What’s Next for Open Streets PHL in 2016

Pedicab during Pope weekend | Credit: Conrad Benner

A year’s worth of organizing, in three months.

We founded Open Streets PHL in October 2015 to advance a vision of free and fun recreation to all members of the Philadelphia community by temporarily closing select streets to vehicle traffic while opening them to endless possibilities of people‐powered movement.

The Open Streets PHL movement in Philadelphia grew from the city’s experience with Pope Francis’ visit in September 2015, which necessitated widespread road closures throughout Center City and West Philadelphia.

Though the road closure created a disruption that negatively impacted many residents and business owners, it also opened up the city’s imagination to the prospect of enjoying our roadways in the absence of motor vehicles.

Parents played in the street with their children; men and women ran, cycled, and strolled on roadways typically clogged with cars; and people of all ages came out to enjoy a space at once familiar and brand new.

After the initial burst of interest following the Pope weekend, our team got busy — really, really busy! — plotting a strategy to bring a successful Open Streets Program to Philly in 2016.

Keep reading for more updates on what we’ve been working on and some ways you can get involved.

Introducing Team Open Streets PHL

In just a few short months, Open Streets PHL has grown from a simple social media campaign into a well-oiled organization. Last month we made it official, electing an executive board of five dedicated organizers to manage the day-to-day work of strategic planning, volunteer recruitment, community outreach, and collaboration with the city to lay the foundation for a successful Open Streets program in 2016.

Our team is proud to announce the election of LeeAnne Mullins (Fishtown Neighbors Association, Comcast) as our Chair. LeeAnne has proven herself to be an organizing dynamo, inspiring incredible team spirit and producing tangible results for this campaign in a very short time. Additional elections to the Open Streets PHL executive board include Vice Chair, Alon Abramson (West Philly Runners, Penn IUR), Finance and Sponsorship Officer, Dena Driscoll (Neighborhood Bike Works, Kidical Mass), External Communications Director, Nate Hommel (University City District), and Internal Communications Director, Jon Geeting (PlanPhilly).

Our purpose in forming an official board, aside from dividing our workload in a more sensible way, is to position Open Streets PHL to obtain non-profit status under a local non-profit umbrella organization. We have been honored to receive encouragement from prospective funders and sponsors as we pursue non-profit status.

None of our work thus far would have been possible if not for the efforts of our extended team which includes Alexandria Schneider (Pope Ride), Michael Noda (Sic Transit Philadelphia), David Curtis (5th Square), Jake Liefer (Washington Avenue Advocates, 5th Square), Randy LoBasso (Bicycle Coalition), and Tony Spagnoli (PA Environmental Council).

We are thrilled to have partnered with Antoinette Johnson, Joe Buckshon, Risa Zeller, and Dylan Garner from Philly branding agency At Media as a sponsor and design partner. The At Media team did an amazing job with our new logo and event materials. We look forward to working with them to build our brand in 2016.

Open Streets Film Screening and Panel

To keep the momentum building, we hosted a Streetfilms screening and panel discussion about Open Streets on November 16th at Penn’s School of Design, sponsored by the Penn Institute for Urban Research and University City District. The panel discussion was moderated by Open Streets PHL board member Nate Hommel.

Our base of support is so energized by this campaign that the room was filled beyond capacity. Over 100 attendees sat or stood in the overflowing room, eager to learn more about Open Streets.

Open Streets PHL posters | Credit: At Media

The panel brought together a diverse group of experts to explain the benefits of Open Streets events, and what they might look like in the Philadelphia context.

Penn School of Design Assistant Professor Dr. Erick Guerra drew on his background in urban transportation systems and land use to relay the positive impacts of Open Streets programs on local transportation.

Dr. Guerra spoke about the increased use of public transit seen during Open Streets events, and discussed some practical ideas for mitigating transit disruptions from closing streets to vehicles.

Beverly Brown of Black Girls RUN! leveraged her background as a fitness instructor working in minority neighborhoods to explain how Philly can engage communities of color as equal participants in Open Streets programming. Brown spoke to the many benefits of encouraging active lifestyles for public health — a major focus of Open Streets programs.

Finally, Mike Lydon, Principal at The Streets Plans Collaborative and co‐author of Tactical Urbanism, spoke from his extensive experience about the best practices for hosting successful Open Streets programs, such as those in New York City, Miami, and Portland.

Panelists engaged in a lively discussion with the audience that centered on event logistics, equitable access for residents, and the practical and political challenges of funding such an event in Philadelphia considering our current budgetary constraints.

The panel suggested the incoming Kenney administration could explore in‐kind city funding options like waiving permit fees and being flexible with police staffing requirements, while pursuing the bulk of the funding from the private sector in the form of sponsorships and grants.

The panelists all agreed that community outreach is a key factor in any Open Streets program — a lesson our team has taken to heart.

Open Streets in the Media

In the months since the Papal visit that sparked the imagination of Philadelphians, over twenty-five articles have been written by local and national press.

Open Streets PHL was asked to present at the Fall 2015 Ignite Philly Event held at Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown. Nate Hommel, External Communcations Director, presented to an enthusiastic crowd of attendees who were eager to learn more about Open Streets.

The goal was to introduce the concept of Open Streets events to the audience and also talk about our goals as an organization for 2016 and beyond. A multi-camera video will soon be released. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates.

Open Streets PHL was also honored to be invited to join a panel of experts to discuss Open Streets events on the Thursday October 15, 2015 episode of RadioTimes on WHYY.

Panelists included Denise Goren (The Mayors Office of Transportation and Utilities), Inga Saffron (Philadelphia Inquirer), and Nate Hommel (Open Streets PHL). The lively discussion covered the history of Open Streets events, best practices across the globe, and how an Open Streets program might work in Philadelphia. Mayor Michael Nutter even called in to the program to share his thoughts. This radio segment helped Open Streets PHL reach lots of new supporters and strengthened our relationship with City officials.

The Open Streets PHL Playbook

Through the fall, the Open Streets PHL team has been hard at work studying best practices in other cities, and putting together an Open Streets Playbook for the incoming Kenney administration.

The Open Streets PHL Playbook has been developed through regular consultation with the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities and through extensive best-practice research from cities across the nation.

The purpose of the Playbook is to provide a checklist and timeline for various city offices and volunteer committees who will be involved in planning an Open Streets event in Philadelphia.

MOTU has reviewed the Playbook at a series of meetings throughout late fall and early winter of 2015, and endorsed this work. The Playbook will serve as a detailed resource for the implementation of an Open Streets event or series of events.

Open Streets PHL looks forward to continuing this work with the incoming Kenney administration and is excited by the prospect of advocating for and assisting with these transformative events.

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney supports Open Streets PHL.

“I thought it was wonderful not to have cars in the streets for two days,” Kenney said during remarks at the Vision Zero Conference earlier this month.

Kenney touted the success of Open Streets events from Ciclovía in Bogotá to Summer Streets in New York City as an inspiration for Philadelphia, and spoke highly of his own experience with Summer Streets.

“Recently when I was in New York, I had an opportunity to walk almost 10 miles on 5th Avenue while the streets were closed on a Saturday from Central Manhattan all the way down the business district,” he said. “They were liberated. They felt really free and fun and were happy. It was just a wonderful thing to see, and I think we can do that in our city, having different parts of the city closed down to cars for periods of time on the weekends.”
“…I’m envisioning where we could do this. Maybe on a Sunday we could do South Broad Street from Washington Avenue to City Hall, North Broad from Girard to City Hall, and then the Parkway to the Art Museum with no cars…[I] think we’re better off sometimes not having the vehicles around us, and having some relief and some liberation.”

Speaking with reporters following his remarks, Kenney repeated his commitment to hosting an Open Streets event his first year in office.

“Yes, I think it’s fun. There’s no reason why we couldn’t do it on a Sunday,” he said. “I think it makes a lot of sense. I mean, I don’t know how many times we’ll do it — we’ll talk to the communities and figure out what to do. We can do it in different neighborhoods, too. Who knows, maybe up on Frankford Avenue you could close a stretch for a period of time so people can get out and walk.”

When Katie Colaneri of Newsworks asked whether police overtime costs might make an Open Streets event too expensive, Kenney said he “saw in New York more volunteers helping to deal with the 5th Avenue issues than police,” but nevertheless thought an Open Streets event would be worth paying for.

“If it’s overtime hours for police and it benefits the community and community spirit, I think it’s worth spending the money. We spend money on lots of things, and this is one of the things I think it’s worth spending money on,” he said, “We’ll figure out the details of the cost and where it’s coming from.”

Jim Kenney is right. Pulling off an Open Streets PHL event next summer will require a lot of volunteer firepower if we’re going to do this right, and that’s where you come in.

Next up: Outreach, outreach, outreach!

We’ve already received encouraging feedback and support from board members of Center City Residents Association, Washington Square West Civic Association, South Street Headhouse District, and the 8th Democratic Ward Committee.

We need to redouble these efforts in early 2016 to have a successful program, and we’ll be taking our campaign on a listening tour to local civic associations this winter. We’ll be hosting Fireside Chats to introduce the Open Streets concept in neighborhoods across the city.

Are you active in your neighborhood civic and want to invite us to present at a community meeting? Interested in organizing a Fireside Chat or coffee shop meet-up for community members that we could come speak at? Contact us at info@openstreetsphl.com or click the link below to contact us via our website.

Open Streets PHL plans to continue providing external support and feedback to the new administration, as well as a forum for recruiting volunteers, programming partners, and big ideas to make these events successful. Join today to help make Open Streets a reality in 2016.

Sign up to volunteer with Open Streets PHL!