September 30, 2015
Mayor Michael Nutter, preempting a petition supported by his likely successor calling for vehicle-free days in Center City in 2016, is gearing up to do exactly that – but this year, while Nutter remains in office.
“The mayor is very interested in the concept of a designated vehicle-free section of Center City,” Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said Wednesday afternoon.
Nutter “has already asked his senior team to gather data and conduct the detailed analysis necessary to see if we could implement such a program this year,” McDonald added.
A petition to ban cars from Center City streets on several summer weekends in 2016 drew more than 2,700 signers by noon Wednesday, a day after going online.
The proposal, which comes after the traffic ban in Philadelphia’s downtown during Pope Francis’ visit last weekend, was meant to open up roads to cyclists, walkers and rollerbladers.
Likewise, an online poll by PhillyVoice drew an approval rate of about 86 percent for the proposal.
TO READ THE INITIAL STORY AND SEE THE PHILLYVOICE POLL: CLICK HERE
Positive feedback during the papal visit about traffic-free streets in the heart of the city spurred the mayor to move ahead now, McDonald said.
“Mayor Nutter is excited about the possibilities for creating an innovative Urban Commons on a section of Center City," said McDonald, "considerably smaller than the Francis Festival Grounds, for biking, walking, running, skateboarding, rollerblading and a range of programming.
“The administration will be reaching out to all potentially impacted stakeholders, including residents, businesses, and transit agencies” for a forum to discuss proposals.
“Philadelphians should feel free to send us their ideas about how we can make our city even more vibrant as an exciting place to live, work and play,” said McDonald.
Jake Liefer, co-founder of the group that started the free ride petition, Open Streets PHL, said Wednesday even he “didn’t anticipate the interest and broad base of support,” that the petition has drawn.
“I am excited that Mayor Nutter is looking for opportunities to implement Open Streets initiatives immediately,” said Liefer.
“We support the mayor on this and believe the most low-impact open streets initiative that can be implemented immediately with expanded hours for Martin Luther King Drive,” in Fairmount Park on Sundays, a roadway already closed to vehicular traffic on weekends, he said.
Liefer attributed the support to the unexpected enjoyment many experienced as city streets emptied of cars and instead filled with walkers and riders.
The petition had already achieved its initial key goal on Tuesday: It had the support of the likely next mayor of Philadelphia.
Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, to whom the petition was addressed, has already said he supported the proposal in concept.
Liefer acknowledged that the three-square-mile exclusion zone imposed during the papal visit left a bad taste his group aims to avoid.
He said his group wants to “target streets” and not disrupt public transit, while also working with restaurants and the rest of the Center City business community to make the day an economic success as well as an experience.
As with free rides in New York City on August weekends, Liefer said the zone would likely just be in place just from morning until early afternoon, not all day.
Liefer, who lives in Point Breeze and often walks or bikes to Center City, where he is an IT security consultant, said his group has already reached out to the disabled community for input and also to AARP.
“We want to take care of everyone,” he said.