Martin Luther King Drive, nestled between the Schuylkill River and Fairmount Park and connecting some of Philadelphia’s western neighborhoods to Center City, took on a different life amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 20,000 motor vehicles that traveled along the four-lane roadway each day in early 2020 were barred, and MLK Drive became one of the city’s best getaways for residents who wanted to stretch their legs amid the lockdowns and social distancing requirements of COVID-19.
But nothing lasts forever, apparently. MLK Drive will reopen to vehicular traffic at 5 p.m., Aug. 4, when the city officially lifts its 15-month emergency closure, Deputy Managing Director for Transportation Mike Carroll said Tuesday.
“This was a real gem for the city before the pandemic and we want to build on that,” Carroll said. “We will want to hear from the public as they get used to the (reopening), and see what they think and follow up on that impact.”
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia hoped to sway Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials to permanently close MLK Drive off from motor vehicles, and more than 5,900 people signed a petition calling on Kenney to do just that.
“Usage has risen 1,300% on the Drive, and it caters to more than 9,660 people on warm weekends, with about 90 percent of those users being new trail users who did not bike, walk, or roll on trails before the pandemic,” the coalition petition says. “Closing the Drive to motor vehicles for good, or splitting MLK Drive between uses, will continue having a long term positive impact on Philadelphia.”
But Carroll and City Councilman Curtis Jones, who represents the neighborhoods surrounding MLK Drive, said its importance as a release valve for traffic on Interstate 76 and as a well-used route to and from Center City is part of the overall equation.
“The bikers’ interest, the walkers’ interest, and the people trying to get back and forth to work are equally thought about,” Jones said.