Details on Plans for the Riverwalk Between Michigan Avenue and the Lake

The Wanda Vista Tower developers will be building a glass elevator from Upper Wacker to the riverwalk at Columbus.
The Wanda Vista Tower developers will be building a glass elevator from Upper Wacker to the riverwalk at Columbus.

The $95 million Chicago Riverwalk extension from State Street to Lake Street was a game-changing project, which created an architecturally significant new recreation and (to a lesser extent) transportation amenity for Chicago locals and tourists alike. Now the city is ready to expand the improvements from Michigan Avenue to the lake with a more modest $10 million rehab of the existing riverwalk in this section of the riverfront, where it’s currently a simple paved path. The project is slated for completion by 2020.

“The [new] riverwalk changed the way people interact with the Chicago River, transforming the waterfront into the city’s next recreational frontier,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “The riverfront investments we are making will make the entire 1.25 mile stretch inviting to residents and visitors, increase recreational opportunities and continue to promote economic growth.”

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Emanuel, left, looks over renderings of the riverwalk at a press event held yesterday. Photo: Brooke Collins / city of Chicago

The plan for the rehab focuses on access points or gateways along the east end, including:

Ellen Lanyon Gateway, LSD entrance: This includes improved landscaping, outdoor public seating, and a viewing area to showcase the existing Ellen Lanyon murals within a new gateway structure.

Entrance at Field Drive: While it’s already possible to walk or bike from north from the Lake Shore East development via Field by crossing Lower Wacker, this will make this route more official and welcoming with a better bike/ped connection, a children’s play area, a public art space, improved landscaping, outdoor public seating, and possibly a monument to World War II submarines that were manufactured in Wisconsin and shipped via the Chicago River to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific.

Columbus Drive Plaza: This will include improved landscaping and drainage, outdoor public seating, and a new glass elevator from the Wanda Vista development, a supertall skyscraper that is being built at 375 East Wacker. There are no wheelchair ramps to the riverwalk east of State Street, so this will improve accessibility. The elevator should be open next year.

Rendering of Michigan Avenue East Plaza.
Rendering of Michigan Avenue East Plaza.

Michigan Avenue East Plaza: The area at the southeast side of the Michigan bridge will get a new gateway structure and an improved plaza area with enhanced landscaping and outdoor furniture to provide a visual screen for Lower Wacker Drive. In the near future, Chicago’s First Lady Cruises will be making improvements to their dock at the southeast corner of the bridge, including new signs, re-cladding the exterior of their ticket office, and improved queuing for customers to keep them out of the way of riverwalk users.

Michigan Avenue West Plaza: The existing plaza at the southwest corner of the bridge will be reconfigured with improved landscaping and public seating to the space easier to navigate and more inviting.

Michigan Avenue Market: West of Michigan Avenue Plaza, the city is planning to develop an outdoor market area with stands highlighting local businesses owned by people of color. A Request for Qualifications will be released later this summer, and the market is scheduled to launch in spring of 2019.

Other vendors, including Northman, Island Party Hut and Urban Kayaks will be funding near-term improvements to their sites, per contracts approved by City Council in February.

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  • Tooscrapps

    The most unrealistic thing about the renderings: the color of our beloved river.

  • 1976boy

    All good things, but there is one big elephant in the room. The three level Wacker Drive itself. It’s a filthy and garish scar and is built way over capacity. Here’s an idea: Reduce the top level to one lane in each direction, reserving the north edge for pedestrian uses; add a bicycle path ramp or shared bike/ped to create a connection to the top level. As it is now bikes are forced to unsafely share the road with aggressive traffic in a dark tunnel.

    Ideally I’d prefer to see the top level demolished except for a narrow service road to the buildings on top, but all that would do is expose the lower levels as the eyesore that they are.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Well, much of it (most, perhaps) is just zebra mussell-cleaned Lake Michigan water at this junction. Gotta milk that allotment for all it’s worth!

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