City Gives Date for “Reopening” MLK Drive

by | May 10, 2021 | Biking in Philly, The Circuit | 5 comments

Despite Dr. MLK Jr. Drive being one of Philadelphia’s success stories over the past year — an open street that brought more people together, biking, walking, scootering, riding horses, etc. than ever before — the City announced on Monday their intention to bring motor vehicles back onto the Drive the first week of August.

What that will look like, come August, we don’t know. But between now and then is the time to figure it out.

As we have been saying on our website, in the media, and in numerous meetings with stakeholders over the past several months, the City should look at new configurations for the Drive. And in meetings with City Councilmembers, community organizations, and others, we’ve offered several ideas. The old 4-lane highway was part of the city’s “High Injury Network” and was used as an alternative to I-76; opening it back to the way it was before will likely bring back the traffic violence that was a regular part of the Drive’s landscape, which isolated people from using the side path.

We are hopeful that the City uses this opportunity to convene the stakeholders and users interested in the future of the Drive, including: some of the 5,400 who signed the Bicycle Coalition’s petition, representatives from local neighborhoods and communities, users such as the dragon boat and rowing communities, businesses, and other interested parties.

It’s likely many of those folks do not see eye to eye over the future of the road at this point, but they all deserve to be heard and to have the City come up with a configuration that benefits them.

Now is the time to do this. Over the next three years, construction is set to start on the rehabilitation of the MLK Drive Bridge (which will take two years), and then on the Falls Bridge (which will take about a year, according to estimates). Even if MLK Drive went completely back to the way it was pre-COVID, full access from bridge to bridge will be limited once bridge construction commences.

Having MLK Drive open to people over the last 14 months has brought more folks out to bike and stroll in Philadelphia than ever before. The City saw a 1,300 percent increase in usage over that time, and roughly 90 percent of the people using the Drive during the pandemic were new trail users. It’s well known that the repaved trail that has been constructed beside the Drive, while great in many respects, is not large enough to accommodate these new trail users, and a rethinking has to take place.

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  1. Suzanne Hagner

    I did not see this coming but am glad that there is time for meeting and planning with stakeholders. There is no way MLK can go back to the way it was before. We have, sadly, seen the increase in traffic deaths during the pandemic and I shudder to think how many more deaths there would be if MLK opened the way it was prior to the pandemic.

    As a City we need more green spaces where citizens of all ages can feel safe….it’s clear to me that all ages loved the safety and quiet of MLK being closed to vehicles.

    I remain hopeful…..

  2. Emmett Deitcher

    We cannot go back to the way things were before. I am opposed to personal vehicles on MLK but at least create significantly more space for pedestrians/cyclists, maybe even a bus lane too!

  3. Shari Hersh

    Relieving the city of CO2 from over dependence on vehicles would be a strategic outcome from less vehicle access.

    Promoting safe space for walking and running further helps us reach our goals of reduced emissions.

    A forward looking city, a city of the future means a more livable green city.

    Habitat for birds has greatly increased through the decrease of cars on MLK. Loss of biodiversity is a crisis of climate change

  4. Chris Davis

    What can we do? I ride MLK drive multiple times a week. I was riding it before the pandemic and now during it. I love not inhaling endless car fumes from people going 70mph + nearby. What can we do to make sure this stays closed? I emailed the Mayor and called them (of course they didn’t pick up and their mailbox is full…lol). Thanks for all your work, and I hope we can stop this. There’s no need for MLK drive to re-open.

  5. Robert Thomas

    To bring MLK Drive to its full potential as a gateway to Philadelphia:
    1- Build a side-path from the Falls Bridge to the Pedestrian Bridge across City Avenue alongside Neill Drive as shown in the City’s Fairmount Park Trail Master Plan, linking several thousand residents to MLK Drive and the Park
    2- Restore the Fisherman’s Walk ped/bike Bridge across the Schuylkill Expressway from the West Bank Greenway at the Philadelphia Zoo to the MLK Drive Bikepath. This would give back a safe crossing for residents of Mantua and Powelton Village to reach Fairmount Park.
    3- Provide safe, clean restrooms, by restoring those in the picnic shelter along MLK Drive and adding others.
    4–Add a cafe or other concession, perhaps at Montgomery Drive with good food and bathrooms.
    5–Complete needed signage for the Schuylkill River Trail, the East Coast Greenway and the September 11th National Memorial Trail, all of which link to some or all of MLK Drive..


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