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Contribution to Book
The Busiest, the Most Dangerous, the Dan Ryan Expressway
Along the Divide: Photographs of the Dan Ryan Expressway (2004)
  • Dominic Pacyga, Columbia College Chicago
  • Jay Wolke

Cutting across Chicago’s South Side in a broad swath of concrete, steel, and overpasses, the Dan Ryan Expressway is one of America’s busiest, and perhaps most chaotic highways. Yet underneath the cacophony of its ten lanes lies an intriguing world of urban ecology and human networks. In The Dan Ryan Expressway, artist and photographer Jay Wolke unearths an ecosystem unto itself that weaves human and industrial elements into an essential feature of Chicago’s identity.

Between 1981 and 1985, Wolke shot thousands of photographs on and along the Dan Ryan during the day and night, traveling up and down the expressway in an effort to accurately capture it. In the twenty years since the photographs were taken, Wolke has organized his pictures into a complex and fascinating portrait of this iconic highway, which he characterizes as an “arterial organism” with its own “cycles and flows, causes and effects.” The book is a dynamic narrative that explores the Dan Ryan’s enormous influence over the people who drive on it, the neighborhoods lined alongside it, and the industrial environs it weaves through.

As Chicago transportation officials prepare to launch a massive renovation of the Dan Ryan Expressway, Wolke here presents a historical chronicle of the development of the Dan Ryan and its rapid integration into Chicago’s urban life. His photographs create an arresting visual representation of the expressway that provides an important window into the structure of Chicago’s urban landscape and culture. The Dan Ryan Expressway ultimately examines where the highway fits within the trope of the American road and explores how it became “a massive expression of the urban lexicon.”

Publication Date
October 15, 2004
Center for American Places
Citation Information
Dominic Pacyga and Jay Wolke. "The Busiest, the Most Dangerous, the Dan Ryan Expressway" Along the Divide: Photographs of the Dan Ryan Expressway (2004)
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