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Chicago is a city of bridges. With over 300 bridges and viaducts spanning over the Calumet River and the North, South and East branches of the Chicago River, crossing from one bank to the other can pose quite a challenge. It’s easy to get angry when stuck waiting 30 minutes on the wrong side of a Chicago bridge lift. Being 30 minutes late will make a huge difference when you’re on your way to the Willis Tower. Instead of getting angry, prepare yourself by knowing the schedules. That way, you can take a minute to admire the engineering of the structures themselves.
McCormick Bridgehouse Museum
Chicago has so many bridges that there is actually a bridge house museum to learn about the bridges. This museum about bridges is called the McCormick Bridgehouse Museum. It is a small but informative museum housed in the southwest base of the Michigan Avenue bridge. With information on the different types of bridges in Chicago, as well as the number, this museum is a small but mighty gem in the heart of the city. With an entrance fee of $5, and free entry on Sunday, taking a walk through this museum is well worth the quick 30-45 walk through. Closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays, it still manages to be one of the less visited museums. All in all, the McCormick Bridgehouse Museum in Chicago is a perfect place to learn a little bit more about the history of bridges and the infrastructure of Chicago.
Know the Chicago Bridge Lift Schedule
The Chicago Bridge Lift schedule is good to know if you are in Chicago, at any time other than winter. Chicago Bridge Lift season is between mid-April through June, and Mid-September through early November. Your preparedness for the bridge lifts will determine whether watching these rising structures will be a welcome opportunity or a major delay. On Wednesdays at 9:30AM and Saturdays at 8:00AM, the city allots time for boat runs from various shipyards to Lake Michigan slips. In the autumn, the schedule allows for boats to head back to the shipyards at the end of the season. With the bridges up, the high boom of the sailboats can easily navigate toward the waters of Lake Michigan.
What to Expect from a Chicago Bridge Lift
If you go by the Chicago Department of Transportation website, each Chicago Bridge Lift lasts somewhere between eight and twelve minutes. As someone who was stuck at a faulty bridge lift in dire need of a bathroom break, that is an optimistic estimate. In the few Chicago bridge lifts that have delayed my routes, there are sometimes mechanical issues that create longer delays. Specifically, I’ve been caught for over 30 minutes at the Wabash Street bridge and 15 minutes at the Harrison Street bridge. I ended up missing a neighborhood tour I purchased tickets to, and subsequently created my own self guided, Chicago Walking tour.
There are 27 different bridges that participate in the Chicago Bridge Lift. The Chicago Bridge lift starts at Ashland Avenue and the Chicago River, about 2435 South Ashland. It continues up the South branch of the Chicago River up to the convergence of the North, South, and East branches. From there, it continues east, eventually out to Lake Michigan. Along the way, the bridges will rise one at a time to make a path for flocking boats.
Four Quick Takeaways for Chicago Bridge Lift Season
- The borders for the bridge lifts are :
Ashland to the West, 31st Street to the South, Kinzie to the North, and Lake Michigan to the east.
2. The Chicago bridge lifts occur on Wednesdays starting at 9:30 AM and Saturdays at 8:00 AM. It is often around 11:00AM on Saturdays and 12:30 on Wednesdays that the lifts reach the east branch. The east branch of the Chicago River is in the more tourist attraction filled areas of the city.
3. Chicago Bridge Lifts will affect you during the end of April through June, and the end of September through mid November.
4. Allow an additional 20 minutes for any appointments set during bridge lift season time periods. Don’t get caught by one of the bridges if you are heading to a Saturday Cubs Day Game!