Elevated, Serpentine “Underbridge” Will Connect Two North Side Parks

Addison Street Underbridge rendering

Drawing of the Addison Street Underbridge courtesy of Epstein

It’s both instructive and fascinating to listen to a master designer talk about the creative process. A good example is Andrew L. Metter, Epstein’s principal designer. Metter described a number of recent projects last week during an AIA presentation.

Andrew Metter

Andrew Metter

Epstein has a philosophy of creating a sustainable world, and Metter’s work illustrates that concept. He tries to find opportunities for regeneration in urban planning and design whenever possible.

One particularly interesting project he discussed was the Addison Street underbridge connection. Construction is planned for later this year on the underbridge.

It will connect a path at a critical point on the North Branch of the Chicago River between Clark Park and California Park. The project is a basic walking and biking path. But it’s neither basic, nor simple to execute because of the steep slopes along the river’s edge.

Typically, Metter said, a path parallel to a body of water would require stripping away trees and vegetation along one side and pouring concrete at grade. In the case of the Addison Street underbridge connection, that would have meant wiping out many, many trees.

“With the usual method of construction, it would take 30 or 40 years to re-establish this amount of green growth,” he said. “We wondered what could we do to stay away from the bank?”

In Metter’s mind, there had to be another option. So he developed an out-of-the-box idea. “We said, ‘Why don’t we do this: Divorce the path from the water’s edge?’”

Addison Street Underbridge rendering

Drawing of the Addison Street Underbridge courtesy of Epstein

And that’s exactly what they did with the proposed design. Rather than running alongside the North Branch, the path is actually in the river. The path will be supported by a series of concrete columns, like a mini-bridge. The path will sit on poured concrete, cast in place, with a galvanized steel railing, Metter said.

The benefits of this design quickly become apparent: minimal erosion, since the banks of the river won’t be altered; no private land needs to be acquired; and, of course, the trees and greenery alongside the river remain intact.

CDOT agreed—they liked what Metter proposed, and accepted the design.

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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