Take a Virtual Ride on the (Partly Finished) Navy Pier Flyover

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

It’s taken longer than the Golden Gate Bridge to complete, and it’s still not finished, but the most expensive single piece of bike infrastructure in the history of Illinois is finally partly ready to ride. Today officials cut the ribbon on the first open section of the $64 million Navy Pier Flyover.

Rahm Emanuel and other officials toured the flyover this morning. Photo: City of Chicago
Rahm Emanuel and other officials toured the flyover this morning. Photo: City of Chicago

So far the bike and pedestrian bridge takes Lakefront Trail users up and over the sketchy Grand Avenue and Illinois street crossings before depositing them on the east sidewalk of Lake Shore Drive north of the Ogden Slip. Right now it’s still necessary to use the 8-foot-wide sidewalk to cross the slip and the Chicago River, but the last phases of the project will create a 16-foot-wide path, the same width as the completed portion of the flyover. When finished, the flyover will total 2,160 feet in length.

“We’ve reached a major milestone in the construction of the Navy Pier Flyover, connecting the two halves of the Lakefront Trail,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “The Lakefront Trail is one of Chicago’s jewels, and this investment will create a seamless connection between the north and south sides of the Trail. It will make it safer and easier for everyone to get through the popular area near Navy Pier, whether they are walking, running or biking.”

Today’s flyover opening occurred on the same day as the new $33 million 41st Street bike-ped bridge opening in Bronzeville, and the Chicago Park District recently announced the completion of the Lakefront Trail separation project, so this has been a good month for shoreline walking and biking infrastructure.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has started construction on Phase II of the flyover, building a segment over Ogden Slip and DuSable Park that will connect to Lower Lake Shore Drive. That work is supposed to wrap up this spring.

Phase III will double the width of the sidewalk on the east side the moveable bridge over the river to 16 feet; the northbound side of the new path will tunnel through the bridge houses in order to achieve this additional width. The section of the path over the river will be cantilevered off the east side of the existing bridge. CDOT will also be making structural and mechanical repairs to the bridge. The path portion of Phase III is slated for completion by the end of next, although bridge repairs will continue into 2020.

The last two phases of the flyover, crossing the Ogden Slip and the Chicago River, still need to be completed. Image: CDOT
The last two phases of the flyover, crossing the Ogden Slip and the Chicago River, still need to be completed. Image: CDOT

City officials blamed the flyover’s slow construction timetable — the project has dragged on for about four-and-a-half years so far — on the need to spread the work schedule over several years due to piecemeal state and federal funding.

Despite the high cost and long duration of the project, I was fairly impressed by the structure when I took a spin on it this afternoon. It takes more legwork to climb up to the level of Upper Lake Shore Drive, where the bridge squeezes between the drive and Lake Point Tower, than it previously did to cross Grand and Illinois at Street level. But the tradeoff is being able to skip the dangerous street crossings and, on the northbound trip, a nice view of the lake and a sweet downhill as you descend to the beach. Not everybody is a fan, however.

While I certainly don’t agree that the flyover is currently a deathtrap, the route will get much safer once the path along the river is wider. Can’t hardly wait.

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Workers complete Phase I of the flyover, between Ohio Street and the Ogden Slip. Photo: John Greenfield

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