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May 04, 2018

Mayor Kenney announces details for third Philly Free Streets

Route will extend up North Broad Street

Recreation Philly Free Streets
Carroll - Philadelphia Free Streets Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Pedestrians and cyclists enjoyed a vehicle-free South Street between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers during the Philadelphia Free Streets event on Sept. 24, 2016.

Philly Free Streets – a burgeoning annual event when certain streets are closed to vehicular traffic – will return for its third iteration later this year.

The next Philly Free Streets will be held Saturday, August 11 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on an eight-mile round trip route between City Hall and Erie Avenue on North Broad Street.

Pedestrian and bicyclists will be able to traverse the streets without worrying about cars. Children can play games or engage in various activities located throughout the route.

"I am thrilled to announce that we are bringing back Philly Free Streets – and it's going to be even bigger than before," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "It's got to be bigger because last year, there were so many people that enjoyed the streets that I could have used a little more elbow room."

This summer's event, which will be sponsored by AARP Pennsylvania, will include programming to highlight how effective street design encourages more walking and biking that, in turn, promotes healthy, livable neighborhoods, officials said.

The event's route provides a great opportunity to showcase the development happening along the North Broad corridor, said Shalimar Thomas, executive director of North Broad Renaissance, a nonprofit aimed at revitalizing the corridor. 

Thomas was particularly excited to find out Philly Free Streets would mostly venture outside of Center City this year.

"We have an amazing opportunity to showcase North Broad," said Thomas, who grew up at Broad and Erie. "No shade against Center City – I love Center City too. But North Broad is an amazing corridor."

Among the various development projects underway: Mixed-use renovations to the Divine Lorraine, the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House and the Beury Building. 

Additionally, there are plans to transform the area around 2900 North Broad Street into a $162 million transit-oriented development packed with residential units, offices and retail stores.

But Philly Free Streets also offers an opportunity to showcase the culture of North Philly – and encourages its residents to celebrate their culture.

"Just experiencing North Broad and the community and the culture and the history – there's some interesting history on North Broad," Thomas said.

The annual event was inspired by the open streets that organically occurred during the papal visit in 2015, when scores of city streets were closed for security reasons. Each year, city officials want to move the route to different portions of the city.

The first Philly Free Streets event brought some 30,000 people onto South Street, the Schuylkill River Trail, MLK Drive and West Fairmount Park in September 2016. 

Last October, the city closed a stretch of roads that connected Old City to Fairhill, passing through several neighborhoods. More than 40,000 people came out, including many people from outside of the city. 

Kenney recalled talking to two couples that came from the Philly suburbs last year.

"I looked at them and said, 'You're not from North Philly. Where are you from?'" Kenney said. "They said they were from Montgomery County. I said, 'Have you ever been to North Philly before?' They said, 'No.'

"'I said, well it;s a great opportunity for people from around the region to see that we're all the same in our city."