Navy Pier Flyover finally ready for take-off

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A notorious bottleneck along the lakefront path near Navy Pier that has created a dangerous free-for-all between cyclists, joggers, skaters, pedestrians and motorists is about to be eliminated — finally.

Construction on the 1.5-mile, $60 million “Navy Pier Flyover” will begin Monday, triggering the temporary closure of the right lane and shoulder of northbound Lake Shore Drive between Illinois and Grand. The exit ramp at Illinois will be reduced to one lane.

The lakefront trail will remain open to pedestrians and cyclists during the four-year construction project, but  there will be periodic detours.

The dedicated bike and pedestrian path will be 16 feet wide and extend from Jane Addams Park to just south of the Chicago River Bridge.

It will offer a safe and scenic alternative to a confusing and dangerous stretch of the 18.5-mile lakefront trail that features blind corners, narrow rights-of-way and traffic conflicts that choke the trail and create a hazardous experience for pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.

“I come out to dedicate projects I really don’t know much about. But, I do know something about this project because I’ve tried to ride my bike down this trail and, when you reach this point, it is some combination of bumper cars [and] Whac-a-Mole…You take your life in your hands trying to move from this spot to the other side. That’s gonna change,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il.) said during an election-day groundbreaking ceremony at Jane Addams Park.

“We’re going to have a beautiful addition to the lakefront. We’re going to make this safer. People are going to enjoy it more. Families are going to have a better experience. And we’ll leave something for future generations. I’m looking forward to the completion and the safe navigation of my bicycle through this path.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an avid cyclist, seconded Durbin’s emotion.

“Any time you’re going under here, you can hear everybody [yelling], `On your right! On your right!’ Then, you have these young families with children who all have to move over,” the mayor said.

“We, as a city, have discussed this. We have debated it. We have deferred it for decades. And now it’s time to build it. With this effort, we will take one of the great jewels of Chicago and open it up for future generations to see something and enjoy something in a way that doesn’t have a mile-[long] gap in those 18 miles that are disruptive to anybody running, walking or biking through this part of the city.”

For a project described Tuesday as so vital to eliminating conflict, the Navy Pier Flyover sure has been a long time getting off the ground.

It was publicly unveiled in 1999 and incorporated the following year into then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Bike 2000 Plan.

In 2011, it was finally approved by the Chicago Plan Commission. At the time, the price tag was $40 million — $20 million less than it costs today.

Durbin, who helped secure $18 million in federal “congestion mitigation” funds for the Navy Pier Flyover, was asked why a project described as both “architecturally stunning and functional” took so long to finally get going.

“That’s a good question and the mayor alluded to it. Obviously, there was a lot of debate. When you build in this part of the city, a lot of people have opinions about what it should look like and what impact it’s going to have on local residents. I’m glad they finally worked it out,” Durbin said.

Newly-appointed Chicago Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld added, “This is a very complicated design. And it’s a very ambitious project. We’re really excited that it’s getting started. You have millions of people using this bike path and tens of thousands in this segment alone on a given day. It’s going to be a significant safety improvement in terms of separating those uses and having more space for pedestrians and bicycle users.”

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