Martin Luther King Drive will reopen to vehicular traffic on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 5 p.m., Philadelphia officials announced Tuesday.
MLK Drive has been closed to vehicles from East Falls Bridge to Eakins Oval since March 2020, and during the pandemic the roadway become a popular spot for bicyclists, walkers, and runners. The drive will continue to remain closed to vehicles on weekends through the end of October.
Deputy managing director for transportation Mike Carroll said the road reopening follows a $1.4 million project that included improvements to the recreational trail, paving, and lighting upgrades. The city has also reconfigured the lanes and light configuration along the drive, a move that Carroll said should calm traffic and reduce excessive speeds.
“What we hope to see from this is a reduction in crashes overall, but especially crashes which include injuries and fatalities from travelers,” Carroll said. “There are going to be times when it’s going to take a little bit longer for folks to get from one end to the other, because there’s fewer lanes for people to pass. But looking at our analysis, it seems like it shouldn’t be too bad most of the time.”
Some advocates had hoped the city would keep the four-mile stretch along the Schuylkill closed to cars forever, while residents in nearby neighborhoods rely on it to bypass traffic jams on the Schuylkill Expressway.
“Proportionality and balance is what we’re looking for,” Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. said. “The bikers’ interest, the walkers’ interest, and the people trying to get back and forth to work are equally thought about and planned for.”
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia gathered more than 5,900 signatures on a petition urging Mayor Jim Kenney to “reimagine” MLK Drive. One proposal was to divide the road in half with a barrier — one side for cars, one side for bicyclists and pedestrians.
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“I hope that there is still a chance that the city would consider bringing stakeholders together to figure out the best configuration of the drive,” Randy LoBasso, the policy director for the coalition, told The Inquirer in May.
Carroll said the city is committed to evaluating long-term options for the road, including the potential of closing MLK Drive on long weekends and holidays beginning in September 2022.
“I feel like there’s an opportunity to do more to make it available for more people, and still restore some of its intended function, and that’s what we feel like we’ve achieved with this approach,” Carroll said.
MLK Drive is part of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation system, and since the mid-1990s it has been closed to vehicles on weekends from March through November so that city dwellers can run, bike, and walk the drive in peace.
Prior to the pandemic, up to 20,000 cars a day traveled along MLK Drive, Carroll said.