Take a Virtual Bike Ride on the Riverwalk From Lake Street to the Lake

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“The Jetty,” seen from Upper Wacker Drive, features fishing piers and floating gardens. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Riverwalk extension might not have gotten built if it didn’t function as a car-free transportation corridor as well as a space for recreation. The project was funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act program, which provided a $98 million loan. The project also received $10 million in state funding.

So while the riverwalk isn’t the most direct or efficient way to get from Point A to Point on foot or by bike, it is a potentially useful, not to mention scenic, car-free route that now runs 1.3 miles from Lake Street and Wacker Drive to Lake Michigan. Due to the many zigzags is the path as it winds around the bridge houses, as well as heavy pedestrian traffic in nice weather, cycling the whole route will require caution and patience, as you can see from the video embedded in this post. But I expect it will become a fairly popular way to walk from the West Loop commuter rail stations to offices along Wacker and North Michigan Avenue.

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The Merchandise Mart, seen from the riverwalk’s new “public lawn” at Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

On Saturday, October 22, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, an Illinoisan who was instrumental in lining up the TIFIA loan, and other officials officially opened the last section of the riverwalk between Lake and LaSalle Street. To celebrate the new amenity, the city hosted a day of free live music, face painting, balloon artists and Halloween processions.

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Lola Donahue looks none-too-crabby as she hangs out in the (ironically dry) “Water Plaza” with her Corgis, dressed like a lobster and an octopus. Photo: John Greenfield

The three new sections, or “rooms,” of the Riverwalk include:

  • The Water Plaza: A water play area for children and their families at the river’s edge. (From LaSalle to Wells.)
  • The Jetty: A series of piers and floating wetland gardens with interactive learning about the ecology of the river, including opportunities for fishing and identifying native plants. (From Wells to Franklin.)
  • The Riverbank: A (yet-to-open) wheelchair-friendly ramp and new marine edge that creates access to Lake Street and features a public lawn at the confluence of the Main, North, and South branches of the river. The ramp will provide an accessible route from lower to upper Wacker and Lake Street. (From Franklin to Lake.)

Have you had a chance to stroll or ride the new riverwalk sections yet? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

  • skyrefuge

    Even with the very light pedestrian traffic seen in the video, it seems completely insane that they even allow bicycles on the Riverwalk. Is there any logically defensible argument that could explain why the Riverwalk is different than a sidewalk (where, for pedestrian safety reasons, bicycling is illegal?) And “bicycle allowance was required to get federal funding” is not a valid reason (and I’m not sure if that’s even true…would the pedestrian facility have been sufficient on its own to get the USDOT grant?)

  • I don’t know why they made the paths so narrow. They’re nowhere near as wide as the wacker/michigan sidewalks up above them — and even those sometimes can’t handle their pedestrian loads, much less putting bikes in too. For two-way traffic expected to include both strolling sightseers and through-traffic, they’re 2/3 or less of the width they need to be.

  • Ellen Hayes

    Army Corps of Engineers had most of the control over the pathways as they are above water. Very stringent rules had to be followed which the architects had to work with to design to the walkways.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I didn’t write that bike access was required in order to get the grant, rather that the extension “might not have gotten built if it didn’t function as a car-free transportation corridor,” i.e. if it wasn’t a continuous walking *and/or* biking route. I think bike access on the riverwalk has been working out fine. It’s possible to ride a bike on the route, but it’s obvious that cyclists need to yield to pedestrians, and it’s virtually impossible to ride fast on the new segments. I haven’t heard about any problems with bike/ped conflicts.

  • Great post John. I work out of the Merchandise Mart and have loved seeing this come to life over the past year. I love running along the path during lunch.

  • skyrefuge

    Oh, sorry, regarding the grant requirement, I was questioning my own assumption (“maybe bike access was a requirement?”) that I’d just made, not what you wrote in the article. In other words, I was genuinely wondering if you (or anyone) knew whether bike access was a requirement or not.

    I agree that I haven’t heard anything about bike/ped conflicts, and I guess maybe that’s because it’s so obviously pedestrian-dominated that (unlike the LFP or a lightly-traveled sidewalk), there’s never too much of a speed-differential between peds and bikes.

    I still wonder about the rationale behind the decision though. “Here’s a new thing, that looks and operates just like a pedestrian sidewalk (it even has “walk” in the name!) Should we allow bikes on it, even though we don’t allow them on anything else that looks and operates like this? Sure! Why not!” It seems like it could send a bit of a mixed-message: “I know I can Divvy down the Riverwalk, but I can’t Divvy down the Michigan Ave. sidewalk? Huh? Why not?”

  • JKM13

    Took my first visit over lunch, looks great. However, the city will need to come up with a plan to remove the garbage that collects in the jetty portion. There was already trash that had piled up in between those floating gardens, which I suppose is an interactive learning opportunity about the ecology of the river.

  • JacobEPeters

    I would guess it has something to do with the connection to the Lakefront Trail, this is more like a sidewalk in a park (which cyclists are allowed to use) than a sidewalk on a street.

  • UptownArtsCouncil

    They should shoehorn a Divvy station down there, maybe on the east end where there is more room.

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