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Imagine Philly without cars

The new "Philly Free Streets" tradition turned miles of city streets over to bikers and walkers in an experiment with transportation alternatives.
Pedestrians, cyclists and children take in the sights on Second Street between Fairmount and Girard from a new point of view as they enjoy Philly Free Streets, Philly's car-free holiday. (Kait Moore)

Two years ago, the bishop of Rome and Holy See, aka Pope Francis, delivered his Sunday mass in Philadelphia. Security measures around the weekend-long "Pope-apalooza" effectively shut down all of Center City to cars so thousands of pilgrims could safely travel through the city.

For non-Catholics, it was turning the streets over to bikers and pedestrians that was the most memorable moment of the weekend. Transportation-alternative enthusiasts organized the "Pope Ride," a group bike ride through streets which are usually closed to traffic. (It was even documented and celebrated in Cory J Popp's short film, "Philly Without Cars").

"Open Streets PHL" campaigned for a full year after the Pope Ride to make it a tradition. And now its official. "Philly Free Streets" returned for the second year running on Saturday.

The first event was held in 2016, and with support from Mayor Kenney, shut down Front and South streets and part of West Fairmount Park from five hours.

This year, some three and a half miles of city streets were shut down again from 8 am to 1 p.m.

Closed streets ran from the center of Old City by Independence Mall due north all the way to El Centro Del Oro, the Latino commercial district known for its golden sidewalks and artificial palm trees, off of Indiana Avenue.

The city shut sections of 3rd Street, 4th Street, Germantown Avenue and 5th Street, and invited residents to make the seven-mile round trip.

The city called it a "people-powered initiative of the City of Philadelphia that temporarily closes streets to cars, inviting people to walk, bike, and play."

In addition to turning the table on cars, Free Streetsencourages residents to explore the city without cars, which makes biking safe enough for even kids to ride.

But it's also a chance for residents to explore, as the city put it, the "waterways, public art, architecture, environment, and vibrant cultures"tucked into little corners around Philly.

Around the world, other cities like Bogota in Columbia holds "Ciclovia" every week, when they shut down streets to cars. (New Brunswick, NJ held its own first-ever Ciclovia earlier this month).