Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway – Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business

Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway

Op-Ed by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

It’s a frigid Chicago winter day and downtown sidewalks are slushy and icy, or it’s a rainy summer day. What does a savvy Chicagoan do? Take the Pedway.

Want to go quickly from the CTA to City Hall, pick up coffee, and get a new watchband on the way? Take the Pedway. Looking for new art displays? Check out the Pedway. Entrepreneurs, there are available storefront opportunities with increased Pedway foot traffic.

The Chicago Pedway is an underutilized civic asset. It can be a great way to get around downtown, an engaging civic arts and culture space, and a good location for shops and restaurants.

If, today, someone proposed building a new underground Pedway, you’d ask, “How can we afford it?” The Chicago Pedway, however, is already built. Let’s leverage that investment with strategic actions to make it work better. Better navigation, better coordination and better activation.

Better navigation and wayfinding: Let’s face it—Pedway signs should be larger, eye-catching and more consistent; maps should be easier to understand and on smartphone apps; and directions should be clearer and easier to follow. Good wayfinding should connect Pedway users to above-ground locations and to the Riverwalk, Navy Pier, and transit and train stations. Better wayfinding and easier navigation tools, both above and along the Pedway, will encourage more pedestrian use. This should work well for everybody, not just “Pedway-niks.”

Better coordination: The Pedway maps as a continuous system, but it’s actually spliced-together segments owned by different public and private owners. Coordinating Pedway operating hours, lighting, accessibility and safety helps everybody: Metra commuters from the Millennium Park and Van Buren Metra stations, and CTA train riders going to City Hall and downtown office buildings; tourists going from east of Michigan Avenue hotels to Loop theaters and restaurants; and downtown workers and residents going from place to place. The recent Chicago Pedway Revitalization Study identified high-value repairs and upgrades for action.

Better activation: Better placemaking activates the Pedway and engages people. Pedway users shop at the retail spaces in Block 37 and Illinois Center, and Goodman Williams Group’s retail analysis shows growth potential for more pedestrian-friendly businesses and sales tax revenues. Space p11 is a new Pedway-level gallery for off-grid art, architecture and culture. The Chicago Loop Alliance sponsors Pop-Up activations, and Broadway in Chicago does pop-up holiday caroling and theater. The Vamonde smartphone app provides a fun adventure. The Pedway should be a lively and cool space.

My organization, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Broadway in Chicago and Chicago Loop Alliance are partnering with the city of Chicago, Cook County and building owners to repair and revitalize the Chicago Pedway.

Let’s seize the opportunities to improve pedestrian use and access. Let’s tap more retail business potential. Let’s make the Pedway a vibrant underground space for arts and culture for Chicagoans and visitors. We’ve done the heaviest lifting already by building the Pedway—now let’s use our imagination and take the practical steps to make it a great cityspace.

This post originally ran in Crain’s Chicago Business. Read the article HERE.

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