Saturday, February 21, 2015

North Avenue Pedestrian Bridge
 by: chicago designslinger

 [North Avenue Pedestrian Bridge (1940) Chicago Park District, M.J. Glicken, architectural designer; Lyman C. Riggle, structural designer; C.J. Kelly, structural engineer /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the mid 1930s, with the help of the federal government's Works Progress Administration, or WPA, the drive we know today as Lake Shore started to become a reality. The idea of creating a roadway along the lakefront was not new. Potter Palmer persuaded the city to line the eastern edge of his Gold Coast real estate investment with a scenic drive called The Lake Drive in the early 1880s, which extended from Oak Street to North Avenue. The 1935 version of the expanded roadway bore some resemblance to a plan put forth by architect Daniel Burnham in the 1890s, as well as the Burnham and Bennett 1909 Plan of Chicago. But the idea of a scenic drive along the waterfront was scraped in favor of a superhighway, which one day, according to plan, could be connected to a system of superhighways throughout the region.

[North Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, Lake Shore Drive at the North Avenue/La Salle Street connector, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

One problem was that the 8-lanes of grade level concrete would cut-off access to the recreational beaches that Chicago's Park District was also planning to create, as a part and parcel of the massive landfill project required to create the Drive. So District engineers and architects drew up plans for a passerelle to cross over the roadbed at the new North Avenue Beach. For some reason the 1940 project was titled, Arch Passerelle near Menomonee Street, or Menomonee Street Passerelle. The street did line up with the footbridge, but it was located several blocks away on the other side of Lincoln Park, and far from North Avenue. But whatever its name, the 187 foot span would provide beach goers with a way to get to the lake from the Park, and would be one of the first welded, rather than riveted, bridges to be constructed in the U.S. The design was such as hit that it was featured in a 1944 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, and won several engineering awards for its welded joinery. In 1991, diagonal bracing was added to the main arch, helping to relieve some of the stress of the middle-aged walkway.

   [North Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, Lincoln Park, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It would also be the only above grade, dedicated pedestrian walkway constructed along the Drive from 47th Street on the south, to the roadway's end point at Hollywood Avenue on the north. All other pedestrian access would be through tunnels, or sidewalks adjacent to automobile entrances and exits.
The superhighway was designated a boulevard by the city, which kept trucks off the Drive, but still allowed buses to travel up and down its length. The speed limit was eventually dropped from 50mph, to 45, and today stands at 40, although most people seem to drive at a comfortable 55mph, including the buses. It wasn't until 1972 that the Chicago Plan Commission officially removed Lake Shore Drive from a 1940s-era Chicago Department of Superhighways plan to turn the highway-boulevard into a full-fledged expressway and connect it to other expressway routes. And although thousands of cars and buses hum along unimpeded every day, the passerelle has provided just as many thousands of beach lovers with a pedestrian friendly was to bridge the concrete gap.

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