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Illuminated handrail delivers light safety to Chicago pedestrian bridge

Wagner Case Study Feb18

The 35th Street pedestrian bridge in Chicago provides a dramatic crossing of Lake Shore Drive and the Metra railroad tracks, connecting the Bronzeville community with Chicago’s lakefront. At 620 feet in length, spanning eight lanes of traffic and six sets of railroad tracks, it is the city of Chicago’s longest pedestrian bridge. The gentle, S-curved suspension bridge provides greater pedestrian connectivity between the south side and Chicago’s lakefront with panoramic views of Burnham Park, Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

Challenges of Illumination

While hand and guard rail systems must function as a life safety product, one of the considerations during construction was the requirement of a well-lit walking surface. Being an area of heavy pedestrian traffic, specific lighting requirements needed to be met to ensure safe navigation in dark or low light conditions. With a 20-foot-wide surface and a 4-foot-tall guardrail, there was concern as how to effectively illuminate the walkway with proper light levels and uniformity without detracting from the aesthetics of the structure.

Avoiding Excessive Glare and Light Spill

Traditionally, designers would revert to the standard solution of ancillary lighting such as a light pole. However, in this application, it was agreed that this would negatively affect the aesthetics and design of this architecturally stunning bridge, as well as result in excessive glare and light spill onto a busy roadway below.

Incorporating Illuminated Handrail

Milwaukee-based Wagner Cos.’ energy-efficient Lumenrail light fixtures provided the optimal solution. By including the light source in the already required railing, no additional architectural elements needed to be introduced. The light source for Lumenrail—a high-performance modular LED component—was installed into custom-fabricated, stainless-steel guardrail, and rotated 15 degrees toward the walkway to maximize lighting uniformity, and minimize glare for both pedestrians and motorists.

Additionally, Wagner developed a new fabrication technique, utilizing a six-axis tube laser that provided vandal resistance while allowing easy light fixture maintenance. The linear light sources were specifically designed with high strength, cast mounting components and tamper resistant fasteners to ensure long life with minimal maintenance.

From a safety perspective, pathway illumination is vital for illuminating obstacles and surface irregularities. Architecturally, it brings a strong solution that guides the eye and adds to the overall aesthetic. Light quality and beam spread options were taken into consideration when deciding what possibilities would satisfy the project need. It was important to have both sufficient lumens along with application specific distribution.


Bob Gueldenzopf is sales manager—architectural rail systems at Wagner Co., Milwaukee. In addition to its standard railing products such as handrail brackets and pipe elbows, flanges and connectors, Wagner also provides bending, polishing and stamping services. For more information, go to www.wagnercompanies.com.