This weekend, Philly becomes latest Pa. city to launch an ‘Open Streets’ event

    People play on the Ben Franklin Bridge during the Pope's visit to Philadelphia in September 2015. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    People play on the Ben Franklin Bridge during the Pope's visit to Philadelphia in September 2015. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    The city will close 10 miles of its major roads to car traffic from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    On Saturday, September 24, Philadelphia will host an event called “Philly Free Streets.” It will close 10 miles of its major roads to car traffic from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mayor Jim Kenney will lead a power-walk, and there will also be bike rides, yoga, a concert, and other activities.

    One purported benefit of open streets is increased foot traffic for local businesses. To foster that, the city didn’t invite any outside vendors to the event, reports.

    The event has been a year in the making. 

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    During Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia last year, as a security precaution, the city closed down several major roads to car traffic. And people took to the streets. They rode bicycles, roller bladed, walked, ran, and just played. Some posted photos of themselves with #Popenstreets. 


    The hashtag was a reference to a type of event called “open streets,” when a city temporarily closes some of its roads to cars, so people can walk, run, bike, and play. 

    This isn’t Amsterdam. Or maybe it is today. #PopenStreets #bikePHL

    — Corey Saunders (@Philambulator) September 26, 2015

    The concept of “open streets” originated in Seattle and was later built upon in Bogotá, Colombia. Now, it has spread to a lot of other cities, including several in Pennsylvania.

    Philadelphia is one of those cities; since 1994, the city has closed Martin Luther King Drive to car traffic every weekend, from spring to early fall.

    But after the impromptu celebration of the car-free zone during the Pope’s visit, people wanted more. A nonprofit group called Open Streets PHL pushed for another planned open streets event, saying it could bring life to underutilized public spaces.

    The group launched a petition, which got more than 4,200 signatures. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration signed on, and a year later Free Streets is happening.

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