On Wednesday at 9:30am, the Art Commission will hold a meeting about the future of the MLK Drive Bridge into the Art Museum area and Eakins Oval. The Bridge, like the rest of the Drive, has been closed to motor vehicles for over a year and has become the most-used bike/ped path in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
And as readers of this blog know, more than 5,000 people signed a petition calling on the City of Philadelphia to reimagine the future of MLK Drive so that it works for everyone — and is not reopened as the 4-lane speedway that isolated people from the river.
The past year has shown that there is a demand for more outdoor space in the city, and opening MLK Drive to people has helped induce demand in Fairmount Park, which also saw a 50 percent increase in usage. Despite the calls for reimaging the Drive and the massive amount of work that still needs to be done in studying traffic congestion and outreach to neighbors, the city has largely been silent on the issue, other than releasing information several months ago noting the massive increase in users.
The City has a plan to widen the bridge and create a new 10.5’ sidewalk (up from 10’ that was originally planned), which is not wide enough to accommodate all the new trail users who have begun using MLK Drive over the past year. Additionally, during the last Art Commission meeting, it was suggested that cyclists should dismount and walk across the Bridge. No word on what horse riders should do.
This, of course, is not a viable solution. Calling on cyclists to dismount when using infrastructure simply means more space is needed for all trail users. It is, in and of itself, a policy failure. Additionally, 10.5 feet is not nearly enough space to accommodate the 5,000 weekday and 9,660 weekend users on the Drive.
The extra 5 feet in width is planned to go to a combined pedestrian and cyclist sidewalk, which is going to be only 10.5 feet wide. This is better than it is now, an unprotected 5 foot wide pedestrian-only sidewalk, but only in a very minor way. The current layout is an example of hostile design, where the pedestrian experience was intentionally made to be uncomfortable. In this redecking plan, the city has the opportunity to correct (at no extra cost) for the mistakes it made in the past. Despite knowing that a 10.5 foot wide sidewalk is not going to be wide enough for all users, that is what the city is planning. Separated pedestrian and bike lanes would allow for safe passage of both to a part of Fairmount Park which has proven to be hugely popular. The redecking project is a clean-slate design opportunity where we can do essentially anything we want and the city is choosing the bare minimum option.
That’s why we invite you to join the Art Commission meeting tomorrow morning and call upon the City to do the following:
- Ask for the City to respond to the 5,000+ people who have called for a reimagining of the Drive as something other than a dangerous, 4-lane alternative to I-76.
- If the space cannot be any larger than 10.5 feet for pedestrians, the City needs to drop a lane of traffic and create another separated path for people on bicycles. This would require a city ordinance, which means Council should be involved in this process.
Part of the complication around reimaging MLK Drive for the foreseeable future is the fact that much of the Drive is being constructed currently. A new sidepath is (finally) being rebuilt, the bridge into Center City is being planned for construction, and, after that, the East Falls Bridge is set to undergo construction.
Additionally, local neighborhoods need to have their say so that the future of MLK works for them, as do the organizations that have boat houses along the west banks of the river.
The Bicycle Coalition is currently working through these issues, and has been meeting with, or has plans to meet with, many of those organizations and neighborhood groups within the next month.
We are committed to hearing the options and working with all stakeholders to participate in the best solution for everyone. But it’s up to the City to lead the conversation and respond to the thousands of people who now use MLK Drive every day.