From: Keely Gammon
Mr. Jim Kenney, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia
City Hall, Office 215
Philadelphia, Pa 19107
Re: In support of permanently closing MLK Drive to cars
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Dear Mr. Kenney,
On March 20, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP) successfully petitioned for the temporary repurposing of a 4.3-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (MLK Drive), from East Falls Bridge to Eakins Oval, as a car-free, mixed-use, recreational roadway(1). The subsequent 16-month-long closure gave thousands of Philadelphia-area residents the opportunity to safely leave their homes and connect with nature in ways that also placed an emphasis on physical fitness.
U.S. News & World Report gives Philadelphia County an overall health score of 38/100(2), while the Washington-area-based political site Axios states that, out of Pennsylvania’s 67 Counties, Philadelphia County ranks lowest in health(3). Although comparable to the national average in many categories, Philadelphia County nonetheless lags when it comes to equity and community vitality. Additionally, the City’s stats on premature death disparity are more than double the national average. Premature deaths in the U.S. are defined as death that occurs before the age of 80, and up to half of those are due to “modifiable habits”, including poor diet and lack of exercise(4).
I believe that having access to biking and hiking trails can be life-changing and may even act as a catalyst, encouraging people to develop other healthy habits in something of a snowball effect. Carl Rogers, one of the founders of the humanistic approach to psychotherapy, believed that we, as humans, are naturally inclined to do what is good for ourselves. I agree; and I believe that his theory can be corroborated by the fact that, when the news broke that MLK Drive was reopening to cars, Philadelphians were, by and large, sorely disappointed. Some even credited their daily use of MLK Drive as what allowed them to be able to maintain their mental well-being during the pandemic(5).
As we know, there is a relationship not only between physical fitness and physical health but also between physical fitness and mental health. Here I would like to point out that in the category of mental health, Philadelphia County once again ranks lowest in the state(6). Since mental and physical health are directly correlated with exercise, it can be concluded that when the newly planned construction of MLK Drive is complete, permanently prohibiting cars will not only positively affect the majority of Philadelphians, but will also present little to no downsides as people will have had time to get used to not being able to drive on MLK Drive anyway.
I am aware that when construction on MLK Drive is completed, Philadelphia will already be in the hands of its next Mayor. However, I recall that one of your campaign promises was to create more accessible cycling for your constituents and that you have worked closely these last four years with the BCGP on projects like Vision Zero. By repaving Philadelphia’s streets and creating more protected bike lanes, you have made your goal a reality, and I, for one, am grateful. Your dedication has allowed cyclists like me to better navigate the streets and to feel safer while doing so. To ensure that this work, which I believe is vital to Philadelphia’s goal of becoming a bike-and-pedestrian-friendly city, is continued, I am asking that you pass the baton to the next Mayor and inform him or her that the MLK Drive car closure resulted in more than 5,500 new trail users on weekdays and over 9,900 on weekends: representing an increase of approximately 1300% from pre-Covid times(7). By comparison, the Schuylkill River Trail (the SRT) - which runs parallel to MLK Drive – did not see any significant increases in traffic, which strongly suggests that most trail users prefer MLK Drive, despite the overall popularity of the SRT.
Should MLK Drive remain closed to cars when the construction is completed in 2025, I believe that people will once more flock to it the same way they did during the pandemic, as a welcomed “new” greenspace that promotes a sense of community.
Thank you for your consideration.
(1) LoBasso, Randy. "MLK Drive: Closed to Motor Vehicles, Open To (Socially Distanced) People." BicycleCoalition.Org, 20 Mar. 2020, bicyclecoalition.org/mlk-drive-closed-to-motor-vehicles-open-to-socially-distanced-people/. Accessed 4 Apr. 2023.
(2) "How Healthy Is Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania?" U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/pennsylvania/philadelphia-cou.... Accessed 4 Apr. 2023.
(3) Avilucea, Isaac. "Philadelphia Has Worst Health Ranking in Pennsylvania." Axios.Com, 7 Apr. 2023, www.axios.com/local/philadelphia/2023/04/07/philadelphia-poor-health-wor.... Accessed 4 Apr. 2023.
(4) Mather, Mark, and Scommegna, Paola. "Up To Half of U.S. Premature Deaths Are Preventable; Behavioral Factors Key." PRB.Org, 14 Sept. 2015, www.prb.org/resources/up-to-half-of-u-s-premature-deaths-are-preventable.... Accessed 5 Apr. 2023.
(5) Conde, Ximena. "Drawn by Sun and an Open Street, Philly Welcomes Spring on MLK Drive." Whyy.Org, 11 Mar. 2021, whyy.org/articles/drawn-by-promise-of-sun-and-an-open-street-philly-welcomes-spring-on-mlk-drive/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2023.
(6) "Pennsylvania County Health Rankings Released." Phmc.Org, 29 Mar. 2017, www.phmc.org/site/newsroom/press/102-press-releases/2017-1/1205-new-rank.... Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.
(7) Cowan, William. "Analyzing the Effect of a Covid-19 Road Closure on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Usage." WSP.Com, www.wsp.com/en-us/events/analyzing-the-effect-of-a-covid-19-road-closure.... Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.