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Rendering of the 10 Foot Bike and Ped Pathway on the MLK Drive Bridge

Rendering of the 10-Foot Bike and Ped Pathway on the MLK Drive Bridge

The Philadelphia Streets Department has announced its virtual public meeting for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive Bridge Rehabilitation Project. The Department is accepting feedback on the project through August 21, 2020. You can visit the website to look at the “boards” and fill out a comment form or send questions or comments via email MLK.bridge.rehab@phila.gov

As many of you know, the bridge is the weak link in the 9-mile trail loop that starts at the Art Museum along Kelly Drive and returns via the Falls Bridge onto MLK Drive. Trail users have to share a 5-foot sidewalk, which often means that trail users have to step into the roadway to let each other pass.

The reconstruction of the bridge will replace and widen the bridge deck to ensure structural integrity, meet current design standards, and accommodate a side path for pedestrians and cyclists. Construction is currently projected to begin in the fall of 2021 and will take two years to complete. The bridge will be fully closed for the entire period.

While the proposed cross section of the bridge is an improvement, the 10-foot mutli-use path is still too narrow, especially considering the usage of MLK Drive. There is a four-foot shoulder proposed next to the road, and we recommend that at least two more feet be added to the trail.   

Assuming Open MLK Drive is taken away from Philadelphians who’ve been enjoying the entirety of the car-free Drive, the increased usage is likely here to stay, and the widened trail should reflect that. Also, this section of trail is part of the Circuit and the standard for the Circuit is 12 feet.

We will additionally continue to advocate for a full road diet along the entire length of MLK Drive to help cut down on speed and make the road safer. The path on MLK is small, considering the amount of usage it gets, and long-term increased usage is going to require more space for alternative modes of transportation.

A future paving project will reduce travel lanes on MLK North of Montgomery Drive, possibly in 2021, but the Streets Department insists that its forecast models are correct and that a two-lane road configuration south of Montgomery will cause further rush hour delays (in normal traffic conditions) — and, as we know from the Henry Avenue project and others, moving private vehicles as quickly as possible is the top priority.

As far as the detour during construction goes, the proposal lacks a bike route detour for MLK Drive. The detour proposed for inbound motor vehicle traffic crawls past the zoo via 34th St and seems like it would not be the first choice for drivers (Why not just get on I-76 at Montgomery and exit as Spring Garden St?). However, it would be a plausible bicycle detour with a few enhancements (e.g. improve the crossing at Girard/Lansdowne and make spot improvements on the Westbank Greenway along 34th and Mantua).

With that in place, the possibility of closing MLK while the bridge is being built becomes an arguable premise and may even pull more weekend foot traffic towards the zoo. In addition, the Schuylkill River Trail will detour around the construction site up the switchback to Spring Garden St and behind the Art Museum on Anne d’Harnoncourt Dr. 

In summary, the Bicycle Coalition’s comments on the MLK Drive Bridge project are as follows:

  • Widen the bicycle/pedestrian path to 12 feet
  • Extend the road diet to Eakins Oval
  • Create a bicycle detour from Sweetbriar via 34th Street with spot improvements and protection.
  • Keep MLK closed through the construction period.

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