The Chicago Pedway
Oh, the Chicago Pedway. What a perfectly unique quirk in this city full of surprises. I’ll admit, to my own dismay, that I went 23 years as a Chicagoan without ever having used the Pedway — gasp! My Pedway ignorance lingers no more, though. And from this moment forward, you’ll be in the know, too.
Have you ever been bustling your way through the Loop on a freezing January day, snow blowing in your face and your ears so red and cold they’ve turned numb? It’s happened to all of us. Often. It’s called winter in Chicago, and it can be pretty rough. Those who know better, though, get all their downtown errands done, travel between meetings, and make their way throughout the Loop without ever having to step outside.
The Chicago Pedway is a network of underground tunnels connecting many of the city’s buildings within the Loop. Covering about five miles and forty blocks of the city’s downtown hub, the Pedway is used by tens of thousands of people each day. Among the over 50 public and private buildings accessed by the Pedway are the Thomspson Center, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Aon Center, the Aqua buildling, and Daley Plaza. It wasn’t always such an extensive network, though. The Pedway began in 1951 as one simple tunnel built by the City of Chicago to connect the Red Line and Blue Line underground L stations at Washington and Jackson.
Though it would seem logical for the City to manage this network of passageways, that’s not the case. Each individual building owns the part of the Pedway residing beneath it, meaning that each section of the Pedway is privately managed. What does that mean for you? Well, for starters there’s no uniform aesthetic or structure to the Pedway. Each part has its own unique personality and character. One minute you may be walking on marble tiles with expensive light fixtures hanging from the walls, the next you could be on 1980s laminate flooring with fluorescent lighting illuminating the hallway. An important thing to note about the Pedway is that the sections are not necessarily continuous, and not all parts of the system are linked together. It’s actually a rather schizophrenic layout, as parts of the Pedway have been constructed over the past 50 years by different contractors.
These aren’t just empty passageways, though. They are full of busy commuters, shops, stores, restaurants, offices, and kiosks. In essence, the Pedway is a city underneath the city. You’ll find everything from a locksmith to an art gallery to local coffee brewers down there. Need a tailor or a dry cleaner? Time to get your driver’s license renewed? Wanna go for a swim? Looking to throw back a few beers with some buddies? The Pedway will satisfy any of these needs, and more. (Yes, there’s a swimming pool down there!) Another cool feature? The Pedway is almost completely handicap accessible, with elevators connecting various levels.
Though most of the Pedway happenings go on underground, there are also parts of these walkways that extend between buildings above ground, referred to as the Sky Walk. These above-ground tunnels are located at the Ogilvie Transportation Center and the Leo Burnett Building on Wacker Drive.
If you do head into this tunnel network, beware: the Pedway map is an elusive thing. There are sporadically posted maps throughout the Pedway, but there are no official printed maps, and you cannot purchase them anywhere. If you have a tendency to get lost you can, however, print a map from online here. If you’re up for an adventure, print one out and head down below for a day of exploration. An important note: the Pedway compass (as seen above) does not always point in the right direction, so don’t follow it as a navigational tool. It will keep you on track, though, and let you know that you are, in fact, still in the Pedway (as opposed to some underground unnamed limbo). There are limited places to enter this maze, so if you want to check it out, take a peek at the map first.
For those unfamiliar with the Pedway, local Chicagoan Margaret Hicks offers tours of the underground maze through her company Chicago Elevated. She leads several different types of tours — one for those interested in the architectural and historical attributes of the Pedway, another for Loop workers interested in a more functional approach to learning the Pedway. Her expertise in local architecture paired with an outgoing personality and stellar comedic skills make for entertaining and informative tours of one of Chicago’s most unique and unsung features. We had the great pleasure of joining her on a tour recently, and would recommend it to any local or visitor for an off-the-beaten path city experience.