Navy Pier Flyover alternative design followup: New renderings and ideas


The above rendering shows how the Grid Chicago alternative proposal would utilize the right-most northbound lane as a two-way bicycle path. I still recommend a Jersey-style concrete barrier but bollards are used for display purposes so you can better see how the road is used by the path. Rendering by Erich Stenzel. 

I’ve biked through the Navy Pier Flyover project area a few more times since proposing an alternative in late June. I’ve crafted a few more ideas, based on discussions here and on The Chainlink. Additionally, Erich Stenzel has created two renderings of the proposal’s match to “Phase 1” (the section of the Lakefront Trail south of the Chicago River north to Illinois Street; there are two other construction phases). Lastly, in reading some of the public meeting and other documents, I’ve learned a few interesting things about the project.

Modified ideas

1. The proposal doesn’t necessarily have to compete with all three segments of the Navy Pier Flyover. The proposal is an immediate solution to the issues. This is apparent because there was an immediate and effective solution in 2009 when the Lake Shore Drive Bridge sidewalk that *all* Lakefront Trail users pass over was inaccessible. The converted travel lane over Lake Shore Drive Bridge, through Illinois Street and up to Grand Avenue, could be built in 48 hours with a little asphalt (south of the bridge) metal plates, guardrails, and Jersey barriers.

The segment over the Lake Shore Drive bridge will be bid out in fall 2013 and constructed in 2014, according to one of the documents I received in response to my information request. This leaves enough time for the design to be amended to incorporate this part of the Grid Chicago alternative proposal.

2. The creation of safe, north-south bikeways (protected bike lanes or cycle tracks) near the Lakefront Trail would reduce the demand of the Lakefront Trail, making fantastical designs less necessary. At least one commenter in this discussion has proposed converting non-bike lanes on Columbus Drive to protected bike lanes). I like this idea. I think it’s complementary to my proposal. People who ride north and south on the Lakefront Trail may find safe streets more convenient than riding on the path as it is closer to most destinations.


The second rendering, above, shows the split south of the Chicago River at Lower Lake Shore Drive. Fast-moving trail users would go to the left, onto a converted travel lane on Lower Lake Shore Drive. Slower users would stay on the right, where the Lakefront Trail currently passes. Rendering by Erich Stenzel. Note: The angle of the pavement markings may appear sharp, but here is a bird’s eye view.

New information

Funding agreement documents between the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois show that the city has or plans to spend $4.4 million on design and engineering work; the City estimates the entire project to cost $44.5 million. I predict that the Grid Chicago alternative proposal could be designed and completed for half that amount. Chicago City Council approved four ordinances to allocate funding to the Navy Pier Flyover’s design process (the first in January 2002, the last one in November 2010). The funding for design and engineering work comes from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality ($3,168,000), State of Illinois match ($792,000), and Chicago “general obligation bonds” ($450,000).

The blueprints I received in response to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that the viaduct that begins south of Illinois Street (north of the northern bridge house) and ends at Jane Addams Park will partially use the right-most lane on Lake Shore Drive, with additional width cantilevered off the side. I requested the “alternatives analysis” to see which other designs the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) considered. None were remotely similar to the Grid Chicago alternative proposal (see a list of all documents at the end).

It was explained at the first public hearing on October 30, 2011, that the lane is unused and is hashed. From Google Maps’s satellite view, it appears this lane is what most would call the shoulder. CDOT manager Janet Attarian’s presentation* at this meeting indicated the desire to narrow the driving lanes on Lake Shore Drive to get just a little more width for the viaduct (to expand from 14 feet to 16 feet; a member of the public submitted a comment asking that the extra two feet be instead used to move the viaduct two feet further from the Lake Point Tower wall).

There will be a Jersey-style concrete barrier a little over 2 feet tall separating Lake Shore Drive traffic from the Navy Pier Flyover viaduct. On top of this concrete barrier is “parapet railing” also a little over 2 feet tall (the two combined are 4.5 feet tall from the floor of the viaduct). The blueprints I received were of very low quality, omitted a design date, and had difficult to read text. They did not show the design of the fence separating the Navy Pier Flyover from Lake Point Tower. A later rendering shows a fence with a curved or angled top, often seen surrounding prisons and airports.

Many residents of Lake Point Tower attended the October 30, 2001, public meeting, and voiced their concerns with people climbing over the fence into the rooftop garden (atop the parking garage) and breaking into their apartments. One resident suggested terrorists might plant a bomb here.


Photographer Eric Rogers’s caption: Finally, there are bike lanes striped on the sidewalk between Grand & Illinois, recognizing the fact that bicyclists prefer not to go all the way around to Navy Pier.

Janet Attarian expressed a 2003-2004 construction timeline. Since that time the only change that has occurred in the project area is marking a bike lane on the north-south sidewalk between Illinois Street and Grand Avenue in 2009, a reactive move to accommodate the majority of Lakefront Trail users who went on the west side of Lake Point Tower, instead of a long path around the east side of Lake Point Tower near the Navy Pier entrance. (In the presentation, Attarian said that 95% of people used this sidewalk.)

One of the reasons for the delay, according to the response to my FOIA request, was “due to a mayoral request to resolve the issue of the bottleneck on the Chicago River Bridge, as well as the Chicago Spire project, which at the time had great potential for building the DuSable segment of the Navy Pier Flyover”.

In 2009, when part of the sidewalk of Lower Lake Shore Drive over the river collapsed, the city sprung into action building an alternate route on the car lanes of Lower Lake Shore Drive (photo), a step in the right direction and a major part of the Grid Chicago alternative proposal.

Download files

Meeting schedule

  • Official IDOT Phase 1 Public Meeting with Court Recorder – 10/30/01
  • Task Force Meeting – 3/13/03
  • Public Meeting ay Navy Pier – 4/24/03
  • Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council Meetings – 12/10/08 & 12/9/09
  • SOAR Neighborhood Action Task Force – 5/11/10
  • Public Meeting with Alderman Reilly at Navy Pier, Room 328 – 7/15/10
  • Plan Commission for Lakefront Protection Ordinance – 2/17/11
  • Public Meeting with the Chicago Park District Board – 11/10/11

* I read the presentation in its transcript form.

25 thoughts on “Navy Pier Flyover alternative design followup: New renderings and ideas”

  1. Why would the CDOT go with a cheaper, quicker, more effective solution? you are talking about government entities here and it is government action like this that frustrates the hell out of a lot of us! Your solution is so obviously effecient, it will never get off the ground!

  2. I think you’ve proposed a practical, cost-effective alternative that could help to resolve the problem a lot faster. It would also require less maintenance than the full flyover. In this location, I would definitely favor a jersey barrier between the bike and traffic lanes. We need the extra protection there.

  3. I like the idea, but some points. Congestion is a problem, but this solution will do nothing to resolve the issue of the two traffic lights (Grand and Illinois) that impede traffic flow. Also, splitting and merging two-way pedestrian and bicycle traffic presents high potential for crashes, especially as cyclists are going so much faster than pedestrians. Perhaps a better solution would be to widen the path as proposed, but continue to co-mingle pedestrian and bicycle traffic, with the existing path for southbound traffic, and the new portion for northbound. Overall, I think the major hurdle here would be getting the city to agree to sacrifice a motor vehicle lane in order to make this happen.

    1. The issues at the Illinois Street and Grand AVenue intersections were described in the original post. Please read about those here:

      This post is a followup to showcase the new renderings for the section over the Lower Lake Shore Drive bridge.

      I like your idea about continue to comingle user types, and using the extra lane on the bridge deck for segregated directions instead of segregated users.

      1. Thanks for the link to the previous post. I see where you mention new signals for bicycle traffic, but it’s unclear how the timing of these signals would differ from existing timing of pedestrian signals. In any case, congestion is the bigger of the two issues at Navy Pier, and simply widening the path there would be a huge improvement, in my opinion.

        I do think continuing to co-mingle pedestrian and bicycle traffic is the only feasible way to use such a widened path. Getting CDOT and the mayor to sign off on this, like I said, would remain the biggest hurdle.

        It’s unclear if saving CMAQ grant money by implementing this solution, rather than the flyover, would necessarily translate into increased funding for other projects, especially ones such as handing out bicycles and running Bike the Drive.

        I like both solutions, but I think in an ideal world, I would choose the flyover.

        1. “Giving back” the CMAQ money would lessen out country’s debt load (as long as the funding wasn’t reprogrammed).
          The alternative solution is affordable without issuing new bonds or debt. We saw in 2009 how quickly CDOT crews laid down a metal guardrail and deck plates as a detour for the fallen sidewalk. I wonder how much that cost. Probably not $4.5m (the cost of design and engineering for the NPF).

  4. I completely support this idea. If the city can save $40 mil and still get something that is safe to bike on, then I think the saving would be well spent elsewhere. Is there someone we should call or write to show support for this idea?

    1. I would start with the following:
      -your alderman
      -mayor Rahm Emanuel
      -transportation commissioner Gabe Klein
      -state legislators (who legislate the state department of transportation)
      -Congress legislators (for earmarking funds)

  5. You’re proposing a contraflow bike lane. Cyclists riding against the flow of traffic are hard to see because both the cyclist and the motorist are moving at opposite velocities. They pass each other much more quickly than two travelers heading the same direction, and don’t have the same time to react.

    You need to demonstrate that in no point in your design is contraflow bike traffic mixed with car traffic, otherwise you’re creating a new hazard. I can see how it works at the southern end, but I don’t see how you deal with that grade crossing and blind corner at Grand and Lake Shore Dr.

    1. I think the first rendering shows that the path on Lower Lake Shore Drive that was a lane for automobiles is well-separated from car traffic by bollards. The alternative proposal, as described in the original post, calls for using Jersey-style concrete barriers. Bollards were used in the rendering so you could “see through them” to note how the path is on the roadway of Lower Lake Shore Drive.

  6. The Navy Pier Flyover as is in the works is expensive, but compared to what?

    “The examination of city TIF records for the last eight years of Daley’s
    tenure reveals that his administration spent about $1.7 billion in TIF
    money toward public and private endeavors. While about $700 million was
    spent to the benefit of private interests, roughly $865 million went to
    public projects like school construction, street repairs and Chicago
    Transit Authority stations and tracks.”

    This is very, very far from the worst abuse of tax dollars I’ve ever
    seen. This is a public project, how about for once we get the first class seats instead of coach?

    Compare the Flyover to the ongoing debacle that is Block 37, for example.

    IMO the Flyover is a huge victory for cyclists, and a *permanent* showcase piece of infrastructure.

    The next mayor may not be so bike-friendly, but whereas removing bike lanes on lower LSD would be quick & easy, removing the Flyover will not be. And efforts to do so will be met with staunch opposition from cyclists and pedestrian advocacy groups alike.

    This isn’t just about cyclists, it’s about improving access to Navy Pier, the State of Illinois’ number 1 tourist attraction, which draws 8,000,000 a year (even though I personally have no idea why).

    1. As I said in the article, the Grid Chicago alternative proposal is not mutually exclusive to the entire project. The Navy Pier Flyover and the alternative proposal could exist simultaneously. The alternative could replace one or more phases of the Navy Pier Flyover (there are three phases).

      The alternative proposal could be completed for less than the cost spent so far on design and engineering, and have been in place for a decade (the planning for the NFP has gone on longer than a decade), mitigating the problems starting a long time ago, instead of waiting for the complete NFP several years in the future (from right this second).

      The alternative proposal’s solution for the Lake Shore Drive bridge segment could be done faster and at a lower cost than the NFP’s phase for the same segment. The NFP plans to cantilever more sidewalk east of the existing eastern sidewalk, and break holes through the two bridge houses on the east side of Lake Shore Drive. The alternative proposal requires no “external” construction like that, instead converting a car lane on the bridge deck to a two-way bikes-only lane, or a one-way, southbound, multi-use path, while the sidewalk has the northbound way.

      1. But you’re making the case that you want to short-circuit a 10 year plan. Those planning dollars aren’t coming back.

        I *like* the exterior construction, I don’t want to ride in a dark gloomy underpass, bollards or no.

        And what can be given can be taken away, I have zero faith that even if the City agreed to repupose part of lower LSD that some future Administration wouldn’t just take it right back.

        Why look a gift horse in the mouth? If we want to tackle needless govt spending a few minutes in the Pentagon’s budget would produce savings far above and beyond this – and I disagree they would even be savings. The NPF will be fantastic and timeless advertising for Navy Pier, it is a proven cash cow.

        1. Not to derail the conversation, but did you know that Navy Pier and McCormick Place are subsidized by people who eat and drink the MPEA Taxing District that surrounds the Loop, reaches Bridgeport, Bronzeville, UIC, West Loop, and Lincoln Park? There’s an additional 1% sales tax on all food and drink sales in this region to support Navy Pier and McCormick Place. Cash cow, how?
          Here’s a map of that taxing district:

    2. Compare the Flyover to the ongoing debacle that is Block 37, for example

      This is, of course, only one example of ongoing debacles managed by the city. Which makes one wonder how anybody could think the flyover won’t be an ongoing debacle. I know, it looks pretty and everything in the pictures, but real life rarely turns out as great as the pictures. I think Steven’s idea solves many of the problems the flyover thinks it’s going to solve, with less chance of some expensive, drawn-out ordeal that fails to live up to its promise.

      1. Block 37 isn’t a debacle because the City can’t build things, it’s a debacle due to wheeling and dealing and involving private interests.

        Not really apples and oranges – this is more along the lines of Millennium Park, which did go greatly over budget, but that was due to added scope and underground infrastructure, which wouldn’t be even remotely as much of a risk.

        1. You are correct … this is more like a project that went way over budget and fell horribly behind schedule for reasons that had just as much to do with wheeling and dealing–and fancy art work–as it did with anything underground. (And don’t be surprised when this bridge runs into some significant engineering challenges, anyway.) Or perhaps it’s more like the O’Hare expansion. Or the river walk. Or a decade’s worth of Red Line reconstructions finished just in time to reconstruct the Red Line.

          Meanwhile, the flyover is supposed to comprise about 1800 feet of a path that runs more than 95,000 feet. We will spend about $25000 per foot to redo 1.9% of a single trail’s total length. I’m sure it will eventually be very pretty and will work exactly the way its supporters think it will, but imagine all the improvements to the LFP or to projects throughout the city that money could get us.

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