Firstly, some history about the Chicago Pedway is probably necessary for those who know nothing or little about it. I certainly wasn’t aware of the Pedway’s existence even though I commuted to the city daily for a couple years while I was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Turns out the underground (and sometimes above ground), pedestrian walkway began its life in 1951 and grew connect 40 downtown blocks throughout the Loop. Systems such as these are not uncommon in cities like Chicago. The reasons are simple: bad weather and lots of people.
I had to check this out for myself. In my mind, I had created this fantasy for myself that the Pedway was some dingy, possibly criminal infested Chicago secret. As I entered the Dearborn & Monroe El stop, I hardly noticed the sign that said “Pedway System.” I walked down and noticed that I could get on the train or keep walking through a non-descript door at the end station. I chose the latter and found myself in the lower-level of Chase Tower. Restaurants, bathrooms, and scores of lunchtime suits inhabited this space. It seemed, however, after I stopped seeing the sporadic, small blue “Pedway” signs, that I had reached a dead-end. Turns out these are fairly common occurrences in the Pedway. I walked back the way I came and re-entered at another El stop. This time the passageway was near the Daley Center. In the bowels of the Daley Center’s busy courthouses, I followed a long hallway that passed many interesting and unexpected shops. There was a Starbucks, a watch repair shop, and a mini CVS. The only sign you were going the right way? Pedway stickers adhered to revolving doors, windows, and the occasional wall. It was like playing I-Spy with Pedway’s star-shaped logo.
Soon, I found myself in Block 37 at 108 N. State Street. At the Pedway level, I was led directly into the retail center of the Block. Block 37 is a three-building complex containing commercial, retail, residential, and hotel spaces. It is state-of-the-art to be sure. The retailers that have rented the first two levels are all high-end, and the rest is still under construction. The rent-a-cops patrolling every floor made me put my camera away. I can’t deny, it was the most beautiful shopping mall I’d ever seen, but what was so secret that I couldn’t snap a couple photos?
Angry at the mean security guards, I made my way back down to the main Pedway to see how far I could go. Needless to say, it went far. After walking under tunnels that were nicely decorated, but practically abandoned and small hallways in The Heritage of Millennium Park, I popped out on Michigan Avenue. With the Art Institute on my right and Millennium Park on my left, I decided to balance my underground ramblings with some high-altitude reflecting. I climbed the ramp leading from Millennium Park to the roof of the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Pedway was not as I had imagined it. It was clean, safe, and full of people trying to get work done without the inconvenience of traffic lights and overwhelming crowds. A whole successful business culture lived down there. Then, looking out of the glass walls of the rooftop patio, I reminded of my fear of heights and decided I was far more comfortable under the ground than above it. Chicago, despite all of it’s sky-scraping buildings, is an underground city, and I am its underground citizen.