MLK Drive to reopen to cars after 15-month hiatus

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Martin Luther King Drive will reopen to cars on Aug. 4 at 5 p.m., after a 15-month closure that provided additional recreation space during the coronavirus pandemic. However, it will look a lot different than it did before it closed.

Some environmental and safety groups wanted MLK Drive to stay closed to cars, while neighborhood commuters have been impatient for it to return to what it was built for: a road to drive on.

Deputy Managing Director Mike Carroll said the reopening plan tries to strike a delicate balance.

“There’s an opportunity to do more to make it available for more people and still restore some of its intended function,” he said.

Cars will return, but not to the four-lane speedway it was. Carroll said there will be two lanes, one in each direction.

“I want to be very straightforward with people,” he said. “There are going to be times when it takes a little bit longer to get from one end to the other because there are fewer lanes for people to pass.”

That’s likely to disappoint drivers, but they should know non-drivers are also disappointed.

“Martin Luther King [Drive], even with these two lanes, will still be a high-stress roadway,” said Sarah Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “We had proposed a shared roadway that created a wider protected space for bicyclists and pedestrians.”

The 15-month vehicle closure allowed the city to complete $1.4 million in infrastructure projects, including widening the recreational trail, upgrading drainage and signage, and rehabbing ramps and line striping.

The drive will continue to close for weekend recreational use, from Falls Bridge to Eakins Oval, starting Aug. 7 until the end of October. The city is also looking into more opportunities to extend the closure.

Stuart said improvements to the adjacent trail are helpful, but it’s not big enough for everyone who’s been using MLK Drive. Thus, the plan appears to be a compromise right out of the old saying: No one is happy.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio