Take it to the Bridge: Is an Overpass Needed at Monroe/LSD?

Pedestrians cross Lake Shore Drive at Monroe. Image: Google Street View
Pedestrians cross Lake Shore Drive at Monroe. Image: Google Street View

After Streetsblog Chicago ran a post pointing out the dearth of east-west bikeways in the city, and another correctly predicting that that the Navy Pier Flyover completion might be delayed, a local transit planner asked us an interesting question.

“I am writing to understand why, in addition to the lack of east-west bike lanes, there have there never been any actions taken to provide an overpass over the outer drive south of the river,” he wrote. “At Monroe there is a multitude of walkers, runners, bikers, Segway users every day that have to cross ten lanes of traffic [to access the Lakefront Trail.] I cannot believe there are not more crashes. I thought they might have made this part of the Navy Pier Flyover project but I cannot figure why they did not.” Similar issues exist at Jackson and Balbo drives.

He noted that noted that there’s a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive about two miles north, by North Avenue Beach. Last year the Chicago Department of Transportation completed a replacement 620-foot bridge over the drive and Metra and South Shore tracks at 35th Street. The department broke ground on another bike/ped bridge over LSD at 41st Street in June, and a third is planned to replace the one at 43rd Street.

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An aerial view of Monroe/LSD, taken during the construction of Maggie Daley Park. Image: Google Street View

There’s no question that more needs to be done to reduce the barrier effect that Lake Shore Drive has on access to the lakefront, especially downtown. CDOT took a step in the right direction in 2011, when it restored a mid-block crosswalk by Buckingham Fountain with a pedestrian-activated stoplight, which had been removed in 2005 under Mayor Richard M. Daley to speed traffic on the drive.

If the city was going to create a grade separated crossing at Monroe, as the transit planner suggested, a wheelchair- and bike-friendly bridge would be preferable to an underpass. The latter can have problems with flooding and are more likely to present cleanliness and personal safety issues.

Pedestrian and bike injuries at Monroe LSD. Image: Chicago Crash Browser
Pedestrian and bike injuries at Monroe/LSD. Image: Chicago Crash Browser

While bike/ped traffic counts aren’t available for the Monroe/LSD intersection, crash counts from Streetblog writer Steven Vance’s Chicago Crash Browser indicate that there aren’t an inordinately high level of injury collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians at this location. “There are, however, hundreds of crashes between motorists here,” Steven notes.

Steven says he’s not in favor of building an overpass or underpass here. “It would be extremely expensive while prioritizing driving in a place that’s not a high problem area for pedestrians and bicyclists.” The 35th Street bridge cost $26 million, and the longer 43rd Street span will cost $28.7 million. The 41st Street bridge has not been bid out yet, according to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey.

Rendering of the 41st Street Bridge. Image: CDOT
Rendering of the 41st Street Bridge. Image: CDOT

“In terms of where is the best place to spend $30 million, [Monroe/LSD] is not it,” Steven argues. “Especially when it comes to equity. There are still hundreds of miles of unmaintained bike lanes and unsafe streets. If you look at what investments the city can make, and where, to increase bike ridership and safety, it is not here.”

However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t make some relatively quick and cheap improvements to improve safety and convenience for pedestrians and cyclists at downtown Lake Shore Drive intersections, Steven says. He recommends pulling the LSD stop bars for drivers much farther back, extending yellow light times, adding two additional walk signal phases per hour to shorten wait times for vulnerable road users, and stationing traffic aides at the intersections at rush hours, mostly to deter unsafe behavior by drivers and serve as witnesses in the event of a crash.

What do you think – would you support building overpasses or underpasses at Monroe, Jackson, and/or Balbo? Let us know in the comments.

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