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How the City Handled the Flooded Riverwalk

The new outdoor space will be all cleaned up by Wednesday after the torrential downpour from Monday night.

The Riverwalk on Tuesday, covered with a thick mud   Photo: Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune

Monday night’s storms didn’t keep people from celebrating the Blackhawks win in Wrigleyville, but it did keep some from taking a riverside stroll.

Sunshine-deprived Chicagoans who planned to enjoy the Riverwalk on Tuesday were met with a thick carpet of mud and red caution tape as large stretches of the path were closed to the public. While Monday’s floods turned the passageway into a literal walk in the river, levels had receded enough by morning in the area between State Street and Wabash Avenue to allow some pedestrian use—though driftwood and debris still cluttered the concrete.

Tomorrow will be a different story, as city officials say the Riverwalk should be spick and span by Wednesday morning. Cleanup crews will sweep the path overnight, says Mike Claffey, public affairs director for the Department of Transportation.

The third installation in the Riverwalk’s summer makeover, part of an ambitious six-part project to be unveiled in full by late 2016, met the public eye last Friday. By Monday, the freshly paved steps of the River Theater were partially submerged in water. But the designers in charge of the Riverwalk’s recreational transformation are privy to Chicago’s penchant for flash floods. Landscape architect Gina Ford said last October that the city’s unpredictable weather played a significant role in her team’s design.

“We did make sure that, within the spectrum of what will flood, we detailed all of the landscape features to be incredibly resilient, from paving material choices … using a rugged pre-cast [concrete], to avoid it having issues with floods,” said Ford, whose Riverwalk work is backed by years of involvement with other shoreline projects. "Knowing where to put all our electrical equipment, all the stuff that’s needed to power the rooms and the vendors, keeping them out of flood elevation.”

With the Riverwalk on track to become Chicago’s newest hub for downtown recreation, its design plans may not keep you dry—kayak rental, piers for fishing and a zero-depth fountain are all in the works—but its architects certainly hope to.

Update: Tuesday afternoon, Ford herself posted photos of a successful cleanup.

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