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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  • Not really sure why we need 23 NS lanes of car traffic running through Grant Park between LSD, Congress and Michigan. I don’t really support a pedestrian bridge there because I don’t think the lakefront should even have an expressway on it.

  • ardecila

    Not a pedestrian bridge, no. I’d rather see Columbus narrowed with the additional traffic shifted to LSD so there’s only one giant auto sewer instead of two.

    To make LSD itself more friendly, I would support moving the northbound lanes and the Lakefront Trail about 15′ closer to the water’s edge. This would create a landscaped median that’s wide enough to actually provide a safe refuge island for the thousands of people that cross here in busy days. This would psychologically make the road easier to cross, and provide an option for slower/elderly/disabled folks to wait in the middle instead of having to sprint.

  • Aaron Berlin

    If we’re talking “pie-in-the-sky”, let’s submerge LSD between Roosevelt and Randolph (à la the Big Dig) so that Grant Park can extend all the way from Michigan Ave to the lake unbroken.

  • First Time Reader

    Interesting content, but you need a copy editor. I see at least 3 spelling and grammar errors in this post.

  • BlueFairlane

    Without looking at the article, your headline needs either to remove a T or add an S.

  • planetshwoop

    Quibble: there is a reasonable *underpass* at Randolph St., which I take regularly.

    If you’re heading east on Randolph, continue past the BCBS building. At N Field Ave, turn right into the Cancer Survivor’s Garden. (There is a sign that says welcome to Maggie Daley Park, this is the approved bike route) You curve left to go to the tennis courts, and pop out on lower Randolph St., under LSD. It’s safe and easy to cross to the Lakefront.

    On a bike, you can also take the underpass for Randolph St., but it’s gross and filthy and kinda scary. Plus, I’m not sure if you can smell the donut food truck by the Aon Bldg.

    (I realize this isn’t a lot of help if you’re at Buckingham Fountain, but it is a pretty sweet shortcut for coming out of the Loop.)

  • JeBuS

    Wish you would’ve mentioned this route in the spring. ;-)

  • Fred

    My dream? Trench and cap LSD between Monroe and Roosevelt, then close all roads bounded by Roosevelt, Michigan, Monroe and the lake. Brick over Columbus through the park for use during summer festival season where it is closed for weeks at a time anyway.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Another option is to head east on Randolph, and then north on Field Drive into the Lakeshore East development. Go around the park and then head north across Lower Wacker to the riverwalk, then head east to the Lakefront Trail, as shown on this old CDOT bike map. A more direct route, not shown, is to head east from the east side of the park across a gravel parking lot to the trail.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • rduke

    Nah just remove it. Hit the big ol delete button, put in some nice light rail or some express BRT lanes. All done.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sounds simple enough…

  • Lisa Curcio

    I agree with everything except the traffic aide part. When there are traffic aides there (I say TMA stands for “traffic mismanagement agency”) they stand at the control box and make a mess of the light sequence that works perfectly well.

  • Elizabeth

    I go running on the Lakefront Trail at lunch hour most days, and like planetshwoop, I’ve defaulted to using the Randolph underpass – the deciding moment for me was when I got stranded on the median of LSD by cars who decided to ignore me crossing at the walk sign and barrel through for a right turn anyway. It seems like it might be easier to make that underpass better-signed and more ped/bike friendly.

    I mean, if I’m dreaming really big, I want to tear up LSD, put in a branch of the L down along the lakeshore, dedicate part of the LSD space to a bike path separate from the super-clogged pedestrian path between North Ave. Beach and the Shedd, and give over the rest of the space to public art or landscaping or community gardens or something. Of course, this is my imaginary ideal Chicago where cars are strictly forbidden within the L perimeter and bicyclists have taken over the streets. It’s a very pleasant daydream.

  • rohmen

    When I helped crew a sail boat regularly, I’d hit this intersection at rush hour about twice a week all summer. I never found Monroe hard to cross as a pedestrian personally, and thought the lights were pretty well timed.

    That said, it’s a weird area for cyclists given how much traffic is on Monroe turning left and right. Most cyclists end up having to use the sidewalk on Monroe from Columbus to LSD (especially Divvy users), and then use the cross walk on the north side to get to the path. That actually created more problems as a ped. for me than dealing with cars ever did in that area. Not sure an over or underpass is worth the expense just to deal with that issue, but that crossing does see a huge amount or ped. and bike traffic, and it would be nice to see some sort of traffic calming measures undertaken there.

  • Cameron Puetz

    If Columbus were narrowed, the removed lanes could make an excellent bike route between the Loop and Streeterville

  • Chicagoan

    That’d be epic.

  • David Henri

    You’re right, it shouldn’t. Moses is long gone. Let’s start removing his disasters.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yes, let’s part this deadly sea of traffic! But if you’re talking about notorious New York-area highway builder Robert Moses, he didn’t have anything directly to do with the construction of Lake Shore Drive.

  • Anne A

    Columbus with barrier-protected bike lanes – yeah!!!!

  • Fuegofan

    I didn’t know where that turn that goes east from the Cancer Survivor’s garden went, so thanks for that. I was thinking as I was reading the piece that if they would just drop a bike/ped path from Upper Randolph across or under LSD that would seem to be a simple fix. After looking at GoogleMaps I think they still need to add a bike lane on lower Randolph, as it looks way to highway-y to be safe, but I’ll try it some time.

  • Michelle Stenzel

    John, FYI that this route is no longer available and won’t be for years due to the Wanda Vista tower construction. The new route to take on bike or foot is that you have to turn off east from North Westshore Drive down onto a parking garage ramp, go through it to North Harbor Service Drive, then go under LSD and come out at the Lakefront Trail. It’s not paved for that last section, however, so it’s not an available route for people with mobility issues and therefore is not an official detour. It’s astounding to me that the thousands of people living in the condos around there accept this crappy route as their best way to the river and lake for the next two years, but I guess they do.

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