Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, May 25

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


The Pedway is often called Chicago's secret weapon against the elements. Made up of a combination of underground tunnels, concourses and overhead skyway bridges, the pedestrian walkway network provides shelter from all types of inclement weather in and around the Loop.

Laid end to end, the Pedway stretches nearly 40 city blocks, but the network is not completely interconnected. Instead, it consists of two major sections. The first, and largest, section connects over two dozen city, office and commercial buildings in the Loop while also providing access to CTA and Metra train stations. The second major section links several buildings east of Michigan Avenue, just south of the Chicago River. Currently, one can walk from the James R. Thompson Center to Marshall Field's, the Cultural Center and over to the Prudential Plaza without ever having to step outside.

Development of the Pedway began in 1951 when the city built the one-block tunnels between State and Dearborn connecting the Red and Blue Line CTA stations at both the Washington and Jackson stops. Over the following decades, the Pedway grew haphazardly as both the city and private developers expanded the system, and even today the network continues to grow and be improved. As a result of its unsystematic construction, the Pedway lacks design uniformity, and every section of the network has its own unique characteristics.

The lack of systematic organization, however, also means the Pedway can be difficult to navigate or even locate. When people call it the city's secret weapon against inclement weather, the emphasis is on "secret." Entrances to the Pedway are frequently unmarked, and signage within the system is sparse, misleading or nonexistent. To make matters worse, print maps of the Pedway are currently unavailable, and new maps will not be published until reconstruction is completed on a tunnel connecting Marshall Field's and the Cultural Center.

Pedway novices need to have a sense of adventure and a little patience to be able to navigate this tangled web of tunnels, corridors, staircases and revolving doors. Follow along, then, as this tour guides you through the maze and introduces you to just some of the sights, services and shopping that can be found in this subterranean city. But, before embarking on your own Pedway adventure, be aware that while connections to the train stations are open 24 hours, access to the complete Pedway network is generally available only from 6am to 6pm.

The tour begins at the Red Line CTA station at State and Washington. If you arrive by train, when you leave the train, be sure to go up the north stairs towards Randolph Street. Exit through the turnstiles. Most people hurry straight up one of the stairways to street level after exiting, but stop and observe for a moment. This El station sits squarely in the middle of the Pedway. On the east side of the station, a revolving door leads into the lower level of Marshall Field's while on the other end of the station, an arrow on the floor with the words, "West to Pedway," points towards a long underground corridor.


Fig1. The compass in the terrazzo floor tells you where to go.

For now, head west down the corridor (we'll visit the eastern half next week). This block-long passage is one of the two tunnels completed in 1951 that first made up the Pedway. It connects the Red Line Washington El station on State Street to the Blue Line Washington station on Dearborn and is one of the busiest sections of the Pedway. In 1995, the Chicago Department of Transportation estimated up to 20,000 people a day use this tunnel, but during the winter months that number doubles. The tunnel is unheated so it is not exactly comfortable, but at least you are protected from the wind and snow.

Walk through the Blue Line CTA station at the other end of the corridor until you come to two sets of revolving doors. You have reached the Richard J. Daley Center (50 W. Washington). An open stairway on your left leads up to Dearborn Street and Daley Plaza, home of Chicago's famed Picasso sculpture. Enter the Pedway beneath the Daley Center and immediately notice this section is heated.

The Daley Center is largely occupied with courts and court-related offices. The Circuit Court of Cook County occupies half the building with over a hundred courtrooms, and one may also find the Appellate and Illinois Supreme Court here. The Pedway beneath the Daley Center is wide, well-lit and filled with mid-morning crowds. As you enter this section, you will find a Starbucks coffee shop immediately to your right. Yes, the coffee chain that everyone loves to hate has even penetrated underground. Across the hall, Ace Shoe Clinic is doing brisk business polishing the footwear of the lawyers and city officials that dominate the Pedway crowd here. The Daley Center Pedway is also home to the large and inviting West Egg Cafe, open for breakfast and lunch. An escalator near the cafe leads up to the lobby of the Daley Center.

The Pedway here splits into two branches. One corridor continues west while a second hallway now leads south. Take the hallway south and find the Traffic Court and traffic safety school on the Pedway and another stairway leading up outside to Daley Plaza.


Fig2. You could leave the Pedway here, but you'd miss the rest of the tour.

Continuing south, go through another revolving door at the end of the hall into the Pedway beneath the Cook County Administration Building (69 W. Washington). The building is home to many city and county offices. The building was temporarily vacated when a tragic fire on October 17, 2003 resulted in the deaths of six people, but the building has since been re-occupied. This section of the Pedway is more narrow and dimly-lit than the Daley Center, but several businesses and services are located down here. You will find the Early Edition newsstand and convenience store, a barber shop/nail salon and Dairy Queen. In addition, Around the Clock repairs watches, clocks and jewelry. The Pedway beneath the Cook County Administration Building also includes the super-secret Secretary of State Express Facility. Though currently closed for renovations, this facility is the place to go to get your driver's license renewed without having to wait in line.

Keep following the Pedway past the Secretary of State facility and down a short flight of steps. On your left a revolving door leads to the Washington Blue Line CTA station between Washington and Madison on Dearborn. Instead, go through the revolving doors on your right and up an escalator to the street-level lobby of Three First National Plaza. Cross the lobby and stop to admire the large bronze Henry Moore sculpture. If you are feeling really ambitious, continue upstairs and locate the Skyway bridge that crosses Madison Street to One First National Plaza, home to the offices of Bank One (though maybe not for much longer). In One First National Plaza, head down to the first floor and locate the escalator in the southeast corner of the lobby. The Pedway continues down this escalator, leading to the Monroe station of the Blue Line, where this particular branch of the Pedway effectively ends.

Retrace your steps back to the Daley Center and take the Pedway corridor heading west. This hallway is lined with display cases. On the south wall (your left), an exhibit presented by the Theatre Historical Society of America entitled, "Chicago Celebrates Three Centuries of Theatres," features photographs and ephemera from some of the city's most well-known theatre buildings. On the north wall, don't miss the oil stick drawings by artist Theolia Norwood executed on the flattened lids of corrugated cardboard file boxes.

Pass additional stairways leading up to the east side of Daley Plaza and go through the revolving doors at the end of the hall. On your right as you pass through the door is a small concession area run by the Department of Rehabilitation Services' Vending Facility Program for the Blind which, as the name implies, is operated by individuals who are blind. On the opposite wall, marvel at having found a map of the Pedway. Take a moment to re-orient yourself and commit the map to memory as it is one of the only ones you will encounter in the system. Now, as the Pedway appears to end here, head up the escalator.

The escalator leads into the beautiful lobby of the City Hall/County Building which, although it is really one building, is treated as if it were two separate structures in order to confuse people. This monumental Classical Revival building was completed in 1911 and takes up the entire city block. City Hall occupies the west half of the building at 121 N. LaSalle, while the east half is considered the County Building at 118 N. Clark. Walk through the lobby and admire the vaulted ceilings covered with Bottocino marble, the mosaic ornamentation and relief sculptures.


Fig3. One of the rare maps of the Pedway.

In the center of the lobby, notice an elevator prominently marked with a sign reading, "Pedway." Do not be tempted to take this elevator. Although it does lead to an underground corridor that connects City Hall to the Savings of America Tower across the street at 120 N. LaSalle, the passage is narrow, deserted and leaves one with the distinct feeling that "Maybe-I-Shouldn't-Be-Down-Here." Instead, walk across the lobby towards the north exit of the City Hall/County Building to find the Pedway link to the State of Illinois Center. Pass through a set of doors into the outer foyer of the building, locate the stairway to your right and descend into the next section of the Pedway.

The lower level of the City Hall/County Building includes several important offices and services. An annex office of the City Clerk on the Pedway is the best place to get your passport renewed without waiting in line. You will also find the Cook County Vital Statistics office down here where you can obtain birth, marriage and death certificates. Finally, the Marriage Bureau is down the hall from the Vital Statistics office for completing applications for a marriage license and domestic partnership registration.

Walk north past these offices and down the tunnel that passes under Randolph Street until you find yourself in the lower level of the State of Illinois Center, also known as the James R. Thompson Center. The Center was designed by architect Helmut Jahn and was completed in 1985; the glass and steel curvilinear structure is home to several dozen state agencies. As you enter the Thompson Center from the Pedway, a full-service Secretary of State facility is immediately to your left, and it is crowded as usual. You can also access the CTA Clark/Lake El station from the lower level. The vast majority of the floor, however, is occupied by the Center's food court -- cleverly named "The Great State Fare." Just about every major fast food chain is represented here, and at 11:30am the space is already filling with early lunchtime crowds.

Find an empty table, take a break and do some people-watching because you have largely finished exploring the western half of the Pedway network. To continue your adventure, retrace your steps and return to Red Line El station at State and Washington where the tour began.

Next week: The eastern half of the Pedway.


About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio, our resident librarian, also writes at That Rabbit Girl.

GB store

Recently on Detour

A Tragic Day in Chicago
While most people see the weekend after Thanksgiving as a time to begin preparations for the December holiday season, this time of year is a painful reminder to some as the anniversary of one of Chicago's deadliest fires. Ninety-two students...

The Social Life of Our Urban Spaces
"Placemaking" comes to Chicago

Don't '&' Me, OK?
The ampersand gets Wenner thinking about the distinction between race and ethnicity.

Photo Essay: Transitions
Rearview contributers interpret the theme "Transitions."

People from the Rearview Archive
Gapers Block digs into the Rearview archive in search of portraits.

View the complete archive

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15