago Department of Transportation had funding and a design for the bridge, which would have allowed cyclists to safely transfer between paths on either side of the waterway without having to ride on busy Lincoln or Devon Street. But then-50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone put the kibosh on the span. First he argued that it was unsafe for cyclists to ride on the west side of the channel, behind a shopping center, and then he revealed that a new senior center was planned for the location and claimed it was dangerous for peds and bikes to share the path. Whatever his real motivation was, it was clear the bridge wasn’t going to get built as long as the feisty alderman held power.
After Debra Silverstein defeated Stone in 2011, the new alderman expressed interest in building the structure, now ironically called the Stone Bridge by local bike advocates. But by that time CDOT had already used the funding for other projects, and a canoe launch had been built on the west side of the channel at the original proposed bridge site, so the agency had to go back to the drawing board.
Happily, last month the Illinois Department of Transportation announced that it is allocating $20 million in Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program funds to bike and ped projects in the region, including $979,600 for the bridge, which will be located just north of Lincoln at Hood Avenue. But today CDOT spokesman Pete Scales told me the there’s no timeline for construction yet and the agency still needs to secure a 20 percent local funding match. He added that the tentative plans also call for additional path work on the east side of the river and repairs to the canoe launch. Silverstein has said its unlikely she’ll use ward money for the bridge; CDOT project manager Janet Attarian previously mentioned the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as a possible funding source.
Once CDOT is ready to move forward there will be a public meeting to review the design. So the wait continues but the end is in sight, and I look forward to attending the ribbon cutting for the Stone Bridge, a reminder of how one misguided politician can stand in the way of progress for the entire city.