City Breaks Ground on the Long-Awaited Navy Pier Flyover

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Rendering of the flyover, looking north from near its highest point.

After more than a decade of planning, the Chicago Department of Transportation finally kicked off work on the Navy Pier Flyover, a $60 million project that will solve the problem of the dangerous bottleneck at the center of the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. “We at the city have discussed this, we have debated it, we have deferred it for decades, and now it’s time to build it,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a groundbreaking this afternoon.

The 16-foot-wide flyover will take pedestrians and bicyclists from south of the Chicago River, up to the level of Lake Shore Drive and around Lake Point Tower, then back down to Jane Addams Park. It will provide much more elbow room for trail users, as well as grade separation from the hazardous Illinois and Grand intersections. The most expensive single bike project in Illinois history, it will cost more than twice the pricetag of the $27.5 million, 3,000-vehicle Divvy bike-share system.

Back in 2012, when the flyover was estimated to cost only $45 million, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance proposed a much cheaper alternative solution, which would have involved converting a lane of Lower Lake Shore Drive into a two-way protected bike lane. He estimates the cost at $3-5 million, including metal bollards, street markings, signal improvements and other upgrades.

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Rendering of Steven’s alternative proposal by Erich Stenzel.

At the groundbreaking, I asked new CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld if she was familiar with Steven’s proposal. She wasn’t, but argued that the $60 million expense, which will largely be paid for via federal dollars, is justified. The first phase of construction, between Addams Park and the Ogden Slip, will cost about $26 million, funded by $18 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement money and other federal funds, plus $8 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“Millions of people use this section of the lakefront and the whole lakefront trail every year,” Scheinfeld told me. “It’s really important to continue to invest in the safety and the quality of the lakefront trail, which is a jewel of Chicago… This is everyman’s park, and this is where everyone should be able to come and recreate safety and enjoy what the lakefront has to offer, whether they’re walking or biking.”

Setting aside the question of whether this was the most cost-effective solution to the central trail’s safety problem, it’s certainly a great thing for Chicago cycling that the issue is being addressed. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said as much at the press event. “I’ve tried to ride my bike down this trail, and when you reach this point it is some combination of bumper cars, whack-a-mole, I can’t even describe it to you, but you take your life into your hands trying to move from this spot to the other side,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the completion, and the safe navigation of my bicycle through this path.”

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Dick Durbin at the groundbreaking, with Emanuel, park district CEO Mike Kelly, and Scheinfeld. Photo: John Greenfield

It also speaks well of the city’s commitment to improving cycling that the flyover will consist of Cadillac-level infrastructure. At its zenith, it will provide breathtaking views of the lakefront and skyline, which will be a nice change from the dungeon-like atmosphere one currently endures when traveling beneath the drive.

Construction on the first phase will start next week and is scheduled to be finished by December 2015. This will involve the temporary closure of the right travel lane and shoulder of northbound Upper Lake Shore Drive for one block between Illinois and Grand. The off-ramp from the upper drive to Illinois will also be reduced to one lane. The traffic impacts are expected to last into this September.

The second phase covers the area between the slip and the river, and the final phase involves improving the path over the river bridge. The entire project is slated for completion by 2018. CDOT promises that the trail will remain open to pedestrians and cyclists throughout the entire project, with the path detouring around construction.

  • So much more could be done to improve bicycling in Chicago with that money. I think the alternative proposal is great. But it’s not shiny like a bridge!

    Streetsblog is good at covering excessive transportation spending and this is the first time I will call a bicycle project excessive and wasteful. With all that money there could be hundreds of new, on-street protected bikeways that may help people bike where they actually want to bike. While the Lakefront trail is a popular commuter route for biking now, it is also a popular recreation and exercise route and there are other bottlenecks (North Ave beach, the area just south of this bridge, etc.) aside from this one that won’t be fixed.. Focus the dollars on “citizen cycling” improvements so we can actually get the world-class bicycle network the city apparently wants, but isn’t building.

  • I agree but it’s easy to justify (for politicians, that is) an improvement like this. The lakefront trail is used by, almost literally, everyone. You don’t have to anger drivers, there’s very little for concern trolls (like BRT) to latch on to. If there’s going to be multi-million dollar boondoggles (like the circle interchange work) at least lets have a few of them be bike projects.

    Perhaps less cynically, while we all may desire money get spent on building a rugged bike network in the city, there is something to be said about spending a little extra on a nicer piece of infrastructure that goes above and beyond a simple engineering solution. I think the fact that we’re willing to spend a little extra for a “shiny” bridge probably means good things for biking (and an eventual city-wide bike network) and pedestrians in the long run.

  • I see your point. It is difficult for me to take agencies like CDOT seriously when, at public meetings – in this example, the Broadway protected bike lane meetings from last fall – they tell us there is “not enough money” for something like concrete protection or a concrete median to narrow the street (they’re using only paint). But then there’s a multi-million dollar project like this that affects a small part of the trail.

    You’re right, it doesn’t inconvenience anyone really, which is why it’s politically easy to do. But I like smart transportation funding. And I can’t get behind a boondoggle, even if it’s for bicycles. The reason I like bicycles and promote their use is because the infrastructure for them is inexpensive!

  • Your idealism is inspiring, I guess I’ve given up hope on smart transportation funding and will just take what i can get :-)

  • Fbfree

    While 60 million could go a long way elsewhere, what’s more important is that a solution to this bottleneck be found soon! Why is it going to take two years to finish the bridge portion? Could we get it done this year?

  • LOL, I know what you mean… my CTA station is Wilson, which is getting an expensive makeover. Every time I walk up the steps I am thankful we’re getting a new station, but then I think of the cost! It’s nice to get some funding showered on the transit that’s usually ignored, but I will still criticize the excess that’s exposed…

  • oooBooo

    Bike paths don’t work as sidewalks. Bidirectional bikelanes are just dumb, especially when intersections are involved and that stretch has two intersections to deal with.

    The proper engineering solution is to either replace the drawbridge with one that has proper accommodations for the bike path or create a separate bridge. Doing things the right way can be expensive. I am quite surprised this is actually being done.

    The problem is, that image shows something which will still be a bottleneck because people will spread out and block faster traffic. They do so on the existing ramp up to the bridge on the approach from the south.

    As much as I detest sidewalk riding, I’m going to miss that section of the trail. It’s the last classic danger section left that I know of.

  • anoninchi

    “But I like smart transportation funding. And I can’t get behind a boondoggle, even if it’s for bicycles” This completely captures how I feel!

    I really wish some of this money was going to build a bike lane on the part of the inner drive that goes around Oak Street, so there is a safe, passable route in the months when the lakefront is frozen solid and a nice route in the months when the lakefront is crowded with people enjoying the lakefront in a leisurely fashion incompatible with bike commuting.

  • I used this “bypass” for the first time last month (as a way to reach a Northwestern building across from the MCA on Chicago Avenue) and it was a great alternative to using Chicago Avenue or any Streeterville streets. +1

  • The top image is badly skewed which makes it look like a 1,000 foot long ramp starting at 50 feet high (when it’s really like 18 feet).

    Ramps in general are not good for bicycling.

    The main point to take away from my alternative is that it could be done in a matter of weeks. CDOT and I both know this because CDOT did it when part of the Lakefront Trail on the bridge fell into the river! They created a detour in 24 hours, converting a travel lane on the bridge (with metal plates), and with a metal guardrail fixed to the bridge.

    It was a solution they could have implemented in 2000, when planning for the Navy Pier Flyover began. And it could have happened in 2011 when the city council approved the current NFP plan. And then it could have happened every year after that until 2018 when this thing is finally available to use.

    So 18 years and $60 million (plus whatever design+consulting services) later we’ve solved the problem!

  • But how long until it falls into the river again?

  • Just imagine the amount of repainting faded bikelanes the city could have afforded with the savings of your plan… Also, the ramp being built will require us to climb, right? I’m sure bikers with bad knees will be thrilled. Another advantage your plan had over this stunt… Oh yeah, and I forgot that during inclement weather your plan would have kept the temporary shield from rain and snow.

  • If they truly want to make the point that this city is good for biking, they’d install a PBL on Michigan… I find this bridge a typical example of the wasteful car-centered minds that still rule in Chicago. Let’s not fool ourselves, this solution was made primarily so car-traffic below will no longer have to deal with the crossing pedestrian, runners & bikers.

  • skyrefuge

    What’s with the “phases”? Will any of the three sections actually be usable before all are in place? It sure doesn’t seem like it, but maybe there’s something I’m missing on the website. Unless they’re independently usable, why don’t they just call it a 5 year construction project? Because then too many people would ask how the hell it could take 5 years to build a lightweight bridge?

  • madopal

    Yup, +10000 on how much more could be done.

    $60 million would go a long way towards addressing the crossing of the Kennedy that is perilous for riders every day. $60 million could add protected lines on the far south, northwest, and north sides. $60 million could take certain neighborhood streets and completely change them with traffic calming.

    But hey, shiny bridge.

  • skyrefuge

    Why would someone with bad knees be riding a bicycle without multiple gears? Anyway, I think even people who reject that newfangled century-old technology will be no worse off than today, since the bridge doesn’t rise any higher than the current route (and maybe it’ll be even better since it can rise over a longer distance, at least on the north end).

  • Right on regarding the gears—however, it will still be a longer climb than there presently is. Also, given the way that that steep little overpass on the southern side was constructed a few years back I have little faith that bike-practical considerations motivated the design of that thing to be built. The artist’s impression shows a few happy rollerbladers who, under favorable winds, just whizzed up the ramp in Chicago’s legendary subtropical climate.

  • Lizzyisi

    i work at that Northwestern campus and I usually use this route in the winter southbound, but northbound is . . . scary. I don’t want to ride between northbound cars and the Jersey wall at the curve. Northbound in the winter, I always end up walking part of the route, whether I ride up DeWitt to Walton Street and walk the rest of Michigan to the lakefront or just walk the whole way to the trail. In the summer, all my choices are unpleasant.

  • Mishellie

    Yes. And it’s a bridge instead of a lane on the current one because it gets bikes COMPLETELY out of sight of vehicles. Out of sight, out of mind.

  • kastigar

    I’m a 73 year old cyclists, and this proposed ramps doesn’t seem attractive to me for the rise as shown. Steven’s proposal seems to accomplish all the improvements necessary, and cost a lot less.

    The money left over could go to other badly need bike-fixes in Chicago. The cost of this is going to be much higher when it’s completed.

  • Adam Herstein

    They’re even installing a wall so people living in Lake Point Tower don’t have to look at all those ugly bikes!

  • Fred

    I went to the community meeting on this back in 2010? and I believe all the ramps will meet ADA standards, so they shouldn’t be too terribly steep. Also, I don’t see why you couldn’t skip the ramp by going around LPT at street level. This is what I already do now. You may have to walk your bike up a ramp on the south side, but you wouldn’t have to ride up a ramp if you didn’t want to.

  • Ryan Wallace

    I agree this seems like a waste of money, or at least excessive use of money, but it appears some people are falling into the same trappings that politicians. It’s not as easy as saying “Well I don’t want to spend this $XX million over here on project A, so I am just going to take that money and spend it on project B”. The classic example is rail/transit funding that governor’s tried to get redirected to highway projects. Although they seem similar, the federal funding for this project is probably not eligible for re-striping, maybe not even protected bike lanes. Shaun’s example of the Broadway PBL (I believe) is paid for almost entirely with local dollars, which is why there “is not enough money” for certain things on that project.

    Sadly this project seems to fall victim to the same paradigm that plagues roadway projects: We are getting all this “free” money. Who cares if its actually a good idea, we would rather use it than lose it.

  • Fred

    This is likely the busiest section of the busiest mixed use trail in the region. This bridge will help more people than $60m worth of bike lanes.

    I’m certainly not against more bike lanes, just pointing out that are very few ways in which you could help more people with a single project.

  • BlueFairlane

    The wall really bugs me. “Hey! Lets build a $60 million bridge over a pretty spot in a river specifically for bikes, and then wall it off so that the view is composed almost entirely of an expressway!”

  • BlueFairlane

    This is likely the busiest section of the busiest mixed use trail in the
    region. This bridge will still be freaking busy, and not much better than what’s there now.

  • BlueFairlane

    And this is how we get multi-trillion dollar deficits, which makes funding useful projects that much less likely.

    No, you couldn’t use this money on other initiatives, but the fact that this money is being spent makes it far less likely that other money will be allocated to those other projects.

  • Fred

    The current configuration requires crossing both Illinois and Grand. Removing at-grade crossings is an improvement no matter how you slice it.

  • Adam Herstein

    The wall was build specifically for residents in Lake Point Tower who expressed concerns about people using the trail being able to break into their homes from the bridge. Of course, that’s just the reason they gave publicly – who knows if it was really because they didn’t want to look at it or were concerned about their property values.

  • BlueFairlane

    It’s not $60 million worth of improvement, especially since the at-grade crossings aren’t the problem with this section of the trail. The problem is congestion on the trail itself. This just funnels more people into a smaller area for a greater distance.

  • BlueFairlane

    Just another sad episode in the series of sad episodes around that tower.

  • skyrefuge

    I still don’t understand how the “ramp” is at all an issue. How are people are getting across the Chicago River today without going up a ramp on one side and down a ramp on the other side? Do you guys have those floating water-bikes that you just pedal straight across the river? Carry your bike up some stairs? Teleport? Using my non-floating, non-teleporting bike, I have no choice but to use ramps on both ends to take me up to the level of the bridge that crosses the river.

    Currently, coming from the north, the ramp starts at the southeast corner of Illinois and lower Lake Shore Drive, and gradually rises ’til it reaches the bridge over the river. With the flyover, the same rise will simply be shifted further north. And it might not even have to rise as much vertically, since the current ramp start-point at Illinois is actually a low point that you have to descend to; the flyover will bypass that descent.

  • Accounting for inflation, the Red Line Wilson Station cost is over 32% of the cost of the entire Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project which replaced all Brown Line stations (including shared stations) from Chicago/Franklin to Kedzie.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Why would you block a beautiful scenic view of the lake with that weird metal canopy? Not quite Frank Gehry enough to be attractive either. Just wait til gale force winds hit that thing.

  • Hugh Jagut

    ‘Dis $60M jaob is gonna pay for a lotta union jaobs, so don’t even tink ’bout tryin’ to nix it or your gonna find some leftova nails in the concrete!

  • I would just like to register my opinion that the very best routes are those where I don’t have to share anything at all with the &%$#!ing cars.

    I’ve always believed the best way to increase modeshare was to begin by showing everyone all the freaking awesome places that are simply inaccessible by motor vehicle. And incidentally, you can stop at the store on your way home. Plus, wouldn’t it be sweet if you could experience all this freaking awesomeness EVERY DAY just as part of your daily routine, say, to/from work?

    Or maybe I’m just weird, because that’s how I started.

  • Fred

    The canopy is a concession to protect the Lake Point Towereans from us mere mortals. There is no other reason for its existence.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Well should know enough not to go throwing flaming spears at the tower because it just lets their snipers on the roof get a good bead on you.

  • skyrefuge

    It should also be noted that, at least according to the 2011 design PPT, the canopy only exists along the Lake Point Tower section (and slightly beyond it on either side), and at that point the bridge is still lower than the top of the LPT podium. So the only view it’s really blocking is that of a brick wall.

    Thus it seems to be more the spear-throwing that they’re concerned about rather than Peeping Toms. Only at the southernmost/highest point could a nut even dream of trying (and failing) to leap for it. At the northernmost/lowest point it still looks to be a good 15-20 ft from the bridge deck to the top of the podium. So even though it doesn’t actually block any views, it’s a pretty pointless addition/cost.

    Edit: I just realized I neglected to think of the possibility of grappling hooks. Now it makes total sense.

  • oooBooo

    The images are indeed skewed, but I am very familiar with the area, I used to bike it daily many many years ago and understand the kind of height and length it would be in reality. It will still jam up because of the present problem, people refuse to keep right except to pass. They’ll want to spread out railing to railing, view from both sides, walk side by side,etc.

    Ramps not good for bicycling? Why? They aren’t any more confining than PBLs, so it has to be the slope. Man made ramps/bridges can’t compare to the terrain in other parts of the country. There’s river with boat traffic there, there will be ramps. I consider it a terrain problem, like a mountain, a bluff, or anything that’s rather common in places not Illinois.

    Your alternative doesn’t resolve the problems, it simply takes a lane away from other vehicles. It actually creates more complication and merges. It looks ok in the image, just sidewalk riding off the sidewalk, but north of there, behind the ‘camera’ at the intersections with Illinois and Grand, especially Grand, it would become horrific. The sidewalk situation is already quite bad, but the structure of it actually leads to caution that would not exist with a bi-directional bike lane. Bike lanes give a sense of authority endorsed safety that would not exist here. Right of way conflicts would be numerous with a bi-directional bike lane.

    Often such things have to be done when there is an emergency issue to deal with but as a permament solution, no. South of Illinois it is equal to the sidewalk.

    Due to the expense of a proper solution I’ve always thought that section of the trail would remain sidewalk riding until the bridge got replaced in century or so. It’s a drawbridge, it’s structure prevents any meaningful reconfiguration. At least the two poles were removed. That made for some ‘fun’ passing moves.

    It doesn’t matter what government builds infrastructure for, it will always be much more expensive and take far longer than it needs to. But there is the right way and the wrong way to do things. By building a separate bridge it’s at least being done the right way. The alternative would be a tunnel, and I think we both can agree what a disaster that would become. If I studied long enough, there might be a way to do a massive reconfiguration of ramps and intersections to allow the path to move into a lane space of the bridge properly, but it would likely cost even more.

  • oooBooo

    It’s a long lowish grade up southbound, it’s pretty short and sharp northbound.
    This ramp complaint to me is a flatlander thing, people who have never gotten out of Illinois or something. I’ve faced worse inclines in every other state I’ve biked in, including Iowa.

  • oooBooo

    It has to rise higher than the current route. The current route is the lower deck of a drawbridge, unless it too will be a drawbridge. The website isn’t exactly clear, it just says midlevel of the existing bridge, which puts between the upper and lower decks? It would be helpful if the website had some decent illustrations of route etc… but alas, no.

  • skyrefuge

    ha, I completely forgot about the fact that it’s a drawbridge. But no, it looks like that doesn’t matter. The docs show the flyover being dead flat and at the lower level of LSD between the Ogden Slip and the Chicago River (it may even descend a tiny bit between Illinois and the Slip). Once it reaches the River bridge, it becomes stuck to the side of the lower level of the bridge just as it is currently, except it will be wider than it is now (they actually punch holes through the bridge towers to accommodate this). So the flyover will operate with the drawbridge.

    Here’s the latest published doc: http://www.cityofchicago.org/dam/city/depts/cdot/NPFlyover_FINAL_PRESENTATION_feb2011.pdf (I guess they don’t have it on the website because no one has updated it yet; this one has the phases numbered in reverse order, amongst surely other differences)

  • Jonas

    I know, right? They should totally provide free bottled water along the route as well… maybe full-time masseuses at random points too. I love biking to-and-from work and would really want things to be smoother for me.

    So.. no. You’re not weird. I don’t understand why they can’t just provide these things for us.

  • oooBooo

    Thanks, now the design is making sense.
    That could be an impressively fast section of trail when there aren’t many people around.

  • It doesn’t matter how many times you call my alternative “biking on the sidewalk” or “bi-directional bike lane”. It’s a sufficiently wide path for cycling in two directions adjacent to a walking path. Unlike the Lakefront Trail, which is narrower than what I proposed.

    I am essentially proposing this:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/75698896@N00/8680120240

    That’s a photo of a typical street in Copenhagen. From left to right there’s a footway, bikeway, and car-way. This design would continue through the intersections of Illinois and Grand. I couldn’t afford to have that rendering produced when I developed the alternative (albeit a few years too late).

  • oooBooo

    That is not what your previous image shows. I see no left-side bicycling in this new image from Copenhagen. You are putting southbound bicycling next to, on the east side of northbound driving. This is effectively the same condition as wrong way sidewalk riding when it comes to other vehicular traffic. It creates the same vehicular conflicts. Such dangerous design was, I thought, largely discarded decades ago. However it’s made a comeback since anti-car politics now drive bicycling instead of best known engineering practices. Today it seems whatever proposal reserves the most roadway space for bicycling is considered best regardless of its merits. Even when it is more dangerous for bicyclists.

    There’s a good reason IMO why the illustration of the proposal for the Chicago river crossing is shown southbound from south of Illinois. It would fall apart into a dangerous mess north of that camera point. The flyover is doing it right. Bike paths need to be separated from roadways entirely other than the minimum amount of at-grade intersections and those should be the bike path intersecting one road, not sidewalks at existing road intersections.

    Since cost is no object on every other project that isn’t useful for drivers, this sudden concern about cost strikes me as disingenuous. While expensive and more than I would have ever expected of the city, it is doing it the right way and I applaud the city of chicago for making a proper bikeway.

  • cjlane

    “the entire Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project which replaced all Brown Line stations (including shared stations) from Chicago/Franklin to Kedzie.”

    You counting the $$ to replace all of the improper platforms?

  • No, I didn’t include the cost of replacing some of the rotting wood platforms.

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