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
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

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

“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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  • Tooscrapps

    Many confident cyclists are already using the traffic lane going North anyway.

    Also, I’m not one to advocate for closing a crosswalk, but that midblock crossing right before the N-bound ramp from lower to upper LSD is needs to be eliminated or seriously improved. The speeding drivers, poor lighting, obstructed views, and faded markings is not a good recipe for a crossing with no traffic controls.

  • Carter O’Brien

    If they’d give us that lane on lower LSD, great. But:

    “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 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 little stretch isn’t even approaching 5% of the problem. My concern with doing this on the cheap was/is that the intersections would continue to be ignored, and also that improvements that can be easily done during one administration can be just as easily undone by a future one. This delay is aggravating, no doubt. But at least we know the final result is going to be around for 100 years.

  • Tooscrapps

    If that was done, right turns from N-bound lower LSD onto Illinois would be likely have been eliminated or split-phased. That would have been a big win. The pinch point between Illinois and the other side of the river is a major frustration during peak times. Way more than 5% you put it at.

    While getting the new bridge is nice, we should have already have done something about this junction a long time ago. $60M+ is a lot of money, and I know federal funds are a tricky game, but imagine how far that could go in other bike/ped infrastructure. The Feds just love “big” projects like bridges and despite recent advancements (Clybourn, Milwaukee pilot), the City is a whole is still very myopic when it comes to useful bike infrastructure.

  • planetshwoop

    There has been a lot of discussion about how the st of government projects has gone up substantially and that it is significantly more expensive in the US than in other countries. (It sounds hard to compare, but is typically done by examining the cost per kilometer to build a subway or road, among other measures.)

    So the fact that it takes *so long* and seems to cost more than would be expected is consistent with other projects.It’s disappointing and probably has multiple causes, not just the ones your favorite party supports.

    Also, the sad truth about a PBL near Navy Pier is that it is effectively a floating parking lot. We’re all addicted to the money it provides. (I think of this often because there is a little counter of available parking spaces where the flyover is supposed to flyover.) So taking a lane out will meet a lot of challengers who like the revenue as is.

  • Myopic? Illiterate perhaps?

  • Given the quality of public works in this city, how did you arrive at 100 years?

  • Thank you John for reviving and rightfully accrediting Steven’s excellent compromise. The biggest issue is simply accommodating the (growing) number of pedestrians, runners, cyclists, roller-bladers etc. trying to cross the river. Given the many needs of these same constituents elsewhere in the city, it never made sense to concentrate that much money on one issue without a firm commitment to actually get it done in reasonable time. Taking longer than the GG bridge is a sore joke and an indictment of policy that favors bling over benefit.

  • Carter O’Brien

    You may notice that the river has stayed reversed since 1900. Infrastructure is often too expensive due to the corruption tax, and our weather can beat down a lot of it, but Chicago in general is built very well. When we care to do so, anyway (and this is the rub). I have faith in this project as it is so high profile, and because they want to make getting to Tourist Trap #1 as easy as possible.

  • ChicagoCyclist
  • ChicagoCyclist

    What would the termini of “Steven’s compromise,” bollard-protected two-way bike lane be? Would the bollard-protected two-way bike lane begin (at its northern limit) at Grand Ave., or at Illinois St.? I do like the idea of eliminating right-turns, or at least right-turns on red. Maybe you could have bike signals with a completely separated phase for bikes and peds only. Engineers, is that possible/good idea? What would the southern terminus of the two-way, bollard-protected bike lane be? Would it be where the existing path begins on the south side of the bridge, here: https://www.google.com/maps/dir/41.8879148,-87.6138595/41.8878502,-87.6138414/@41.8879208,-87.613936,47m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m9!4m8!1m5!3m4!1m2!1d-87.6138571!2d41.887907!3s0x880e2b56d3751767:0x3291114d2b9cec8d!1m0!3e1
    If so, somehow the traffic merging from the northbound on-ramp from Randolph needs to be “dealt with”.
    Also, I think that northbound traffic on Lower Lakeshore Dr. would have to be slowed down considerably (somehow, but how?) since it would be coming “head on” with southbound cyclists with only bollards separating them… Thoughts/ideas?

  • Tooscrapps

    Yes.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Lower Lake Shore Drive never has traffic. No one would notice if a lane was removed from there.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ack, my reply got lost due to bad wi-fi.

    To clarify, when I say less than 5%, I mean actual accidents resulting in physical damage. I don’t like frustration any more than the next guy, but being frustrated and being taken away in a stretcher are two very different things. The latter is what the Lake Point Tower bound spot and Navy Pier traffic combine to create.

  • rohmen

    You’re right.

    They took a lane out on lower LSD and formed essentially a protected bike/pedestrian lane when a section of the bridge sidewalk collapsed a few years ago. It didn’t cause Armageddon, and it’s a pretty reasonable concession given the delay.

    You still have to deal with the horrible intersection at Illinois/Grand, but it makes life better in terms of the bridge choke point, which was sold as justification for the flyover just as heavily as any other reason.

  • Allan Marshall

    Weird, I never knew there was a crosswalk there till now! Not that I’d likely ever use that one, due to how fast traffic is traveling through there. Goes to show how much I dread that section of the Lakefront Trail and how much I try to get through there as (well) not delayed as I can, lol. Though I always know it’s a little slow, through there. Can’t wait till the flyover is completed, though it’s sad I’m hearing reports it won’t open till 2019.

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