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The place where Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River is one of the most iconic urban spaces in the world.
Looking up at some of Chicago’s famous buildings, pedestrians and motorists might not notice the bridge they’re crossing—but they should. The DuSable Bridge is all at once a beautiful work of public art and a great feat of civil engineering.
Completing Burnham’s Plan of Chicago
There wasn’t always a bridge here. The 1909 Plan of Chicago recommended that Michigan Avenue be widened and extended north of the river. But this didn’t happen until 1920, making it one of the later bridges built across the main branch of the river. Its completion began a transformation of Michigan Avenue allowing it to become the elegant boulevard we know today.
Like Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett's 1909 Plan of Chicago itself, the bridge’s design is Beaux Arts. It has a distinctly Parisian flair. Thomas Pihlfeldt, Hugh Young and Edward Bennett designed it to resemble the Alexander III Bridge over the Seine in Paris.
The four bridge houses provide a canvas for bas-relief sculpture depicting pivotal moments in Chicago history:
- The arrival of French explorers James Marquette and Louis Joliet
- The first settlers, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable and John Kinzie
- The Fort Dearborn Massacre
- Rebuilding after the Chicago Fire of 1871
A Monument in Motion
Like most bridges over the Chicago River, the DuSable Bridge is movable, which allows boats to pass underneath. Trunnion bascule bridges, like this one, are distinctive features of Chicago's infrastructure. They’re movable bridges with counterweights that lift by rotating around large, fixed axles called trunnions. The enormous underground counterweights balance the bridge’s leaves and allow relatively small motors to open and close the bridge.
DuSable’s two double-deck leaves carry both Michigan Avenue and a lower-level service road over the river, allowing for two levels of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. When the bridge was first constructed, it was said to be the only double-deck bridge built with highways on both levels.
At one time, the bridge opened thousands of times per year. Now, to minimize disruptions to traffic on the Magnificent Mile, it only opens on a limited seasonal schedule.
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