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Proposed location for the North Shore Channel Trail bike bridge

[This piece also runs in Newcity.]

The other day I was pedaling with friends under azure skies to Evanston’s Blind Faith Cafe when I was reminded of an old political fight. We were riding on the North Shore Channel Trail, a scenic, nearly car-free route from Albany Park to Evanston, when we came to the notorious gap in the path just north of Lincoln. The trail ended abruptly, so we spun north on Kedzie a few blocks, turned west and rode on hectic Devon Street across the channel, then turned north to continue on the bike path into Lincolnwood.

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Crossing the channel on Devon by the Thillens Little League stadium

(The other option is to do a U-turn at the trail’s end, ride south a bit on Kedzie, cross the channel on busy Lincoln, pick up a section of trail on the west side of the waterway and ride north to Devon.)

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If it weren’t for opposition from former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone, we would have been able to instead make a car-free transition to the west side of the channel via a bike-pedestrian bridge. Back in 2006, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had funding lined up to build the span but Stone, then the city’s oldest, longest-sitting alderman and a Daley loyalist, put the kibosh on the project. First he claimed it was dangerous for cyclists to ride near the Lincoln Village shopping center, which borders the west side of the waterway. He later argued the bridge would conflict with a planned senior center.

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Location of proposed bridge shown as dotted line on Chicago Bike Map

Local bike advocates cried foul. “We could find no good reason for his opposition to the bike bridge,” explains cyclist Bob Kastigar, who created a photo essay illustrating the issue. In 2007, aldermanic challenger Naisy Dolar used the bridge as a campaign issue, a strategy Stone dismissed as “ridiculous.” After the incumbent narrowly defeated Dolar in a runoff, it became obvious the overpass, now nicknamed the “Stone Bridge,” would never be completed as long as the feisty alderman held power.

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Berny Stone – photo by Allison Williams

But earlier this year Rahm Emanuel ally Debra Silverstein beat Stone in the aldermanic election. So as I recently cruised the trail it occurred to me the city might build the bridge after all, and I was right. “During the campaign people talked to me about the history of the bridge and asked me to get involved,” Silverstein says. She recently met with bike-friendly CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and requested a report on what it would take to build the bridge, how much it would cost and whether the funding was still available.

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View of trail from Peterson Avenue bridge; Lincon Avenue bridge is in background

Sadly the money was used for other projects, says Janet Attarian, director of CDOT’s Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program. “We’ll also have to come up with a new design because a canoe launch was built there, which makes it a trickier location,” she says. Although Silverstein says it’s unlikely ward money will be available for the bridge, Attarian hopes to secure grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. She plans to give Silverstein the feasibility report this fall.

The Stone Bridge snafu illustrates the power of aldermen to block bicycle projects in their wards that would otherwise benefit all Chicagoans. “The key to making this city a welcoming place to bike is to create a network of bike lanes and trails that would connect our neighborhoods and get people to where they need to go,” agrees Active Transportation Alliance’s Adolfo Hernandez. “That’s why Active Trans is increasingly reaching out to aldermen and community groups to explain the benefits of projects like [the bridge], and organizing supporters to help move them forward.”

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  • Rob Gillis

    A canoe launch was put there? That benefits what percentage of the people? But I guess it takes 200 jetskis off the canal so it can be justified instead of a bike bridge.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      It does seem odd that they chose to place the canoe launch in the proposed bridge location.

      • Gregory Jay Valent

        As I recall the ‘canoe launch’ platform has been there as long as that portion of the trail. Does this mean that someone is actually using it ? According to the aerial view, as long as the bridge stays close to Lincoln, neither group of users should be impacted.
        http://maps.google.com/?ll=41.992411,-87.709997&spn=0.001393,0.002816&t=h&z=19

        • Gregory Jay Valent

          On further viewing, moving the bridge north of the launch may even be better. Ready, fire, aim.

          • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

            According to Janet Attarian, it’s a tricky design problem because you have to take cyclists from the underpass, eight feet below street level, and take them up to bridge height, which may have to be high enough to let watercraft underneath, all within a relatively short distance. Tricky, but certainly not insurmountable.

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            Stone Bridge Flyover?

          • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

            It’s funny that this project will probably named in honor of the politician who opposed it.

          • Bob Kastigar

            Also, the bridge ramp up needs to meet the ADA disability requirements as well. The original play for the bridge was to have it cross the channel at an angle, to meet both the ADA needs as well as the boating needs on the channel.

        • Anonymous

          I thought that the “canoe launch” was part of the bridge foundation built before the project got cut. Silly me…
          I ride by there a number a time a year, and I do not recall seeing canoes being launched there ever.

          But it is great to see that some discussion is taking place again about that bridge. It connects two existing trails, thereby “multiplying” the value of each one

          Nice article John!

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            Excellent point, Duppie, about multiplying the value of each one.

            I wonder how many people coming from the south encounter this spot and do a u-turn and go back from where they came. Or they come from the north and make a similar u-turn.
            What’s the value added if there’s the connection, to points south and north of this break? What’s the value added if this break had a proper exit point to Devon with bike lanes that led one to the business east and west of here?

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_USNW6LGA6VHGJATS6PE7FYSMYE Sweet Old Bob

         John, I don’t think there’s a conflict.  The canoe launch is down on the water, the bridge goes over the top of the water.  I think the bridge and the canoe launch could fit nicely together.

        • John Greenfield

          I got this info from Janet Attarian from CDOT, who’s working on this project – she must have the most ac curate info on this. Time for an update on this though. I’ll check in with the alderman’s office or CDOT.

  • John Wirtz

    I went this way today on my bike. It’s a freaking mess. You’re coming south down the trail, then it just ends at Lincoln. I guess you’re supposed to bike on the sidewalk, cross the north leg of Kedzie, bike north a few hundred feet in the bike lane, then make a left turn across southbound traffic onto a narrow sidewalk that eventually connects to the trail.

    Maybe it would be easier to take a right on Lincoln, go south on Jersey, and then stay on the west side of the channel until Bryn Mawr. Another good option that I should have remembered is to just ride on Kedzie from Howard to Lincoln. It’s a fast bike route if you ignore the unwarranted stop signs.

  • http://dannyman.toldme.com/ Daniel Howard

    I grew up in the 50th Ward but moved to California over a decade ago. Its weird to hear that Bernie Stone is still alive, much less in power recently enough to muck with a bike bridge. That guy was a clueless, illiterate dinosaur. I’m glad to hear that Chicago has turned the corner on this issue. I hope the bridge gets built. Thanks for the report, Steven!

    -danny

  • http://dannyman.toldme.com/ Daniel Howard

    I grew up in the 50th Ward but moved to California over a decade ago. Its weird to hear that Bernie Stone is still alive, much less in power recently enough to muck with a bike bridge. That guy was a clueless, illiterate dinosaur. I’m glad to hear that Chicago has turned the corner on this issue. I hope the bridge gets built. Thanks for the report, Steven!

    -danny

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  • Chris Johnston

    Apparently, I am wrong, but I thought the bicycle bridge was planned at Pratt Blvd.  -Chris

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