While exploring the Grant Park viaducts on my 2019 trip to Chicago, I discovered that they were connected to promenades leading to the lake. I decided to wend my way through Grant Park by strolling down one promenade to the lake and another back to Michigan Avenue and so on, weaving back and forth. It turns out that this is no longer an option.
On the 1920s map that inspired me to visit the viaducts, the only divider in Grant Park was the railroad tracks bridged by the viaducts. The rest of the park showed on the map as a vast open space where I assumed the promenades were designed for wealthy residents and visitors to take the air and see who else was in town (or perhaps that is just the influence of reading Jane Austen so much). While it didn’t matter to me who else was in town, strolling along the promenades seemed a nice way to take the air.
Whatever the original intent, today the promenades are chopped up by their modern antithesis – the multi-lane, high speed road. While there are several promenades spaced throughout the park, I only found one that had a protected pedestrian crossing over the many lanes of Columbus Drive. Clearly, this was the grand promenade. In addition to being the only one with a safe passage, past Columbus it featured an opulent water fountain.
Having already crossed a significant barrier, I assumed it would be a clear walk to the waterfront after that point. However, on the other side of the fountain, I found the even more formidable barrier of Lake Shore Drive, aka Route 41. All interest in continuing with my promenade evaporated even though the lights and crosswalks suggested the ability to cross safely. Instead, I spent some time admiring the fountain before returning to my hotel.
I was disappointed at discovering that the connection between the park and the lake was an optical illusion. Yet, it came as no surprise to find the lake front prioritized for cars. It is a recurring experience to find an urban waterfront cut off from the rest of the city by a major roadway barrier, or in this case two.