Bridge (221/365)

by Lee Santiva August. 09, 2019 375 views

The bridges over the Chicago River are an engineering masterpiece.

Semi-annual opening of the bridges over the Chicago River

Semi-annual opening of the bridges over the Chicago River

We were fortunate to be in downtown Chicago on one of the spring Saturdays when the 18 bridges which span the Chicago River are opened to let the sailboats pass through from their winter storage out onto Lake Michigan.

Sailboats waiting on the Chicago River

Sailboats waiting on the Chicago River

The bridges are opened in the spring and fall to allow the sailboats with their tall masts to pass along the Chicago River to and from Lake Michigan.

Sailboat waiting - I love the dog in this photo!

Sailboat waiting - I love the dog in this photo!

I had a hard time to choose from the over 100 photos which I took that morning, which is why this will be my longest blog ever.

Raising the Dearborn Street bridge

Raising the Dearborn Street bridge

When I told my husband that they open to let the sailboats out onto Lake Michigan and he did not believe me. "All of the bridges?"

Old Bridges are contrasted with modern skyscrapers

Old Bridges are contrasted with modern skyscrapers

There are 18 bridges which must be opened along the Chicago River in order for the boats to pass. This occurs over approximately two hours on a Saturday morning.

Six of the 18 bridges over the Chicago River are in this photo - pedestrians, vehicles and trains

Six of the 18 bridges over the Chicago River are in this photo - pedestrians, vehicles and trains

My husband said: “There is no way those bridges open! Just look at the shape they're in: they are full of rust and corrosion. I don't believe it, especially not those heavy double-decker ones – certainly they don't open in the middle!”

For those of you who follow my blog will know by now that husband has a very good understanding of mechanics.

Corroding cables of a bridge mechanism

Corroding cables of a bridge mechanism

The opening mechanism is powered by two or more 125 horsepower motors.

Ongoing maintenance of the aging infrastructure

Ongoing maintenance of the aging infrastructure

These massive steel structures have to withstand enormous temperature variations from minus 30 degrees Celsius (-30C/F) in the winter to 40 degrees Celsius (40C/100F) in the summer. In the summer they have to be cooled with water in order prevent expansion.

The fact that they have been in daily operation for an average of 84 years without an incident is a tribute to the civil engineers who maintain them.

Completely opened bridge - traffic view

Completely opened bridge - traffic view

Several of the the Chicago River bridges have two levels. Sometimes it is two levels of for cars, other times there's one level for the elevated train (refer to my blogpost L is for the L) and the another for vehicles. The heaviest leaf of one of the bridges weighs 6420 tons.

Lake Street bridge with the "L" above and vehicles below

Lake Street bridge with the "L" above and vehicles below

To give you some perspective of the sizes, what follows is a series for the DuSable Bridge. First I zoomed in on the bridge engineers standing on the lower level. Then I zoomed out to show the sailboat passing. Finally I end the DuSable series with the bridge closed.

Engineers on the lower level of the double-deck DuSable Bridge

Engineers on the lower level of the double-deck DuSable Bridge

The DuSable Bridge raises only on one leaf, whereas many bridges raise both leaves. In the next photo look to the left side to see the engineers on the lower level and you will appreciate how large the bridges are.

Sailboat passing through the opened DuSable Bridge

Sailboat passing through the opened DuSable Bridge

The DuSable bridge allows for traffic in both directions (vehicles) on both levels. The opening and closing of one bridge only takes about 10 minutes.

Bell and horn warn pedestrians of the bridge opening

Bell and horn warn pedestrians of the bridge opening

The opening and closing of the bridge is accompanied by the sounds of a bell and horn as well as blinking red traffic lights for the cars.

Its hard to describe in words the constant cacophony of these loud bells and horns over two hours.

Sailboat with very tall mast passing the DuSable bridge

Sailboat with very tall mast passing the DuSable bridge

The mast of the sailboat is almost as tall as the flagpoles on top of the bridge.

The crowd of bridge watchers crosses the DuSable Bridge once it closed again

The crowd of bridge watchers crosses the DuSable Bridge once it closed again

Despite the cold, cloudy and rainy weather, thousands of people came out to watch the bridge event. Since the weather was not good, the colors in this series are not so brillant, so I'm going to close out this blog with some Chicago River bridge photos taken on another day in the evening with perfect lighting.

Chicago River bridge at sunset

Chicago River bridge at sunset

Detail of the railing on a Chicago river bridge

Detail of the railing on a Chicago river bridge


If you are interested in visiting Chicago in spring or fall for the opening of the bridges refer to the schedule.


Source: The bridges have their own website: http://chicagoloopbridges.com/index.html


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There are 7 comments , add yours!
Jay Boggess 1 year, 9 months ago

Fascinating series! What a rare treat for you 2!!! Thanks for sharing this with us!grinning

1 year, 9 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Jay Boggess 1 year, 9 months ago

Glad you enjoyed it

1 year, 9 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Lee Santiva 1 year, 9 months ago

My pleasure!

+1grinning+1

1 year, 9 months ago Edited
Camellia Staab 1 year, 9 months ago

I almost posted Chicago bridges today as well. Glad I didn't because yours is masterfully done, both in narrative and photos. I also have a very similar, actually real similar of shot   #16. Mine is a tad close angle than yours. Well done!👌

1 year, 9 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Camellia Staab 1 year, 9 months ago

Thanks Camellia - its particularly rewarding to hear from someone who knows the subject and has photographed it as well. I suppose that's also the "Instagram" risk of posting a very similar image.

1 year, 9 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Camellia Staab 1 year, 9 months ago

PS. I forgot to mention that is also a reason why I am reluctant to post a photo of the Old Bridge in Heidelberg. Certain motifs are too familiar.

1 year, 9 months ago Edited
Camellia Staab Replied to Lee Santiva 1 year, 9 months ago

That is one of the main reasons I like to travel. There are so many places in our city that have been captured by all the local photographers and many of us are in the same circle of friends/photography groups. Granted each of us sees something slightly different than the other, but in general, at first glance they are all "too familiar".

1 year, 9 months ago Edited
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