Congested lakeshore path could get cash for a revamp near Navy Pier

Lakefront bikers fly after cash

09/14/2011 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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Rendering of the proposed Navy Pier Flyover

The proposed Navy Pier Flyover would relieve congestion on the lakefront trail.

The Navy Pier Flyover, a proposed overpass that’s been touted as a safety boon for bikers and pedestrians on the heavily-traveled lakefront trail, is slated to get a big chunk of money that could make the project a reality.

The proposal envisions a half-mile bridge that would deliver walkers and pedalers across the Chicago River and over a thorny intersection at Grand Avenue and the lower level of Lake Shore Drive. Just west of Navy Pier, the junction is widely known as a magnet for high-risk traffic, channeling thousands of day commuters and tourists by the hour.

Running 18 miles in total, the trail begins at Hollywood Avenue on the city’s North Side and reaches down to 71st Street on the South Side. But the area near Navy Pier is one of the busiest parts of the whole path, and most in need of help, according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele.

“This is one of the most congested portions of the [lakefront trail],” Steele said.

Plans for the portion of the trail also call for lighted ramps and pathways leading to the pier and DuSable Park.

Erma Tranter, president of the advocacy group Friends of the Parks, said that her organization has supported plans for a bypass route at that part of the trail since they were first introduced nearly a decade ago.

“This intersection … has always been recognized as a terrible conflict area,” she said.

Tranter’s only remark about the project was that she hoped the city would tread lightly around DuSable Park, which is currently in between funding schemes for a long awaited clean-up and redevelopment.

The flyover project, passed before the city’s plan commission in February, currently touts a price tag of $49.1 million.

Part of that bill could be footed if the proposal makes its way into the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, a federally-funded reimbursement initiative that is managed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and aimed at tackling transit-pollution issues in the region.

CMAP, which oversees infrastructure and transportation projects in Northeastern Illinois, is considering forking over $11.3 million to help with the construction of the bridge in two phases.

That’s just one of 350 applications — totaling requests of over $1.8 billion — that the agency is currently reviewing. The program has between $350 and $400 million dollars to dole out for projects running through 2016.

CMAQ candidates are selected by a number of factors, including how a project will improve traffic congestion issues, promote alterative and mass transit uses and affect air-pollutants levels. Applicant initiatives for this round include include bike marketing campaigns, diesel emission reduction programs and a variety of city and suburban infrastructure projects.

Since the CMAQ initiative started in 1991, bicycle facility projects like the flyover plan have slowly gained ground in the program, said CMAP Senior Planner Doug Ferguson.

“I think there has been a realization that bike and pedestrian projects do help to improve air quality and provide a mode of transportation that helps level that playing field for a lot of individuals,” he said.

Ferguson said that, over the past five years, these projects have made up over 21 percent of the CMAQ program, totaling over $77 million in secured funds annually.

This year, those projects are on deck for about 31 percent of the total program funds, tallying around $127 million, he said. That’s second only to intersection improvement projects, according to the agency’s website.

The CMAQ applications are up for review by the CMAP Project Selection Committee on September 15. After that, said Ferguson, the projects will go before various state and federal boards, with the winning proposals expected to be announced in mid-November.

The flyover proposal is one of several bicycle-centric projects currently in the works in Chicago. In July, the city recently installed its first protected bike lane on Kinzie Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street, and work on the next lane is currently underway on Jackson Boulevard between Damen Avenue and Halsted Street.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged to install 25 miles of protected bike lanes in the city each year, “to help achieve his goal of making Chicago the best big city for bicycling in the United States,” according to a city press release.

Ron Burke is executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a group that promotes biking, walking, and transit uses in the city. He said that infrastructure projects like the flyover show that the city is serious about addressing bike transit issues.

“A typical bike lane wasn’t going to solve the problem that exists at the lakefront trail around Navy Pier,” he said. “We needed something more significant, more innovative, and that’s what you’re getting with the flyover.”

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