RANCH TRIANGLE — An antiquated swing bridge across the North Branch of the Chicago River may hold the key to the extension of the 606 Bloomingdale Trail.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said Wednesday that the bridge, known as Z-6, is part of "a very complex legal dispute," in that developer Sterling Bay owns the actual bridge as part of its extensive holdings in the area, including the Finkl Steel site, but the Iowa Pacific Railroad holds the right of way.
Hopkins has suggested for a year that the swing bridge could be part of the proposed extension of the 606 across Ashland Avenue, under the Kennedy Expressway and across the river. Some engineers, however, have expressed doubts about the entire project, suggesting it could take eight years to complete.
Nonetheless, three of the four options put forth for extending the 606 east in the recently approved North Branch Framework plan have the 606 connecting to a riverfront bike trail via the swing bridge just south of Cortland Avenue.
"It's already there," Hopkins said Wednesday at the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce's annual "State of the Wards" meeting. "It could potentially serve as a Downtown connection to the 606."
According to Hopkins, a high-ranking Sterling Bay executive is a bike fan "and is fully interested in the concept of extending the 606."
Hopkins added, "The bridge itself could probably be modernized and turned into a bridge for the trail." He said it could become a "tourist attraction," and he drew parallels with the way people rent bikes in San Francisco to cross the Golden Gate Bridge or make it a point in New York City to walk the High Line, precursor to Chicago's own 606.
That might seem farfetched, but Hopkins pointed to "bridge enthusiasts" with a penchant for antiquated spans, and the swing bridge — which once served rail traffic to and from Finkl Steel and the General Iron scrap yard — certainly has an appeal with that audience.
Patrick McBriarty, author of "Chicago's River Bridges," wrote a blog post two years ago for chicagoarchitecture.org saying the bridge at the time was "relatively unknown but still active" but often left open "so as not to impede barge and river traffic on the North Branch." Saying it was rooted in designs originally executed by Leonardo da Vinci, McBriarty pointed out it eventually differed from swing bridges with a central pivot point to instead pivot from a point on land on the east side of the river. That design, by engineer Onward Bates, was so it didn't block river traffic when open. McBriarty said that and its 175-foot span set it apart from any similar swing bridges in the world.
Swing bridges, of course, differ from Chicago's more common and familiar bridges in that they go from side to side rather than up and down to clear the way for river traffic.
Hopkins echoed that Wednesday when he said, "It would really enhance the uniqueness of the 606 trail."
This swing bridge across the North Branch of the Chicago River near the Finkl Steel site is left open so that it doesn't block river traffic, but it could become an extension of the 606 Bloomingdale Trail. [DNAinfo/Ted Cox]