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Chicago: the birthplace of the skyscraper.
Gathered along the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan, steel framed buildings protrude from the lakefront, providing the spectacular views Chicago is famous for.
Chicago’s skyline reveals an assorted display of architectural brilliance adjacent to miles of beaches and waterfront parks. Skyscrapers soar above Navy Pier and the Great Lake’s sandy beaches, exhibiting the architectural diversity that gives Chicago a skyline worthy of any photographer’s portfolio.
Chicago’s Existence Underground
Many people do not realize several of the buildings that line the curved shoreline and continue to expand towards the west part of the city also have life underneath.
The downtown area of Chicago, known as the Loop, contains miles of connecting ground level and underground passages.
Food courts. Shops. Subways. City Hall.
These walkways also provide shelter from the brutal Chicago winters. For those who take advantage of it, the windy, frozen streets outside are virtually unknown.
Collectively, these underground tunnels are known as the Pedway.
What is the Pedway?
Essentially, the Pedway, short for Pedestrian Way, is a series of connecting passages that allow you to transverse from one building to the next without stepping outside. About 40 blocks long, the passages zigzag through various buildings throughout the Loop.
Many Chicagoans are unaware of the Pedway. As a Chicagoan, born and raised, I never even knew the Pedway existed.
Since parts of the passages cut through the lobbies of buildings, people step in and out of the Pedway each day, unaware they are entering a segment of the connecting tunnels.
I first heard about these underground tunnels from Margaret Hicks, owner of Chicago Elevated and the person who gave me the tour of the Pedway.
When she described it as “underground tunnels,” I was intrigued and a bit nervous. I envisioned dark, sewer-like tunnels with rats scrambled across the path. I imagined us walking through some secret passageways that only mobsters were privy to.
I assure you, the Pedway is nothing like that.
As a matter of fact, portions of the Pedway include the entrance to City and County Hall, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Illinois Building. Along the way, you will encounter food courts and shopping, in between many of the Loop’s buildings.
Why is the Pedway Unknown?
Local tourist offices do not hand out maps of the Pedway. Actually, they are no longer printed. It is also not widely advertised. With so much to see and do in Chicago, this tour just gets buried among all the other Chicago tours.
Even though tourist offices in Chicago don’t really advertise, the Pedway is becoming more and more popular due to television media, travel review sites, and online articles.
Can Anyone Tour the Pedway?
Obviously, there is no entrance fee to meander through the tunnels. The Pedway is open for anyone who wishes to make his or her way through the Loop indoors.
Tip: Wherever you see The Pedway symbol, depicted by a yellow compass, you know you are on the right track. (Images of Oz may be entering your mind.)
Since many of these buildings are only open during business hours, visitors cannot walk all the way through the Pedway on the weekends.
While you can walk through on your own, which is a blessing in the winter, if you want to learn more about the Pedway and the city of Chicago, the best advice is to take a tour.
I would recommend getting a tour from someone who knows Chicago. Margaret not only gives you a 90-minite tour of the Pedway, but along the way, she provides tidbits about Chicago’s history. Not bad for $15.
You can find out more about Margaret’s Pedway tour and other Chicago tours on her website, ChicagoElevated.com.
For other city tours that give you perspective from a local, check out LocalGuiding.com. That’s how I met Margaret, and got the inside tour of Chicago’s Pedway.
Bio: Julie is a freelance writer who blogs about her writing experiences at Inspired to Write. Even though she writes on a variety of topics, her main love is travel writing. You can read more about her travel writing and journeys on The Travel Beat.