Chicago Architecture Blog for Curious People

‘Tis the Season for the Pedway

November 21, 2011

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Time to start thinking again about utilizing the Pedway when we venture downtown, especially since we’re bombarded by news about the horrible winter we have ahead of us. We get a lot of questions about the Chicago Pedway system our tour, so here are some more in-depth responses. If you’ve come with us for “Inside the Loop,” which is part-Pedway tour, part-indoor architectural tour, you already have some good background on this and can skip ahead a paragraph!

You know you’re in the Pedway when you see this symbol. In this mostly underground system of passages that connect buildings, train stations, and parking lots, one finds government offices, food courts, and most importantly during wintertime – warmth. As part of downtown infrastructure, the Pedway eases foot traffic on street level and provides a quicker route as pretty much everyone you pass is in a hurry like you, and you don’t have to wait at any stop lights.

Built in Chicago for Chicagoans, this Pedway system is a bit of a conundrum for local government. Yes, the city has an official map of it, but they do not have any specific department that manages the Chicago Pedway as each part is managed by the building attached. For example, when you walk by the passageway around Macy’s, pictured here, they are responsible for the visual look and security here.

Why don’t people use the Pedway all the time if it’s so great? While the Pedway can be fascinating to explore, and a good photographer can find interesting angles, the Pedway is not nearly as visually exciting as the street-level above. For this reason, we downtown workers tend to reserve it for 1. Bad weather or 2. When we’re in a hurry.

Are there plans to extend it? Well, they recently have in fact. The completion of Aqua Tower in 2009 extended the pedway to reach parking lots, and this would include the newly opened Radison Blu Hotel. If any new buildings arise in the vicinity of the Pedway system, a developer would likely want to connect a new residential or commercial building with the infrastructure of the Pedway. This piecemeal add-on method is how the Pedway has grown to be the confusing thing it is now. There never was any master plan.
How do I get my hands on a good map of the Pedway? Good question here. Mark Spiegl’s Pedway map, pictured here, most clearly lays out the primary paths, and its simplicity makes it less daunting than the City of Chicago map, which is cluttered with details.
A University of Chicago student worked on a very detailed map, but frankly I don’t understand how the color coding is supposed to help with navigation of the Pedway.

We are working on our own Chicago Detours map of the Pedway, and we are determined to keep it user friendly. This project has grown into a much more complicated goal than imagined. So a question for you: How does one make an understandable map when the subject matter at hand is confusing? The northeast area of the Pedway, for example, goes from underground to ground level to above ground, and then at times its the outside ground level that’s changing rather than the grade of the Pedway route! That area of the city has multiple layers of parking, streets, and furthest underneath, wood pilings and abandoned freight tunnels. This question is pretty complicated so I don’t expect any easy answers!

Why don’t more people know about the Pedway? This is an interesting one and requires a long response. Look next month for a full blog post dedicated to this question.

–Amanda Scotese

Executive Director

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