View Single Post
Old Posted Jul 11, 2006, 3:24 AM
Chicago2020's Avatar
Chicago2020 Chicago2020 is offline
Registered User
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: AZ
Posts: 1,324
No step taken to replace crosswalk

Jon Hilkevitch
Published July 10, 2006

New bridges exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists are gaining a welcome foothold in Chicago, improving access and safety and adding beauty to the landscape from Millennium Park to the south lakefront.

The next installment to the series of spans recently built in the Grant Park area will be the new pedestrian bridge at Monroe Street, connecting Millennium Park to the new modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Plans for the gently sloping steel-and-glass Art Institute bridge, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, will be presented at a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Daley Bicentennial Plaza, 337 E. Randolph St.

But there is no progress to report on Queen's Landing, where Chicago officials removed the traffic signal and pedestrian crosswalk to Buckingham Fountain a year ago--without any public notice. The crosswalk near Monroe Harbor was installed in 1988 after a 13-year-old girl was struck and killed by a car.

Civic leaders who for the last year have unsuccessfully prodded the city to bring back the crosswalk are now beginning to focus efforts on forming a public-private partnership.

Their goal on this first anniversary of the crosswalk's closing is to raise some of the estimated $15 million needed to build a bridge or an underpass at Queen's Landing, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's 1959 visit to Chicago.

The civic leaders point to the city's ongoing strategy to sell corporate naming rights to the Chicago Skyway; to the approximately $15 million in private funding donated by Art Institute sponsors for the Monroe Street bridge; and to the Millennium Park bridge paid for in part by British Petroleum.

"This is an easy project to attract private dollars because with millions of people in cars on Lake Shore Drive, on foot and on bikes, it would be the most visible corporate sponsorship in the park area," said Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Advisory Council.

"With the obvious connection to Queen Elizabeth, I'm going to start by calling [British entrepreneur] Richard Branson at the Virgin Group and British Airways," O'Neill said.

Chicago traffic authorities initially said it was necessary to remove the Queen's Landing crosswalk to more efficiently move the 139,000 vehicles a day that travel on Lake Shore Drive through the busy Grant Park area. One pedestrian pressing the "walk" button there, changing a green light to red for 34 seconds, inconvenienced a hundred or more vehicles, they said.

Officials also promised to come up with a solution--a bridge or a tunnel--for pedestrians seeking access from Buckingham Fountain across the eight lanes of Lake Shore Drive to the water's edge, to Navy Pier and the Museum Campus.

Yet a Chicago Department of Transportation feasibility study, started before the crosswalk, is still in the conceptual phase.

"Our engineers are taking a look at the available space and concerns related to construction, sight lines and access points with respect to building either a pedestrian underpass or a bridge," said CDOT spokesman Brian Steele. "But we have not drilled down to the details yet."

Steele said there is "no real timeline" for moving the project forward, although the city intends to apply for federal funds later this year to eventually build something.

"Any large-scale project like this is always going to be a lengthy process," Steele said.

But other projects are under way.

The city has secured about $6 million in federal funding to add a pedestrian bridge over South Lake Shore Drive at 41st Street and to design replacement bridges at 35th and 43rd Streets on the Drive, Steele said. The bridges, whose winning designs were selected from a CDOT-sponsored international competition, will be built over the next several years, he said.

In addition, plans are set to build a pedestrian and bicycle underpass beneath Solidarity Drive near the Adler Planetarium on the Museum Campus. All $11 million needed for the project has been acquired, Steele said.

The work follows the 2003 completion of the 11th Street Columbus Drive pedestrian-bike bridge and underpass and the 18th Street pedestrian-bike bridge.

But the slow pace of progress at Queen's Landing is leaving some Chicago business and civic leaders dissatisfied. "Of all the bridges being discussed, this is the most important one, linking Grant Park and the lakefront," said Louis D'Angelo, chairman of the Chicago Loop Alliance. "It needs to be put at a higher priority."

In light of the already long list of corporate sponsorships in Millennium and Grant Parks, such creative financing at Queen's Landing could place the project on a fast track, said D'Angelo, a developer who is president of Metropolitan Properties of Chicago.

Five million people visit Buckingham Fountain each year, according to the Chicago Park District, which owns the land on both sides of Lake Shore Drive. Millennium Park, home to the BP Bridge that snakes across Columbus Drive, is visited by about 3 million people, according to Millennium Park officials.

The Park District plans to work with other city agencies to develop a workable solution at Queen's Landing that is aesthetically compatible with the historic nature of the park and improves safety for park users, said Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner.

A year after the crosswalk closed, people still occasionally risk their lives bolting across Lake Shore Drive, according to the Chicago Traffic Management Authority.

Snow fencing hastily erected last year to discourage pedestrians, bicyclists and joggers from darting across the roadway has been replaced by concrete bollards linked by decorative chains. But remnants of the striped pedestrian crosswalk are still visible in the pavement.

"I think the bollards are ugly and perfectly stupid," said Kathy Schubert, a member of Forever Free and Clear, one of the groups pushing for a pedestrian crossing that is separated from the traffic. "It's easier to climb over the bollards than to scale the snow fence. The situation is an accident waiting to happen."

Pedestrian crossings on Lake Shore Drive near Buckingham Fountain still exist at Monroe, Jackson and Balbo Drives and at 11th Street. But the distances to those intersections are longer than the average city block and, once there, pedestrians must contend with turning vehicles cutting through the crosswalks.

City officials are still defending their decision to close the crosswalk.Daily traffic counts have increased substantially, up 13 percent north of 18th Street, said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the Traffic Management Authority. That's due in part to Lake Shore Drive being an alternate to the Dan Ryan Expressway, which is under construction, he said.

"Generally, pedestrians have made the adjustment [to the closed crosswalk pretty well and it seems traffic is running better through the spot," Smith said. "We think the pedestrians have found there are alternate locations to cross safely."
Reply With Quote