Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chicago's Bridges -- January 15, 1955

Going Up -- But Not Nearly As Often (JWB Photo)
A few days ago I wrote about the abysmal state of the bridges in Chicago as the 1900’s began.  By the middle of that century, they were almost working too well.  On this date in 1955, January 15, the city’s Public Works Commissioner, George L. DeMent, gave a report on the utilization of the city’s 55 moveable bridges during the preceding year.

The figures today are staggering, especially since these days few Chicagoans or visitors suffer significant inconvenience because of the raising of bridges over the river.  Mr. DeMent reported that bridges delayed vehicles and pedestrians for a total of 166 days (when all of the minutes that the bridges were lifted was added together) and were raised 53,615 times to allow river traffic to pass beneath them.  Even more amazing, these figures were down significantly from 1953 when the bridges accounted for 174 days of delay when 54 bridges were raised 61,181 times. [Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1955]

The winner in the bridge-raising marathon was the Ninety-Fifth Street bridge over the Calumet River, which was raised 7,670 times, accounting for 28,605 minutes, averaging 3.508 minutes each time it was raised.

The losers?  The bridge spanning Ogden slip, raised only 17 times during the whole year and the Belmont Avenue bridge over the north branch, which was raised just 83 times.

Think for a moment about Michigan Avenue and the DuSable Bridge that today carries the busy street over the river.  If you’re there at the wrong time on Wednesdays or Saturdays in spring and fall, you may be faced with a short delay as a few sailboats ripple underneath.  In 1954 that bridge was raised 732 times with an average delay of 6.147 minutes.  The La Salle Street Bridge followed just behind with 713 lifts.  Then Wells Street with 705.  The Washington Street Bridge was raised 611 times, the Madison Street Bridge 569 times, and the Lake Street Bridge 491 times.

You feel kind of sorry for folks back then, a half-century ago stalled in traffic that idled before a raised span . . . with the advent of texting still a half-century in the future.

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