Held on September 24, 2016, Philadelphia's first Philly Free Streets temporarily closed streets to create a continuous, vehicle-free path from South Street to West Fairmount Park, designed to encourage free movement across neighborhoods. The event was influenced by Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September 2015, which required heavy security, and thus road closures throughout Center City for multiple days. This inspired the formation of Open Streets PHL a group that advocated for periodic "anytime" road closures to promote bicycle use, pedestrian safety, and healthy activities on Philadelphia's streets.
In an effort to better understand both the resident and business reaction to the first-ever Philly Free Streets event, Open Streets PHL hired PennPraxis with funding from the The Knight Foundation to interview visitors and evaluate the responses. PennPraxis assisted in the design and implementation of data collection, interacting with participants during event hours and connecting with business owners after. Using intercept surveys, the team measured economic impacts and participant attitudes, which will be used to inform future event strategy.
PennPraxis presented the findings in May 2017 after the final report was published (designed by Cohere). The results were overwhelmingly positive, with 97% of respondents enjoying the event, and 80% of South Street businesses stating they would be in favor of future events. Ninety percent of respondents reported they would like to see a similar event in their neighborhood. In time, the Managing Director's Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Services (oTIS) hopes to plan future Philly Free Streets events.