The 43rd Street pedestrian bridge connecting North Kenwood to the lakefront is now open for the summer, but some neighbors are not happy with the increased activity it will bring to their streets.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Wednesday morning, April 26, several elected officials and representatives from city and state agencies unveiled the blue suspension bridge, a two-year, $36 million project which replaced an 80-year-old bridge.
“We’ve waited a long time for this bridge,” said Donna Feaster, a North Kenwood-Oakland Advisory Council member who was involved in the project’s planning. “A lot of people remember when this was a wood bridge, desolate, no light, we couldn’t get across to the lake … Now we have this access.”
Feaster also paid a special tribute to Shirley Newsome, the longtime leader of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Conservation Council, who died earlier this year.
Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gia Biagi said the bridge will provide lake access to the residents of the nearby Vivian Gordon Harsh Apartments, 4227 S. Oakenwald Ave., and students at Jackie Robinson Elementary School, 4225 S. Lake Park Ave.
The curved design of the bridge is identical to the 41st Street bridge, with a winding ramp entrance and divided lanes for pedestrian and bike use.
The bridge joins two others added to the lakefront in the last decade: the 35th Street bridge opened in 2016 and the 41st Street bridge opened in 2020.
During the ribbon-cutting, a few residents interjected to say that they are not happy about the bridge’s proximity to their homes.
“This bridge is not in ‘our’ backyard, this bridge is in my backyard,” said Cheryl Taylor, whose house of 25 years is situated immediately south of the bridge. “What are you guys going to do to address the safety and privacy issues of this bridge, the only lakefront bridge that is right up on residential property?” Taylor also questioned why residents were not informed of the morning press conference.
“That bridge has had motorcyclists going over it all summer long. I don’t want motorcycles in the middle of the night going past my house,” added Henri Parker, who lives at the same property.
“We know that crowds gather late at night,” said Pam Crawford, who lives on nearby Lake Park Avenue. “Some of the block clubs in the area are talking about possibly hiring some private security.”
However, she’s also excited to use the bridge. “I’m looking forward to it — I think I’ll come over here every day and have dinner,” she said.
AECOM with Cordogan, Clark & Associates designed the bridge in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the CDOT. The construction engineer on the project was Benesch and the prime contractor was F.H. Paschen. Construction began in fall 2020.
Completion was delayed several times due to supply chain shortages, project engineers said, having begun work at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prentice Butler, Ald. Sophia King’s (4th) chief of staff, said that conversations for the project started a couple of decades ago but it took years to secure the requisite state and federal funding.
He said that the newly created cul-de-sac at the western mouth of the bridge, at 43rd Street and Oakenwald Avenue, was not part of these initial plans, but came from feedback in community meetings. (Paradise Missionary Baptist Church, a Black-owned church that stood where the cul-de-sac is now, was relocated to 114 E. 59th St.)
“A lot of people on this block saying ‘we’re afraid of what we see happening up north,’ on 41st, on 35th, with people loitering, speeding out here in the summer,” Butler said. He also noted that the bridge has gates that will close in the evening, similar to the gates added to the 41st Street bridge last fall.
As an additional traffic mitigation, Butler said, there will be seasonal parking restrictions from early April through November from 40th to 45th streets, requiring cars to carry a special parking pass to stay past 5 p.m.
The new bridge will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with ramps to accommodate cyclists, wheelchair users and emergency vehicles.
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