Kelly Drive is closed for a race. The Schuylkill Expressway is a clogged madhouse — both ways. And there is no such thing as zipping down Broad Street with all those lights.
Why can’t Martin Luther King Drive be an option when this is the traffic reality?
A reader wrote into Curious Philly — The Inquirer’s platform that lets people send in questions for our reporters to answer — to ask just that.
“Why is Martin Luther King Drive closed ... even when Kelly Drive is closed for activity or flooding and the expressway is jammed? Can’t the city open it up when needed for traffic? Who controls this decision?” asks a reader.
Considering the roads are a lifeline into the city, we thought we’d find the answer — especially now that Martin Luther King Drive has been closed to motor vehicles for six months.
No magic switch
Just because both Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill Expressway are having slow traffic days, doesn’t mean the city’s office of transportation can flip a switch and open up Martin Luther King Drive, says Michael Carroll, the city’s deputy managing director of transportation, infrastructure and sustainability. “There are operations involved in opening MLK Drive back up on any given day” Carroll said. “It takes a few hours to get all of the people off the road so we can open it up to traffic.”
In other words, if the city tries to reopen MLK Drive every time there is a traffic jam, by the time it gets the drive open, the snarly traffic situation would likely be over.
» READ MORE: Read more curious Philly questions answered
But why is Martin Luther King Drive closed in the first place?
Martin Luther King Drive is part of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation system, Carroll explained. In the mid-1990s, city officials began closing MLK Drive from Friday evening through Sunday evening from March through November — daylight savings time — so that city dwellers can run, bike, and walk the drive in peace.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia successfully pushed to block car traffic on Martin Luther King Drive every day. The idea was to give cooped-up Philadelphians a way to safely appreciate nature, mask use and crowds notwithstanding.
Will MLK Drive ever get back to normal?
The answer is yes, but not any time soon, Carroll said. The city is getting ready to start a construction project that will close the four-mile stretch of MLK Drive from Falls Bridge to MLK Bridge.
Here’s what’s planned:
Resurfacing the road.
Demolishing the existing trail and re-building an entire new trail with better drainage.
The trail will be closed for vehicular traffic, however, the roadway will be open to commuters and recreational users. The city is in the midst of taking bids. The work will likely start later this fall, Carroll said. “The commonsense thing is to take advantage of the closure" and get the project done, he said.
And that won’t be until spring — at the earliest.
It’s going to be a long winter.
Have a question of your own related to the region? Send them your burning questions to us through Curious Philly, inquirer.com/askus.