Posted June 21, 2017

PennPraxis Research Team Evaluates Inaugural Philly Free Streets Event

In September 2016, PennPraxis conducted survey research at the inaugural Philly Free Streets event on behalf of OpenStreetsPHL and the Knight Foundation. Philly Free Streets was inspired by the closures of Center City roadways during the 2015 Papal visit and the worldwide open streets movement. The event featured the closure of contiguous roadways from West Fairmount Park to South Street. During the five hour event 30-40,000 people biked, walked, shopped and lounged through and along the course. PennPraxis was tasked with understanding the sentiments, activity, and characteristics of attendees and local businesses in order to assess the event and improve possible future events

The Philly Free Streets event was designed to encourage physical activity in usually auto-dominated public spaces. The Philadelphia Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (oTIS), OpenStreetsPHL and the Knight Foundation were interested in evaluating the event to determine if they'd like to hold another, and if so, how to improve it. ​PennPraxis Managing Director Julie Donofrio, PennDesign Associate Professor Erick Guerra and PennPraxis Researchers Michael Fichman and Julia Griffith created two surveys to be administered at the event. One survey was designed to ascertain attendee demographics and activities, track movement through the course and determine sentiments regarding the event. A second survey was created to ascertain the attitudes of local businesses and understand how their business fared during the event.

PennPraxis staff and student interns surveyed hundreds of attendees and dozens of local businesses during and immediately after Philly Free Streets. Surveys revealed that the event was well-regarded and associated with improved transaction volume for businesses along the route. Businesses and attendees had plenty of constructive suggestions for everything from pre-event community engagement to course design.  Demographic information collected from survey participants revealed that the event attracted individuals from all across the city and region - and these attendees had higher average levels of education and income than average Philadelphia residents.

On May 18th of this year, Julie Donofrio presented PennPraxis' research to a public forum at Pipeline Philly. Subsequent to Donofrio's presentation, Praxis staff, representatives from oTIS and OpenStreetsPHL and the assembled members of the public engaged in a spirited discussion about the ramifications of the research in future program design. Mike Carroll, deputy managing director of oTIS stated his goal of having another Philly Free Streets event, along a new course (to be determined), before the end of 2017.  PennPraxis looks forward to the event..

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