Photo Credit: Albert Yee

In an ironic twist of the universe, MLK Drive will remain open to people and closed to cars between the Museum and Sweetbriar Drive due to poor conditions, according to a City press release. This section of MLK Drive will not reopen to cars on Wednesday, August 4th, as previously scheduled. It will remain open to people.

The MLK Drive Bridge, which is due to close due to maintenance next year, is actually structurally deficient and cannot withstand the thousands of cars that would be traveling over it each day. Pedestrians and bicyclists, however, are fine. The rest of the Drive will become polluted with cars again.

“An inspection to the underside of the MLK bridge found one of the connections of the steel framing to be about 75 percent deteriorated. As a result, we will have to keep the bridge closed to traffic until the rehab construction,” said Deputy Managing Director for Transportation, Mike Carroll. “For now, the bridge can stay open and is still safe for pedestrians and bicycles, but no motor vehicles will be able to use the bridge until the full rehabilitation project is complete.”

MLK Jr. Drive is set to reopen to motor vehicle traffic tomorrow. The rest of the road — between the Falls Bridge and Sweetbriar — will reopen, but the 1.2 miles of road between the Art Museum and Sweetbriar will remain open to people. The Drive will also remain completely open to people on weekends moving forward.

This doesn’t mean our work is over, however. This is an opportunity for the City to study the traffic patterns on MLK Drive, I-76, and take a deep dive at how many trail users are actually using the Drive. The Bicycle Coalition did a survey of users, as did engineering firm WSP; both of our surveys found a huge rise in users on MLK Drive, when compared to pre-pandemic usage.

We are cognizant that some community members were impacted by the full closure; either by increased vehicular traffic in their neighborhoods, or limited access to park amenities such as picnic areas and rowing facilities.

That is why we focused our efforts on advocating for the concept of a shared roadway that provided dedicated, protected space for people at the same time as it provided travel lanes for motorists. We have additionally been calling for an open, transparent process, led by the city, to figure out the future of the Drive.

Given Eakins Oval and the Ben Franklin Parkway are set to be reconstructed during the next mayor’s term, having an official understanding from the City of how many people are using MLK Drive, who they are, and when they are using it, will be of the utmost importance.

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