Ever notice how downtown Chicago has much less noise of honking cars than downtown New York City? A friend pointed out it's because of Chicago's lower-level streets that a lot of service vehicles use for loading/unloading. That's in contrast to Manhattan where everybody has to share the same street level. E.g. a brown UPS truck that stops for a mere 20 seconds is enough for the yellow cab driver that's stuck behind him to smash on the horn with impatience.
Related to honking and street noise, another factor I noticed is a high number of curbs where parking is simply not allowed. This streamlines traffic in some ways, as people aren't fighting over spaces or waiting for someone to back in slowly. Although, there was a lot of "hazard parking" where people just stopped where they weren't supposed to. A lot of the honking I witnessed was due to freight/waste vehicles blocking an entire street (2-4 lanes) so they could back into a dock or service area in the middle of a block.
Downtown at night seemed eerily quiet, although there were a good number of people. I think several factors applied here, when compared with SF... Chicago has been built to handle the vast crowds from events and conventions that swarm the city. When that isn't happening, there is comparatively more room for people, so it's wide sidewalks aren't as crowded. Also, being built to withstand harsh winters, I imagine there is better thermal insulation that also acts as decent audio insulation (plus a lot is happening under the street level!). I was right outside blues and jazz clubs where you couldn't actually hear that anything was going on inside (this makes me laugh when compared to visiting Nashville for the first time earlier in the year).
It also seemed that the contention between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians is more severe even than SF, where I saw several interactions that seemed more like a macho game of "chicken".
Also, many new visitors mistake the Loop for downtown, but the Loop is really just one part of downtown. Downtown encompasses River North, West Loop and a bunch of adjacent neighborhoods where it's fairly lively. Parts of the Loop can be pretty lively at night too, especially off State St where the theaters are (I just saw Hello Dolly last night).
I mention this because there are many midwestern cities (like St Louis) whose downtowns are completely deserted after 5 which gives rise to safety concerns. Chicago's downtown isn't like that at all. It's still comparatively residential. It's somewhat similar to downtown Toronto in that the core business district clears out after 7 and the surrounding areas become more lively.
Architecture and urbanism generate pedestrian activity, and many midwestern towns are not designed for it, but for people to come from the suburbs and park near their office. You can use zoning to build lively neighborhoods, soulless collections of office buildings, or anything else in between. The many municipalities around St Louis, and their planning, also engineer world-leading levels of segregation, both by race and social class. It's no wonder St Louisians ask each other where they went to high school. The way the metro area is designed, it'd be a miracle if it didn't provide a lot of information.
Hotels often put earplugs on the nightstand since it’s so loud in some parts.
They adopted the Daniel Burnam plan, which reclaimed the lakefront from industrial shipping and attempted to put a park within one mile of every home.
The city is much better off for it, which just goes to show you that even destruction presents the opportunity of rebirth.
They kept evolving during centuries. In French cities for example they destroyed the small alleys to make big roads for cars, and in more recent years we're back to giving priority to pedestrian, bikes and public transportation.
But in the case of Chicago, nobody really lived there until recently. I'd bet that in the last thousand years or more, there were never more than 500 people living in the general area until 1820 or so. The first Europeans in the area were the French, who saw it as an amazingly good logistics hub for shipping between New Orleans and their settlements in what is now Quebec. But they had no real interest in living in Chicago any more than Native Americans - up until the "Raising of Chicago", it was a pretty terrible place to live!
If you are in Chicago and come across a road that is not on a grid with intersections at 90 degree angles, there is a fairly good chance that it is centuries-old Native American path. For example, Milwaukee Ave was a path that led to (what is now) Milwaukee, Michigan City Road was a path that led to (what is now) Michigan City (where it met up with the path that went from (what is now) Detroit to (what is now) Rock Island Illinois on the Mississippi River).
This relates to the fact (and I think this is what the parent poster is referring to) that these cities started way before any cars or bikes existed, so cities had to work for pedestrians.
Hmmm. I disagree. In (continental) Europe the historical city centres are still the place where people live. Business areas have generally been built outside the historical part, except for the case where inner cities where destroyed in WW2. Maybe that's what you meant?
Old cities started as settlements, which more and more people moved to. Those people considered things like walking distance. Maybe they "designed" the places to put their homes, but the thing as a whole was in many cases not planned-through.
And even with the cities that were, pedestrian comfort was the main (or one of the main) concern(s).
Go to Venice and get hopelessly lost. In a hailstorm.
I kid, but, one, that did happen to me, and, two, the Classic European City is pleasant to walk but unpleasant to navigate unless you're head-down over a GPS-enabled phone with turn-by-turn navigation, in contrast to, say, Chicago or Manhattan, where the streets are a grid and you can plot a course almost instantly upon hearing an address.
Thing is, that's also true of most "grid" cities, too - San Francisco offers you two grids, and then ignores both of them in hilly regions. Most cities I can think of in other places also are inconsistent.
In fact the only time I ever got lost in a foreign city was a few months back in New York because instead of going with my gut I trusted the GPS.
If there's a language barrier that becomes more challenging.
Lots of people bring large cars into the city centre, then all expect to be able to move them around at top speed. When they don't get their way, they use the car's whinge button.
Typically taxi drivers are the worst with that behavior. I can understand giving a tap when someone isn't paying attention to a green light. But laying on the horn when no one is moving because traffic is backed up for three stop lights, fuck those people.
The Chicago downtown driving experience, while not terrible like NYC, can be annoying because there are so many bad drivers about (Illinois licensing is very lax). There are drivers parked on bike lanes, drivers suddenly stopping and double parking, drivers not signalling or leaving their turn signals on without any intention of changing lanes. Couple that with out-of-town drivers from Wisconsin and Indiana who are unfamiliar with traffic patterns, anyone who spends a lot of time driving downtown is liable to build up a lot of resentment.
A few months ago I was on the highway and saw a Porsche cayenne driving safe and actually using turn signals. Honestly that is like spotting a unicorn.
In my first (and only) driving test in Chicago, the very first thing I did was roll the stop sign at the exit for the testing facility. Got a mild reprimand from the examiner, but passed the test.
If I had to do a road test I would have failed hard because of the number of fbombs I dropped at other drivers. Or I might have passed because of it. Hard to tell.
Also, don't get me started on the bikers they're, for the most part, are a menace to walkers and drivers.
Problem is most bikers don't wait 120 secs. So these things happen. 
1. Jaywalking is rare % wise. Most of the time I see people who jaywalk, do so very carefully. The worst of pedestrians that I see are the ones who ignore pedestrian lights without reguard for traffic or the ones who stand in bike lines.
2. Most cyclists either weakly obey rules, or flat out disregard them. (weakly, as in they'll wait in the crosswalk or fail to yield to pedestrians) The majority of the time that I see a biker on the sidewalk (above 18, by law it's 12+ you're not allowed to bike on the sidewalk) I'll point out where the road is to them and the response is "fuck you".
But what does piss me off is nearly getting clipped by a biker on the sidewalk. I've never seen a person under 25 riding on the sidewalk. And for some reason it seems to be a guy with a beard and fixed gear bike.
I frequently see people from about 20-40s riding on the sidewalk. It's rare to see an under 12 or a senior citizen riding on the sidewalk. Although I did get told "fuck you" by a middle age guy when I pointed to where the road was. (He and his wife were riding on the sidewalk).
From my experience, it's rare to see a cyclist obey traffic laws. I'm just shocked to see them even use hand signals. (The better explanation for that is that I'm hallucinating it's that rare)
I think, however, that outside of Lower Wacker, there is not much below-ground delivery taking place.
GPS is great in two dimensions, less great in three dimensions.
My Google Maps still goes a little crazy on Lower Wacker.
Also we need beacons in the loop. All those tall buildings really mess up navigation downtown.
Side note on Uber express, if it says northeast corner, it will always be the southwest corner.
Google Maps is so much better than anything else.
And then head in there. Ignore your GPS. Make a turn when you see your exit.
When you're above ground again, resume GPS.
I was shocked when I found out Seattle's streets were raised, but not the buildings, which led to the Seattle Underground . If you tour it, you can see the original first floor of buildings while you're under the roads.
Although in Chattanooga, I don't think any buildings there were raised. I think they just covered up their first floors. If you work in a building with an underground connector to another build, you'll still see old bricked up door frames to where the streets use to be and halves of windows on the floor.
I can't remember if this aided in the construction of the Métro or Paris's mail system (ruuuubes! A series of them!) but it might have.
Chicago has really done an impressive job making the Riverwalk accessible. You can also take one of the many river cruises that go back and forth if you're interested.
plug for an article I wrote a few years ago about some houses with vaulted entryways: http://chicagopatterns.com/colorful-front-gabled-italianate-...
The Edgewater Beach Hotel was at water's edge, but now is quite some distance from the lake.
If you'd like to take home a piece as a souvenir, head over to 12th Street Beach (immediately south of the Adler Planetarium). The stuff piles up on the south end of the beach every time there is a storm on the lake. Lots of pieces of bricks, terra cotta, porcelain, etc. Tons and tons of beautiful colored glass that has been tumbled smooth by the waves. Go in the morning and you'll see treasure hunters picking out the best stuff. Rumor has it there every once in a few years someone finds a diamond - it is definitely true that the Great Lakes have plenty of diamonds from northern Canada that were deposited by glaciers in the last ice age.
Not that you would necessarily raise skyscrapers, but that you would raise the street level, and change the street level entrance of the building. Smaller buildings could be raised though.
It's not an outrageous idea. More outrageous I think is the idea of abandonment. Maybe people think of sea level rise as happening overnight.
Off the top of my head you can see some buildings like this in the blocks North of Division between Ashland and the Kennedy.
Here's an example from that area: https://email@example.com,-87.6638461,3a,75y,2...
Likewise I believe that many of the buildings in that area date to around the beginning of the 20th century, if not older which would put them in the right ballpark.
It is also not that far from downtown and very well within incorporated Chicago in 1900 (I'll have to look for earlier maps later).
150 years ago, there was no widespread utility services (water, electricity, gas), so buildings essentially just rested on their foundations and could be raised with far less disruption. The lax safety regulations of the time probably also contributed --- today, if such a thing were done, the building would likely be completely vacated and emptied first.
I used to wander around Chicago before I knew why the houses in some areas were below street level and just wondered, why would so many many build in a flood zone!
It’s only six episodes, and quite fascinating.
A pretty good motivation to make some changes. I wonder when the last time a US city had over 5% of its population die in a year. The 1906 SF earthquake/fire was about 1%.
What would be great is a (sticky) comment for all past discussions sorted by year.