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Have you ever wondered what inspires a CAC tour? On our tours of the Pedway, you can explore more than 40 downtown blocks with shops, restaurants and public works of art, part of an underground system of tunnels known as the “city under the city.”

by Nikki Snodgrass, Media Relations Manager

The City Under the City

There’s a reason why Chicago’s Pedway is considered an urban environment all to itself. And while thousands of Chicagoans venture underground every day during their commute, to do some shopping or just to escape the elements, there’s a lot that isn’t commonly known about this unique set of downtown pathways. Lorie Westerman is a CAC docent, a Pedway tour director, and the designer of CAC’s Pedway tours. She became fascinated by the Pedway when she moved to the city in 2003 and decided to delve into the story behind how it came to be.

Winter in Chicago can make navigating downtown a challenge, even for lifelong residents of the city. Because CAC offers tours year-round—tours that depart rain or shine—we wanted to bring tour-takers an option that would be an architectural and historical experience, as well as a perfect fit for the colder months. Those who weren’t directly familiar with the path of the Pedway found the idea of the journey a bit intimidating. In fact, CAC learned that even some Chicagoans who’d worked in buildings along the Pedway for years weren’t aware of the “secret” underground passage. That’s when Westerman set out to see what she could discover.

Getting to the Bottom of It

At the time, public information about the Pedway was sort of tough to find. Eventually, Westerman got in touch with a Chicago Department of Transportation board member, who also happened to be Chicago’s Pedway liaison. Provided with a plethora of old files and research materials, Westerman started sifting, intent on turning up the points of interest that would make for intriguing Pedway tour content. By 2012, after Westerman’s daunting task was complete, CAC was ready to introduce people to Chicago’s downtown underground. Take a look at some of the “Did you know?” facts that Westerman uncovered.

  • Construction of the Pedway began in 1951, and expansion continues to this day.
  • Among the busiest sections of the Pedway is the block-long passage that connects the Red Line Washington L station on State Street to the Blue Line Washington L station on Dearborn.
  • There are actually two Pedway systems. Heading in one direction, you’ll travel past buildings including the Prudential Center, Aon Center and the Fairmont Hotel; in the other direction, there’s the Thompson Center, the Leo Burnett Building and the Renaissance Hotel.
  • You can walk the entire Pedway without ever ending up outdoors. 

So has the weather got you down? Do you need to know how to get from the Millennium Park Shops to One Illinois Center via the Metra platform? Want to find out what Lori Westerman calls the “Where the Heck Am I?” building? Then join us for a fascinating subterranean excursion into one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets.