The Chicago Pedway Is an Oasis During Cold-Weather Commutes

Pedway commuters pass by an indoor swimming pool in the basement of the 55 E. Randolph building. Photo: John Greenfield
Pedway commuters pass by an indoor swimming pool in the basement of the 55 E. Randolph building. Photo: John Greenfield

On days like this, when the mercury dropped into the negative upper-single digits, you can really appreciate the Chicago Pedway system, a facet of our city’s transportation network that is often overlooked.

A gallery of stained-glass windows below the Macy's building (formerly Marshall Field's) on State Street. Photo: John Greenfield
A gallery of stained-glass windows below the Macy’s building (formerly Marshall Field’s) on State Street. Photo: John Greenfield

This network of subterranean tunnels, ground-level concourses, and overhead skyways connects over 40 city blocks and 50 buildings in the central business district, covering about five miles. It allows people to traverse the Loop in relative comfort during frigid, snowy, rainy, or blazing weather. It also provides a respite from the danger and sensory assault of motorized traffic.

The Pedway connects with the Lake Street Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield
The Pedway connects with the Lake Street Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

Tens of thousands of residents and visitors use the Pedway on a daily basis. It’s especially useful for rail commuters since it connects Metra and CTA rail stations to many public, office, and retail buildings. The system itself also houses plenty of interesting stores and restaurants, ranging from old-school shoe repair shops to a gourmet tamale stand.

The Pedway passes through the Block 37 mall. Photo: John Greenfield
The Pedway passes through the Block 37 mall. Photo: John Greenfield

Not surprisingly, the Pedway was especially busy during this evening’s frosty rush hour. What are your favorite aspects of the system? Share your experiences and tips in the comment section.

The passageway connecting the Daley Center to City Hal. Photo: John Greenfield
The passageway connecting the Daley Center to City Hall. Photo: John Greenfield

View a map of the Pedway here.

Read my in-depth Pedway travelogue “Notes From the Underground.”

  • Anne A

    I wish that it extended further south in the Loop.

  • Tooscrapps

    Never really used the Pedway until moving to a building with it. Definitely great in this weather! Really wish it was extended past Aon to Marianos!

    Minor gripes:
    – Could use some beautification (Macy’s!) or standardization, especially the doors.
    – Would love to see the City advertise it more, especially to give merchants down there a boost.
    – Build an underground passage through County Building/City Hall, rather than making walkers go up and then down again.
    – Would be nice if the transit stations were heated better or protected from the outside with doors that could be kept opened during the rush.

  • Jake

    I wonder if the map has changed by much, as the last update to the linked above pedway map was in 2012. Compared to the open data map, the linked map is missing the Metra Millennium park station concourse segment which shows the connection to New East Side area and the loop. https://data.cityofchicago.org/Transportation/Pedway-Routes/aqxt-626s (Last updated with data from July 2013 Pedway Routes)

  • John

    Forget your Jane Jacobs much?
    This article is incredibly off base, anti-urban and antithetical to the mission of promoting ‘streets’ for pedestrians. Such passageways in North America are now largely rejected as anti-urban places that suck pedestrian off the street not only in bad weather but year round. Whether for the ostensible purpose of avoiding cold weather or hot weather or just avoiding ‘sketchy places’, underground passageways and bridges encourage a lazy, bougie culture of avoiding outdoor spaces and result in empty, blank building frontages. Net-net these are destructive for primary pedestrian spaces (I.e. streets!). The Danish say there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. If you want to promote pedestrians, streets and environments that will encourage walking don’t promote street-killing urban design like indoor passageways.
    Duh!

  • planetshwoop

    This ignores the experience of the pedway. Some of it is bland, sure, the same way walking past a long stretch of parking garage is.

    But there are buskers, plenty of stores, a food court, sports bar, a poetry center… It’s fairly urban even if indoors.

    The criticism of pedways is that they come at the expense of public spaces. I don’t think that’s the case here.

  • planetshwoop

    It has no cars, which is a special joy.

  • kevd

    Copenhagen is literally 30 degrees warmer than Chicago right now.
    I say the Danes are smug jerks.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Interesting comment, but it sounds like you haven’t actually spent much time in the Chicago Pedway, which is a fairly vibrant, democratic public space. There doesn’t seem to be any danger of the system sucking the street life out of the dense, bustling Loop. The main thing the Chicago Pedway “lacks” is cars.

  • Maryinthecity

    This map is better than the city one: http://www.chicagodetours.com/chicago-pedway-map/

  • Dennis McClendon
  • Dennis McClendon
  • iSkyscraper

    Yes and no. While the smaller networks in places like Cincinnati have been dismantled as counter-productive, and others like Oklahoma City never achieved critical mass, the largest networks in the largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Minneapolis) are more popular than ever and arguably quite important given the cold climates. They also strongly encourage transit use by allowing commuters to make it from commuter and subway and light rail stations to their offices in more comfort than commuting by car would ever allow.

    Granted, there are challenges to make sure that such networks support outdoor street life rather than deprive it, and this is something that gives architects and planners and developers a lot of thought as they try to optimize for both environments. But visit downtown Toronto and try and tell me the streets are not vibrant. Having the underground city makes the entire area more livable and attractive in general, which means come warm weather the workplaces and residential buildings are there to burst out onto patios and sidewalks the moment it becomes humanly possible.

  • andygoblue

    My main problem with the Macy’s section of the Pedway is the pervasive urine smell. It’s only that one section (between City Hall and the Aon Center) that always seems to smell.

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Keith Griffith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and arts critic. The Chicago Pedway, a warren of corridors connecting over 50 downtown buildings with Metra and CTA stations, can be baffling to navigate. But with dozens of private owners controlling different sections, administering the system might be an even bigger challenge. Susan Mea, a veteran planning […]