Tunnel vision: With bike-through bridge houses, Navy Pier Flyover is finally completed

Riding through the south LSD bridge house on the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: Juan Dominguez
Riding through the south LSD bridge house on the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: Juan Dominguez

Due to funding snafus, construction of the Lakefront Trail’s Navy Pier Flyover, which first broke ground over seven years ago, has taken more than twice as long as the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. But on Monday, as tunnels through historic Lake Shore Drive bridge houses were opened for bike and pedestrian traffic, eliminating a longtime bottleneck, city officials finally declared the project a wrap. Aesthetically the span is still a little rough around the edges, but this still marks a major milestone in the history of Chicago cycling infrastructure.

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Lightfoot cuts the ribbon. Photo: City of Chicago

On Monday Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials and bike advocates cut the ribbon on  the $64 million facility, Illinois’ most expensive piece of bike infrastructure ever. The project now provides a continuous segment of the Lakefront Trail stretching for about half a mile from Jane Addams Park and Ohio Street Beach at the north end to the south side of the Chicago River. Along with doing away with the pinch point on the river bridge, it eliminated sketchy at-grade street crossings at Illinois Street and Grand Avenue, where poor sight lines  posed a crash hazard. A ramp also connects the trail to Navy Pier.

View of the lake from the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: City of Chicago
View of the lake from the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: City of Chicago

“The Lakefront Trail is undoubtedly one of Chicago’s crown jewels – a reputation that has only been amplified thanks to the completion of the Navy Pier Flyover project, which seamlessly connects our North and South Sides,” said Lightfoot in a statement. “This incredible project also improves public safety and provides stunning views of our lakefront and Navy Pier for pedestrians, joggers, and bikers alike.”

Jogging through the north bridge house. The aesthetics of the tunnels still leave a little to be desired. Photo: Juan Dominguez
Jogging through the north bridge house. The aesthetics of the tunnels still leave a little to be desired. Photo: Juan Dominguez

“I’m proud that the State of Illinois was able to provide funding to support the completion of the Navy Pier Flyover Project — an investment that offers a safer alternative to the busy intersections along the Lakefront Trail for pedestrians and bikers,” said Pritzker in a statement. “This project will help connect the north and south lakefront and represents what we can achieve when we invest in our cities’ transportation network.”

The flyover of Grand and Illinois was completed in 2018. While the portion of the Lakefront Trail over the river previously was a relatively narrow sidewalk, cantilevering the path off the side of the existing drawbridge allowed it to be widened to about 19.5 feet to 21.5 feet. Now that the tunnels through the bridge houses are open, northbound bike and pedestrian traffic uses these passageways. The appearance of the tunnels is still far-from-polished, but presumably the Chicago Department of Transportation will be touching them up in the near future. Structural and mechanical work on the bridge will be continuing through this year.

Even though the flyover took an absurdly long time to complete, it has already won several awards, including the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois Lincoln’s Grand Conceptor award this year. The project was also listed as one of the Top 10 Bridge Projects of 2020 by Roads & Bridges Magazine.

But in the spirit of “all’s well that ends well,” let’s focus on the the fact that Chicago has a nifty new piece of biking infrastructure that will encourage more people to ride the Lakefront Trail between the South Side and the North Side of the city. Now if only we can keep the path from being destroyed by rising lake levels and climate-change-fueled wave damage

the pedestrian path on the Lakefront Trail between North and Fullerton recently reopened after reconstruction. Photo: Michelle Stenzel
The pedestrian path on the Lakefront Trail between North and Fullerton recently reopened after reconstruction. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

Speaking of which, in another piece of good news about the shoreline path, the LFT’s pedestrian path between North and Fullerton avenues, which had been damaged by wave action recently reopened following a long closure for repairs.

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