Newly reopened Webster bridge has a more bikable solid deck, but no bike lanes

The new bridge features a mostly solid concrete deck, but no bike lanes, just "sharrow" markings. Photo: CDOt
The new bridge features a mostly solid concrete deck, but no bike lanes, just "sharrow" markings. Photo: CDOt

Webster Avenue is direct, two-lane east-west connection between the Damen Avenue and Southport Avenue north-south bike routes, so it’s a handy cycling link between Wicker Park-Bucktown and neighborhoods to the northeast. The main fly in the ointment has been that the Webster bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River has had an open-grate metal surface, with a diamond pattern that has been particularly slippery and treacherous for bike riders when wet.

The Webster bridge deck prior to reconstruction. Image: Google Maps
The Webster bridge deck prior to reconstruction. Image: Google Maps

The Chicago Department of Transportation completely closed the 106-year-old bridge for a $28 million rehab project in August 2021. It was a little frustrating to have the route out of commission for so long. That was especially true on a couple occasions when I forgot about the project and rode west from Southport a couple of blocks toward the span, only to see the construction barriers and have to backtrack and make my way south to Cortland Avenue, the next two-lane bridge to the south, via a less direct route.

Bike routes near the Webster bridge. Image: Google Maps
Bike routes near the Webster bridge. Image: Google Maps

So it was good news earlier this week when city officials cut the ribbon on the renovated bridge. While the project was supposed to only take nine months, supply chain issues pushed the schedule back by several months, according to CDOT chief Gia Biagi.

It’s also good that the new deck surface is solid concrete, with the exception of a few sections in the middle of the bridge that are still open-grate for drainage purposes. But those won’t really be a problem for people on bikes, since the opening are to the left of the typical cycling zone.

Aerial view of the bridge under construction last August.

Ideally, any time a bridge is renovated it should get protected bike lanes, but unfortunately Webster only got bike-and-chevron “shared-lane markings,” aka “sharrows.” That’s likely because the two-lane, relatively narrow span wasn’t widened, and CDOT felt there wasn’t room for protected bikeways in the existing footprint.

City officials cut the ribbon on the bridge. Photo: CDOT
City officials cut the ribbon on the bridge. Photo: CDOT

According to CDOT, the Webster bridge is a Chicago-style double-leaf trunnion bridge with pony trusses that were built by the city in the first two decades of the 1900s. While it used to function as a moveable bridge, it hasn’t been opened to facilitate the passage of watercraft since the 1960s.

In addition to filling in the bridge deck with concrete and painting the sharrows, the project includes the following:

  • Replacement of various structural beams, trusses, and bracings.
  • Signal timing improvements at Ashland Avenue.
  • Lighting improvements throughout the project limits.
  • Rehabilitation of historical elements, including the bridge house structures.
  • Improvements to crosswalks, curb ramps, and sidewalks for ADA compliance.

Have you used the new bridge yet? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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