The Pedway

In this space, I've written before about my fascination with the gaps and seams in the city fabric, urban exploration, and alternate paths through our world.  Recently, I was fortunate enough to find my way into the mysterious world of the Chicago Pedway.  Similar to other systems in Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Calgary, Cedar Rapids, and other cities where the climate makes walking outside unattractive, the Pedway is a system of tubes and tunnels that allow one to move around downtown under cover.  It connects the ballet, the Metra, several subway stops, Millenium Park, the Art Institute, the Aqua Tower, Macy's, and dozens of other buildings.  

On a rainy afternoon, eager to get out of the wet, I found the first entrance at the intersection of Michigan and Monroe downtown.  A great map, found here, identifies this as the beginning of a segment of the Pedway known as the Millenium and North Grant Park Garage Walkway.  It leads down to a sprawling parking garage serving the parks, Art Institute, and businesses along Michigan Avenue.  

The first portal to the underworld.  Photos in this post courtesy of Amanda Buck.
The Pedway is not a formal path, per se, but really a series of interconnected spaces.  It's more like tripping from one basement to another as opposed to walking down a series of underground streets.  This informality can make it hard to navigate, as there are a lot of closed doors and blind turns.  Yellow-and-black signs, overlaid with a compass motif, serve as way points.  The signs, as unreliable as they are, are the only way to get around down there, as cellphone coverage is cut off underground.

After descending the stairs, and turning into the garage, we kept to the western edge of the garage space, walking steadily north.

Pedway signage.
Nice to see some bike storage squeezed in alongside all those cars. 
The overall affect of the Pedway is grungy, tired, and sallow, washed over by the flickering yellow-green of fluorescent light.  While pitched as an alternative to the nasty weather outside, I think it has to be horrible out to willingly pitch into these dank tunnels, feeling your way forward like a mole.  On the other hand, it is sort of thrilling, a detective story, a chance to circumvent the well-known streets above and sneak from cellar to cellar.  

Scenic!  And it doesn't smell bad at all.

Lost in a lost place.  
As we continued north, exiting the garage and passing through several basements, we stumbled upon a Metra station.  From there, you could rocket out of the under ground, taking a train all the way to scenic Gary, Indiana.  

The Metra train.
The orange and mud-brown really brighten up a drab situation.
After the train, we broke outside, though not strictly above-ground.  A small region of downtown Chicago has two, and occasionally three, tiers of streets.  In 1855, property owners near the Chicago river began raising the first floor of their buildings in response to muddy streets, poor drainage, and flooding.  This first raising solved some of these problems and created others, forcing folks to use ladders to get in and out.  Further tiering continued until 1926, as minimum boat clearances forced bridges across the Chicago River, and therefore streets, higher.  

The gap in between lanes creates a cropped sliver of skyline beyond.
At this point, we realized we had overshot our turn, backtracked, and found ourselves in a weird little underground mall.  It seemed like an unusually depressing place to work, but hey, there was a bar, a Subway, an Intellegentsia coffee stand, and a health club, replete with a window into a pool full of Speedo-sporting lappers.  Eventually, we ended up at the underground entrance to the Marshall Field Building, now a Macy's.  From there, it was a short hike to the State and Lake station on the Red Line.  In all, we covered almost a mile underground.  

I'd like to check out other sections in the future, scouting out potential entry points for my bank-vault tunneling machine.

Macy's, hiding from daylight.