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Navy Pier Flyover Is Delayed, But Here’s How We Can Immediately Improve Bike/Ped Access

Instead of making us wait until mid-2019 for the entire flyover to open, the city should convert a lane of lower LSD to a protected bike lane, as Steven Vance proposed five years ago. Rendering: Erich Stenzel

Welp, don’t say we didn’t warn you that the Navy Pier Flyover might not be completed on schedule. Phase I of the bike bridge project, from Ohio Street to the Ogden Slip, was recently completed at a cost of $29 million. Phase II, from the slip to the Chicago River, was supposed to start this summer, but the actual construction work still hadn’t begun as of early last week.

As for Phase III, the southernmost portion that crosses the river, which was slated to begin construction this fall and wrap up work by the end of 2018, last week a city official told me that there was no word on the cost of this section or the start date. (Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey declined to provide an update on the flyover project.) “This suggests that CDOT’s goal of wrapping up the entire flyover project next year may get pushed back to 2019, further delaying a project that’s already taking longer to build than the Golden Gate Bridge,” I wrote last Tuesday.

The three phases of the flyover project. Image: CDOT
The three phases of the flyover project. Image: CDOT
The three phases of the flyover project. Image: CDOT

Soon after that, Claffey told the Chicago Tribune that, indeed, the project won’t be completed until mid-2019, about half a year late, and it will cost more than the original estimate of $60 million. The department is blaming the additional project time and cost on needed repairs to the roughly 80-year-old Lake Shore Drive bascule bridge which the path will run alongside, which will need more work than originally thought, according to Tribune reporter Mary Wisniewski.

At this point, work on Phase II is expected to begin later this month and be finished by the end of 2018, with a price tag of $14.5 million. CDOT will build a temporary bridge to connect that portion of the flyover with the Lakefront Trail south of the project site, so cyclists will finally be able to ride on most of the bike bridge, for the first time since the work began in 2014.

Phase III involves tunneling through the bridge house in order to widen this narrow segment of the path. According to Claffey the Federal Highway Administration is requiring the city to make repairs to the two-level LSD bridge, and CDOT has decided to combine those fixes with the flyover work. This phase will be bid out this winter, with work slated to begin in the spring, Wisniewski reported.

Needless to say, the Active Transportation Alliance isn’t pleased by the news. “It’s disappointing that the bridge deficiencies are only being identified now – more than three years after construction on the flyover started,” wrote governmental relations director Kyle Whitehead in a blog post today. If they had been identified earlier, perhaps they could have been addressed while construction continued, and the project could have stayed on schedule.”

Whitehead noted that every week Active Trans field requests for updates on the project from cyclists and the media, and each time the advocacy group has asked the city they’ve been assured that the project was on schedule for completion in 2018. “We urge city and state leaders to come together to fully fund and build all three phases of the project moving forward, avoid any further delays, and open the complete flyover to the public in 2018,” he wrote. But knowing what we know now, it seems highly unlikely that CDOT will be able to finish the project next year. Hopefully it won’t get pushed back any further than mid-2019.

Whenever it's finally finished, the Navy Pier Flyover will offer great views of the lake. Image: CDOT
Whenever it's finally finished, the Navy Pier Flyover will offer great views of the lake. Image: CDOT
Whenever it's finally finished, the Navy Pier Flyover will offer great views of the lake. Image: CDOT

“Until phase three is completed, the travel lane nearest to the sidewalk should be used for the trail and should be physically separated from vehicle traffic,” Whitehead recommended. That’s a great idea – why didn’t we think of it first?

Actually, we did. Back in 2012 when Streetsblog’ Chicago’s Steven Vance and I were writing the SBC precursor site Grid Chicago, and the flyover was estimated to cost only $45 million, Steven proposed the much cheaper alternative solution of converting a lane of Lower Lake Shore Drive into a two-way protected bike lane. He estimated the cost at $3-5 million, including metal bollards, street markings, signal improvements and other upgrades. That wouldn’t have had all the benefits of the full flyover, such as eliminating the intersections with Illinois Street and Grand Avenue, but it would have been a fraction of the cost, and it could have been completed several years ago.

That’s all – pun intended – water under the bridge now but, as Active Trans notes, it’s not too late to use this idea to immediately create safer access for cyclists. Mid-2019 is far too long to wait.

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