Leave the car at home and take to the streets Saturday for the second annual Philadelphia Free Streets, a celebration of Philly's neighborhoods that will see a 3.5-mile stretch of road closed to car traffic from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Pedestrians and cyclists will rule a corridor running from Old City at Third and Chestnut Streets to Fairhill at North Fifth and Indiana Streets. (For information and a map of the route, visit phillyfreestreets.com.)

Last year the route went east to west, mostly along South Street. It was a big hit, drawing more than 30,000 people, said Charlotte Castle from the city's Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, which organized the event.

"People really were coming from all around the city," she said. "For me that was the most rewarding thing. Forty-two of the city's 48 zip codes were represented."

The route will take folks to El Centro de Oro, a vibrant Latino cultural and commercial district.

This year's route was chosen specifically as a way to connect the city's historical district to Germantown Avenue and Kensington. It was chosen in response to suggestions and feedback from more than 600 people surveyed at last year's event.

Expect stores and eateries along the route to be buzzing with activity as well as the many museums and cultural institutions along the way. There will also be special events for children at four event stops and a street party with dancing at El Centro de Oro and the nearby Taller Puertorriqueño.

An international idea

Free Streets isn't merely an excuse for a party. It has a serious purpose — and a fascinating history.

"It's a way for people to connect" with one another and with their city, Castle said.

The idea was born 40 years ago in Bogota, Colombia, as part of a campaign to reduce the social gap between rich and poor.

"Everyone who was rich were in their cars and the people who were poor were walking or cycling, and so the city decided enough was enough and used this as a way to get everyone out together," Castle said. "They also used it as a planning resource."

It was a great way to promote projects that could transform the city into a space that draws people together instead of driving them apart, Castle said.

Philly Free Streets