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Center City's car-free block party

A video posted by Inga Saffron (@good_eye_architecture) on Sep 26, 2015 at 7:42am PDT

Architecture critic Inga Saffron is working up a longer meditation for Monday's Inquirer on what the city can learn from its relatively car-free weekend. After walking around a bit, she filed these thoughts about Center City's giant, surreal block party:

The purpose of the pope's visit wasn't to create a car-free Center City, but it has unexpectedly given pedestrians and cyclists a glimpse of what it's like to have total control of the streets. There was a palpable excitement from being able to step off the curb and amble down the center of Walnut Street without worrying about traffic, and hundreds of people celebrated by breaking the usual rules of the road.

We often forget just how much acreage of the city we've ceded to cars over the last century: roads, garages, driveways that cross over sidewalks. From the moment the fences went up this week  it was as if we had won a long war we didn't know we were fighting. Liberated from the tyranny of traffic, pedestrians walked their dogs in the roadway. Bicyclists and skateboarders traveled n the the wrong direction just for the thrill of going against the grain. People played touch football on Arch Street and restaurants on Callowhill set up cafe tables set up tables In the street. The streets were ours and it felt like we were having a giant citywide block party.

Setting the tone was the early morning Pope Ride, organized by Alexandria Schneider, an events planner. The eight-mile, cross-town ramble, which  started at 30th street station and wended through Center City and Northern Liberties, was said to have drawn 3000 riders. They came wearing paper bishops' miters over their helmets and pope dolls on their handlebars. Alan Razak, a developer who participated, marveled that the hordes of cyclists looked just "like a regular commuting day in Copenhagen."

Al Parker, who works for the reinvestment fund, traveled from Mt. Airy with his three young children and wife, on two bikes -  one a tandem. The othera triple. He pronounced it a great way to commute, even  if "I'm doing all the pedaling.".

As cyclists wound up the ride near Washington Square, a group encountered Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, who was walking to a pope event. "I'd like to do this once a month," he told them.. Carolyn Auwaerter, 29, of West Philadelphia, said the idea had effectively been road-tested. "The city just got a free experiment in open streets," she said.

At the very least, it was an indication that we could with a bit less auto infrastructure.