Those of us who weathered the Popeapocalypse of ’15 in Center City experienced a lot of surreal moments. Among them? The experience of seeing downtown Philadelphia completely devoid of cars. Thanks to the security perimeter put in place during the pontiff’s visit, many streets of Center City were given over to pedestrians, bikes, and strollers where normally there would be vehicles. For many, the carless experience was one big inconvenience. For the activists of Open Streets Philly, however, it was an experience worth repeating.
The group, which was founded shortly after Pope Francis left the city, boasts a Facebook fan page with 4,500 followers and growing. Open Streets Philly seeks the temporary closure of downtown streets for recreational events. As per the Facebook page, the group wants to “temporarily close streets to automobile traffic (but keep them open for vital services) so that people may use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing, and socializing … basically any activity but driving.” They also want to see vehicle traffic banned on summer weekends, starting next summer. Open Streets Philly is courting the interests of mayorial candidate Jim Kenney, and has already attracted the attention of Mayor Michael Nutter, who the Philly Voice says endorses a car-free downtown.
What Open Streets Philly does stand for is “building community” by allowing people to interact out on the open spaces normally dedicated to cars. They point to the experience of crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on foot, calling it surreal and beautiful. The group has organized a Change.org petition seeking Kenney’s attention. It is drawing close to the goal of 5,000 signatures. “Open Streets PHL will be focused on fun for residents rather than moving a million people from around the world through a high-security zone,” the petition states.