This blog is part of a series about the future of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which has been open to people as a bike/ped trail since March 20, 2020. Sign our petition here.
For nearly a year, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive has prospered as a place for people. On March 20, 2020, after a petition and campaign initiated by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and heralded by, of all people, Dan Rather, the City of Philadelphia shut Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to motor vehicles, opening it up to pedestrians and people on bicycles for travel, commuting, and recreation.
The opening of MLK Drive was in response to much of the city’s economy shutting down over COVID-19 concerns. Motor vehicle traffic had fallen dramatically, citizens were wary about riding public transportation due to the airborne coronavirus, and bicycles quickly became a popular form of transportation. Now, it’s time to rethink how MLK Drive is used in the future.
Since March 2020, MLK Drive has seen a resurgence in popularity and become one of the most-used outdoor spaces in the entire city.
Given this popularity and the simple nature of closing MLK to motor vehicles, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia believes it is time for the city to rethink how MLK Drive is used going forward.
Over the last two months, the Coalition has been meeting with councilmembers, registered community organizations, businesses, and government officials to propose a new future for the Drive — one that is dedicated to active transportation, recreation, and equity. At those meetings, we’ve offered up two proposals for the future, which we will outline below.
Our first idea is simple: Do nothing. Don’t ruin a good thing. MLK Drive has thrived as a place for people over the past year and there’s no reason to believe it won’t remain that way.
Our second idea will involve much more work by City agencies, and SEPTA, but we believe could pay off in the long- and short-term, as people.
According to electronic counts of MLK Drive users by engineering firm WSP, 5,000 people use MLK Drive per day on weekdays (and 9,661 on weekends) — a more than 1,300 percent increase from before the pandemic.
Given that increase alongside steady usage on the Kelly Drive Trail and Schuylkill Banks, it stands to reason 90 percent of MLK Drive users are new trail users.
And this has all happened alongside a 50 percent increase in Fairmount Park usage.
Actively devolving MLK Drive back into an urban highway is simply not an option.