Blue Wave: A Serpentine Bike-Ped Bridge Opens at 41st Street

Photo: CDOT
Photo: CDOT

Residents of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood love the lakefront as much as any other Chicagoans, and yesterday it became a lot easier for them to access the shoreline. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, and local alderman Sophia King unveiled the new 41st Street bike and pedestrian bridge, an S-shaped 1,470-foot span that extends across commuter rail tracks and Lake Shore Drive. It connects Park Crescent, 348 new units of mixed-income housing developed by the Chicago Housing Authority, and its neighboring park with the Oakwood/41st Street Beach, which was recently created as part of Lake Michigan shoreline revetment reconstruction.

Photo: James Porter

The $33 million 41st Street bridge is the second of five bike-ped bridge projects announced by Emanuel to improve access to the lakefront on the South Side. A similarly serpentine bridge opened at 35th Street in November 2016, replacing a rusting, non-wheelchair-accessible bridge.  A third project, starting in 2019, will replace the existing, run-down, non-ADA-compliant bridge at 43rd Street. It features a similar design as the 41st Street Bridge. Both structures are designed by AECOM with Cordogan, Clark & Associates.  The inclined arch mono-truss structures hold up large S-curves, that city officials say were designed to echo the curves of walkways along the lakefront in Burnham Park.

The 31st Street bridge, viewed from the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield
The 31st Street bridge, viewed from the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield

In addition, a bridge for motorized vehicles over the railroad tracks at Oakwood Boulevard/39th Street is currently under reconstruction and slated for completion in mid-2019. Plans are being finalized for a fifth project to replace the bridge over the railroad tracks at 31st Street, scheduled to start next year.

During yesterday’s ribbon-cutting, Emanuel told Bronzeville locals that “For far too long, residents of this community could see the lakefront, but they couldn’t easily reach it. This new bridge connects Bronzeville residents to our lakefront and the new 41st Street beach and it builds on the great energy we are seeing thanks to the investments that we have made in this community.” The mayor also gave a shout-out to Durbin for helping to secure an $18.76 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the project. “We couldn’t do this if we didn’t have a senator to bring home the bacon. That’s a big leap for a Jewish kid to say.”

Emanuel, King, Durbin, and other officials and community members cut the ribbon. Photo: Brooke E. Collins, city of Chicago
Emanuel, King, Durbin, and other officials and community members cut the ribbon. Photo: Brooke E. Collins, city of Chicago

The rest of the funding came from other state and federal sources. In spring 2017 the project was temporarily stalled by the Illinois Department of Transportation balking at chipping in an additional $2 million for the project after the lowest construction bid was nearly 24 percent higher than expected. Construction finally began in June 2017 after IDOT released the funding.

After Emanuel spoke, Durbin discussed the significance of the project, noting that a survey once found that Chicagoans view Lake Michigan as the single most defining thing about the city. “This is our Yosemite, this is our Grand Canyon, this is our natural resource, and we appreciate it every single day,” he said. “If you look out on this beautiful lake, and we all have, you see the beautiful sunrise in the morning and its a wonderful thing. But if just looking at it is all you can do, you’re not getting the best of the lake. If you can walk along that lake, if you can bicycle along that lake, if you can dip your toes in the water, its a living lake… Now, with this bridge, it’s a living lake, for you, your family and your community. The federal tax dollars that you sent to Washington came home for your bridge.”

Take a virtual ride on the new 41st Street Bridge via this video shot by local bike advocate Jay Sebastian.


  • Carter O’Brien

    This is great and long overdue. Plus the bridge itself is a thing of beauty. All involved deserve to take a bow for this.

  • planetshwoop

    Re: 24%: A big theme for these infrastructure projects is that they keep coming over bid. I’m thrilled a new bridge has been built, but CMAP/BGA needs to investigate why there is consistently a 15-25% difference between the ask and the final bid. Change orders? Padding? It seems to be a real theme on public works projects that requires investigation.

  • Michael

    Why did it cost $23,000 per foot to build?

  • Over-design too? I’m proud to have such amazing structures, but sometimes less is more. Take our favorite the over the river bypass for bikes. Beautiful yet undersized to the point that it will need a larger or additional solution before very long. Think induced demand too. And it’s not that nobody knew better.


    DER- becuz we live in a union city, because steel tarriffs, because flowing traffic needed to occur below it.

  • Marilyn Rosen

    The new bridge is great! Already used it twice, even in this weather.

  • Tooscrapps

    Over-design is certainly a culprit. Just look at how much they want to spend for the Darrow Bridge!

    I would also guess by the time it went to bid, construction costs had increased. Just look at all the cranes around Chicago. You’re competing with those for labor.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Lowballing a bid is a time-tested way of getting awarded big city contracts, then once the project is underway comes the “oops, that wasn’t covered” discoveries. What is a mystery is why we don’t get cost overrun insurance like other, more functional governments.

  • Frank Kotter

    A bridge over an expressway without cages to protect cars from people? Whoever was responsible for this aspect deserves massive gratitude. Because I feel like a criminal when looking through chain-link.