8 Cities With Weatherproof Walkways

Toronto skywalk with people walking through
Photo: Toronto-Images.Com/Shutterstock

Making your way through a futuristic tunnel or walking high above the ground in an enclosed walkway sounds like something out of science fiction, but these tunnels and skywalks are just a simple acknowledgement that weather can be complicated.

These enclosures are usually built to keep people comfortable despite the outside temperature. The most expansive climate-controlled pedestrian networks are in places with cold winters, like Calgary, or hot summers, like Houston. Most are located in downtown areas where workers welcome the chance to grab lunch without donning thermal underwear or arriving at an appointment without having to change a sweat-soaked shirt. This is a segment of Toronto's PATH system above.

Check out these cities where you can walk long distances without going outside.

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Minneapolis-Saint Paul Skyways

Photo: Joe Ferrer/Shutterstock

Both of the downtown districts of the Twin Cities have skyway systems. They consist of a network of enclosed pedestrian bridges that connect buildings, which are open to the public on the "skyway level." The Minneapolis Skyway stretches for more than nine miles. Though it's mainly used by people working downtown, the Skyway is open on the weekend for convention-goers, sports fans and diners. Saint Paul’s Skyway, which is five miles long in total, is open from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.

Both these Minnesota cities are known for their cold winters, so the covered, climate-controlled bridges allow people to move through downtown without having to bundle up. There are even apartment complexes connected to the Skyway, so downtown dwellers never have to go outside if they don’t want to. Meanwhile, the campus of the University of Minnesota has about six miles of tunnels and interior walkways that help students and staff move from building to building without going outside.

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Chicago Pedway

Photo: John Greenfield/Wikimedia Commons

Chicago is another Midwestern city that has taken steps to make wintertime walking more pleasant. The Chicago Pedway stretches underground for about five miles through the city’s downtown core. The system began in the 1950s as a way for people to walk between different subway lines without going outside. It has expanded over the decades and now connects many of the buildings in the Loop area.

Though the Pedway keeps people out of the elements during the notorious Chicago winters, users complain about issues like inconsistent signage, the fact that some tunnels don't actually connect to the main network, and a seeming lack of security in some areas. High traffic tunnels generally have signage, however, and there are various maps and apps to help people unfamiliar with the network.

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Houston's downtown tunnels

Photo: Ed Schipul/flickr

Begun nearly 90 years ago, Houston’s tunnel network has expanded over the decades and now connects 90-plus city blocks with passageways that stretch for about seven miles through the downtown area. Most of the tunnels are 20 feet below the surface, and some are connected to above-ground skywalks that run between buildings. Pedestrians can access the tunnel network by using escalators, elevators and stairways at street level. Most of these access points are inside buildings.

Unfortunately for night owls, this isn't a 24-hour system. Most of the tunnels are open only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The passageways do, however, include businesses such as restaurants, banks, newsstands, barber shops and business services like copy centers. Most major buildings in downtown Houston are open to the public at the tunnel level, and the city has an interactive map to help those who are unfamiliar with the network find their way.

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Calgary Plus 15

Photo: John Vetterli/flickr

Calgary’s Plus 15 (or +15) is a system of pedestrian bridges between downtown buildings. Its unusual name comes from the height of the climate-controlled walkways above street level. Some of the skywalks have more than one level and are referred to according to their height (+30 and +45, for example). The Plus 15 stretches for about 10 miles in a 50-block area within the city’s core.

Some detractors have complained that the network has ruined the street level atmosphere because shops, restaurants and service providers are located inside the skywalks, not on the street. Proponents, however, usually point to the weather. Calgary occasionally benefits from warm Chinook winds during the winter, but each year has an average of 22 days when the temperature dips to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 C) or lower. People point to features like the Plus 15 as reasons why Calgary is often listed as one of the world’s most livable cities.

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PATH Toronto

Photo: skywalk/Wikimedia Commons

Toronto’s climate controlled pedestrian system dates to the early 1900s. The earliest tunnel is still used now as part of the 19-mile Downtown Toronto PATH network. When PATH really started to develop, in the 1960s and ‘70s, it became a place for smaller retailers and businesses to remain downtown as more and more skyscrapers and office space was developed.

PATH is sometimes considered a shopping complex. It is the "largest underground shopping center in the world" according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In addition to roughly 4 million square feet of retail space, PATH connects major tourist sites like the CN Tower and the Aquarium of Canada.

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Edmonton Pedway

Photo: Kurt Bauschardt/flickr

Like Calgary, Edmonton is a Canadian plains city that's frequently hit with Arctic-like conditions. Also, like its Albertan sister, it has climate-controlled walkways in its downtown core. Edmonton’s skywalks are supplemented with a network of tunnels. When both these types of passageways, which are together known as the Edmonton Pedway, are connected, they stretch for over eight miles.

The Edmonton Pedway began when the city created an underground light rail system. The subterranean walkways initially connected the stations to downtown buildings. They continued to expand over the years and now include pedestrian bridges between some buildings. Despite the common complaint about skyway and tunnel cities — that the network robs downtown of its street life — most Edmonton residents admit that they use the system regularly to avoid weather, easily access the subway and avoid vehicle traffic.

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Montreal Underground City

Photo: Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

Montreal’s Underground City, also known as RESO, includes retail space and tunnels that connect to the city’s Metro system. Despite its name, many access points and even some indoor sections are actually located at ground level. Regardless of whether this is an "underground city" or just an "interior city," the ability to walk through downtown and to public transit without stepping outside is attractive in a place where snow cover usually lasts from early December through March.

The Underground City is shaped roughly like a U, with two north-south routes connected by an east-west axis. Some 500,000 people, on average, use the tunnels daily. There are more than 100 access points, not including subway station entrances. These are not the only tunnels in the city. McGill University and Universite de Montreal also have their own, separate tunnel networks that allow students to stay out of the elements while heading to classes during the winter.

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Des Moines Skywalk

Photo: Dsmspence/Wikimedia Commons

Des Moines is the largest city in Iowa. Its downtown features a network of skyways, called Skywalks, that stretch for about four miles. This system was built in the 1970s. It was meant to protect employees of downtown businesses from having to deal with cold weather and to keep businesses from following the trend of moving to cheaper suburban office spaces instead of staying in the core of the city.

The Skywalk is open on the weekends, but because it's mainly used by office workers, it's not crowded on the weekends. Also, many of the restaurants and retailers located within the system are closed on Saturday and Sunday. However, the elevated walkways can be a convenient way to access places like Wells Fargo Arena, the Iowa Events Center and other events and convention facilities in Des Moines.