Chicago's Movable Bridges

Like bridges?  Come to Chicago, we've got a lot of them.  In fact, Chicago has the second most drawbridges (60) behind Amsterdam (90).

Wells St. Bridge, Photo By Jake Bartlett

I walked out of my office the other day heading to lunch, and the Wells Street Bridge was full on erect.  Boats were scurrying underneath, racing to the next bridge.  Bridge by bridge, they were making there way out to Lake Michigan.  Most were probably heading to a harbor, for the summer.  

Why do these bridges exist?

The Chicago river was an integral part in creating the booming economy we have today.  As the main waterway between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, Chicago became a industrial metropolis.  With such large boats and a narrow water way, there wasn't enough room to build tall bridges.  So the city had to innovate and figure out a way to move the bridges out of the way quickly.

Kinzie St. Railroad Bridge, Photo by Jake Bartlett

When do they lift?

Every spring and fall on Wednesday and Saturdays.  The city owns 27 movable bridges (properly called "bascule" bridges).  They used to lift up to 3,000 times per year.  Now, with cargo traffic being routed south to the Calumet River, the bridges lift around 40 time per year to allow recreational boats moving from storage out to the open waters of Lake Michigan.  Each bridge lift takes an average of 8-12 minutes. (Source: City of Chicago)

Interested in learning more about these historic bridges?  Check out the Chicago Bridge House Museum or take an architecture tour for an up close view of them.

Fun fact!  A resourceful "homeless" man built himself a home between girders and beams on one of the bridges.  He even figured out a way to get power for a microwave and T.V.

For additional reading on Chicago's bridges, visit