During Pope Francis' visit last year to Philadelphia, lifelong residents got to experience the city in a brand-new way - with open streets. Following "Pope Weekend," many Philadelphians, including a group called Open Streets PHL, called for another an opportunity to open the streets to cyclists, pedestrians, backyard ball players, and others.
Now, nearly a year later, Philadelphia on Saturday will host Philly Free Streets.
"Philly Free Streets is an exciting opportunity to see Philly in a different way," said Clarena Tolson, the city's deputy managing director for transportation and infrastructure.
Philly Free Streets will close 10 miles of roads to cars so people walk, run, or bike without having to worry about cars. Throughout the route, there will be activities and freebies to promote a healthy lifestyle.
It's "important for us to do this, because out of the large U.S. cities," Tolson said, "Philly rates the highest for diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, all of which can be addressed through physical activity. If we can get people to think more about ways to use active transportation and get them to commute by walking or biking," she said, "we can create pathways for better lives for Philadelphians."
The route runs on South Street from Front Street to the Schuylkill River Trail, then from Martin Luther King Drive to the Falls Bridge.
"We're excited that the route will pass through 15 diverse neighborhoods," said Charlotte Castle, a parking and streets program planner with the city, "and that neighbors in Mantua and Parkside, Queen Village, and the Delaware River can be connected through this car-free route."
So what can you do? The Mural Arts Program, one sponsor of Philly Free Streets, hosts several events such as a "mural maze" along on Martin Luther King Drive, below the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, where participants will walk along mazes within the roadways and interact with hopscotch boards. Or at 13th and South, participants help artist Eric Okdeh paint what they're calling a remix of the South Philly Musicians mural that will go in October up at Broad and Tasker.
Looking to get more active? Yoga classes will be held along the route, like Yoga on the Banks at 9 and 11 a.m. at the Schuylkill River Trail near Race Street, or sessions at Anjali Power (1519 South St.) at 8 and 9:30 a.m. Get moving with Zumba by the Zoo on the MLK Drive side of the Philadelphia Zoo, line-dancing with a view on the South Street Bridge, group walks (take a Celebrity Stroll with WDAS' Patti Jackson at noon at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), and bike rides (Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. hosts a ride at 11 a.m. at Martin Luther King Drive and the Falls Bridge), and boot-camp training (the November Projects classes start at 10 a.m. and noon at Sweetbriar Lane and Cedar Grove Drive).
At 9 a.m., a group will "power walk" with Mayor Kenney, who is inviting people to join him for a brisk jaunt along South Street to get the day started. Meet at Second and South Streets to join in.
(For a full list of activities, go to phillyfreestreets.com.)
With so many activities also come snacks. Tolson said organizers were encouraging people to pack their own picnic, but Snap Kitchen, another sponsor of Philly Free Streets, will distribute nibbles, and AARP will distribute water along the way. Food trucks like Calle Del Sabor and Lunchbox will also be available along the route to alleviate hunger pangs.
While there are planned activities along the route, participants are invited to enter anywhere and join in. Philly Free Streets teamed up with Vea Fitness (available in the Apple app store and GooglePlay) so people can track their activity and mileage to win prizes and enter raffles. Non-smartphone users may still participate, Tolson said, by using paper passports.
For those ready for a break, an ongoing community concert at Sweetbriar Fields in West Fairmount Park will highlight local dance talent, such as Hip Hop Fundamentals, the Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, and Franklin Learning Center Dance. Live acoustic music will start at 10 a.m. at Second and South Streets.
"The expectation is that we'll be back next year with more," Tolson said.
"This has been a huge effort, and we're very excited about what's to come out of it," she said. "We want to encourage people, if you've never done yoga before, come out and try it. If you've never done Zumba, come learn about it. Ride a bike, take a walk, just try something."