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Passion for the Pedway: Tour Guide Wants Underground Scene to Make It Big

By Kyla Gardner | March 18, 2013 6:48am | Updated on March 18, 2013 10:12am

PEDWAY — One of the most vocal fans of the city's Pedway system will be the first to admit Chicago has a messy basement.

"The city above here is very logical. It's very linear. It's on this grid system," began tour guide Margaret Hicks.

"The pedway doesn’t mirror that at all. There's absolutely no consistency."

But that doesn't mean the Loop's mostly underground, meandering system of walkways isn't her favorite "neighborhood."

"It'll save you one day," she said.

The "mostly clean, mostly heated" tunnel system will save you from a brutal Midwest winter. It will save you from biting wind and slushy streets, from a spring rainstorm and a summer heat wave. It will save you time, when you need to cross a Downtown street where a parade has just rolled in.

You can't get hit by cars in the Pedway, advertises the official City of Chicago website.

Hicks has seen underground foot traffic increase since she started her tour business in 2009, and she'd like to think her Pedway tour — the original — has helped spread the word.

"I had a guy stop me giving a tour the other day. He was like, 'I'm walking through here because she taught me how,' " Hicks said.

Hicks teaches her curious audience that the Pedway's official symbol is a compass, but it can't give you directions. And the official map is confusing, but accurately confusing. The Pedway may not even be efficient: A walk from the Gallery of Shops at Lake and Dearborn to the Daley Center would take you five minutes on the sidewalk. It'll take you 15 in the Pedway.

But she kids because she loves.

The former improviser (She gives tours for Second City, too.) is a cheerleader for her "second home." She doesn't even mind that since her tour began, several others have popped up, even one from the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

"I'm just glad other people are using it, and I want it to get bigger," she said. "I want people to want it."

Right now, the tunnels link CTA stations and other commuter lines with 50 private and city buildings. Hicks would love to see it cross the river, and to see the rumors of a movie theater in Block 37 become reality.

"A movie theater attached to the pedway would ..." Hicks didn't have the words for it. "Just ... oh my God."

And if there were more condos with direct access to it?

"You could get through all of February."

From the industrial-looking turnstiles of a CTA station to sparkling malls, Hicks invited tour participants to take a new look at city buildings, using her passion and extensive knowledge of architecture to share her love of Chicago.

She lavished praise on the inside of the Cultural Center, joked about "government transparency" in the basement of City Hall, where all the blinds are drawn, and told how artist Anish Kapoor doesn't like when you call his sculpture "The Bean." (Its official name is "Cloud Gate.")

It's her only tour that attracts as many Chicagoans as it does tourists. She tailors each one to her audience.

“Sometimes I'll take out this nice family from Kansas and they want to ... hear a nice story about the Picasso, and then I'll take a group of 10 gay guys and they're making gross jokes about the back of the Picasso," she said. "And so I love that.”

When her tour ended at the lobby of the Cultural Center one Thursday, her audience of four Chicago suburbanites and two Londoners continued chatting and laughing.

A young woman approached, and asked Hicks if this was a tour. Yes, Hicks said, the Pedway tour, and held out her card.

The woman took it, excited what she had just stumbled upon. But she already knew about the Pedway:

"I give the tour," she said. "But I want to take your tour."

Hicks' 90-minute Pedway tours start at 10:30 Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. Tickets can be purchased online for $22.09 for adults and $11.54 for children under 10.