Philly Is An Urbanist Utopia Right Now

Thanks for making all the cars go away this weekend, Pope Francis.

Cyclists take to the streets during the Pope Ride Saturday. | Photo by Jesse Delaney

Cyclists take to the streets during the “Pope Ride” Saturday. | Photo by Jesse Delaney

Philadelphians are taking the city’s streets back from cars this weekend.

As Pope Francis makes his way through the region, major highways and roads in the area have been shut down. There are very few vehicles out there in Center City, and volume is light even outside the “traffic box.” Overnight, that’s created a whole different city: 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.

Some say Philadelphia looks post-apocalyptic right now. But viewed from another lens, this is an urbanist’s utopia. Cyclists, urban planners and open-streets advocates are freaking out about the quasi-carless city on social media.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of the closed streets. For Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky, it’s a literal hellscape. He joked that the papal lockdown is a “plot by SEPTA to get us onto mass transit” or a “big undercover takeover by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to ban all cars from the center of town.”

There’s reason to believe that a pretty powerful guy is on the side of the urbanists, though.

Oh, and this powerful guy, too.