Miraculous! Philly’s Open Streets Open Eyes During Papal Visit

The official name for it was the “traffic box” — the 4.7-square-mile chunk of center city Philadelphia where incoming motor vehicles weren’t allowed when Pope Francis was in town this weekend. But rather than the traffic nightmare some anticipated, something wonderful happened: #popenstreets.

Suddenly the streets felt public. Neighbors were hanging out together. Kids played. Holly Otterbein at Philadelphia Magazine called it “an urbanist utopia”:

Blissed-out pedestrians are walking down the middle of roads as big as Broad and Market, and hordes of people are crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Cyclists are giddy by the extra room. Some residents are even turning the streets into impromptu picnic spots and playgrounds.

The local media, and a lot of residents, were generally euphoric about the situation. In another article, Philly Mag listed “10 Reasons Why Philadelphia Is a Better Version of Itself Right Now.” One reason being: “There’s none of the undercurrent of anger and tension that you see when bikes and cars are on the road at the same time.”

“It’s like a block party,” one reveler told the City Paper, which was a common sentiment. The Inquirer wrote that the closed Ben Franklin Bridge was “one big block party.”

Rebuilding the Rust Belt said the car-free days enabled “people to experience human-oriented streets, the sudden and widespread freedom from cars had an effect no amount of logic, graphics, advocacy, or public meetings could achieve.”

Photo: Patrick Miner
Photo: Patrick Miner

There was even a Pope Ride, where swarms of people on bikes took advantage of the absence of cars to take part in a 10-mile group ride.

Following the PopeRide, the city’s likely next mayor, Jim Kenney, said Philly should open its streets “even when the pope’s not here.” Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron agreed.

Hat tip: Plan Philly

  • Larry Littlefield

    This should happen in Manhattan south of 60th Street from 10pm Thursday to 10 pm Sunday the first weekend every August. A three day festival, with all buses free within the area.

    Gell all those street fairs and parades over at once.

  • That’s the exact same reaction we had when president Obama visited Stockholm. The amount of free space was staggering and air pollution was down by 30%.

  • Matthias

    Instead of only small block parties, neighborhoods should regularly get substantial car-free zones.

  • Bicyclist John

    It was totally awesome to bike on car free streets in Philly this past Sunday! No stress, very quiet and the best part was being told to bike the wrong way on a one way streets by the National Guard. They were super helpful.