As Philadelphia‘s Benjamin Franklin Parkway kicks off its 100th anniversary, the city is spending the next year celebrating. And right now Fireflies are pedaling up and down the boulevard that is home to so many fantastic museums: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rodin Museum, Barnes Museum, Franklin Institute and more. That’s right — pedaling. Each Firefly is a pedicab covered in cheery Chinese-style lanterns. It’s all part of an art installation by artist Cai Guo-Qiang. And until October 8th, visitors can get involved by taking a free Fireflies ride!
About Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies
Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies is a work that was specially commissioned by the Association for Public Art (aPA) and Fung Collaboratives for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. And it’s as fun to watch the Fireflies as it is to ride in one. Since September 15th, every Thursday through Sunday evening twenty-seven pedicabs pedal up and down the Parkway from Sister Cities Park, just outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul, to Iroquois Park, just beside the Art Museum. The ride is about one mile.
The work is by Chinese-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Early in his career he became known for working with fireworks and gunpowder. In one work, 1993’s Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10, he created a six-mile long gunpowder fuse that created a dragon-like pattern on the edge of the Great Wall of China.
Fireflies sees Cai lighting up the night sky in a different way. Each pedicab has countless electrified lanterns dangling off the sides and handlebars. The lanterns are suspended in such a way that as the cab moves, they bounce up and down. Riders can hear the lanterns tapping the roof of the cab as it glides along the Parkway.
Cai has said that the characters and images depicted on the lanterns — which range from aliens and sushi rolls to cats and dogs — are personal to him. The lanterns were constructed at his workshop in China before everything was assembled in Philadelphia.
Riding in a Fireflies Pedicab
The pedicabs are infectious with their bright, fun lanterns. And luckily, they’re free to ride in! You can either make a reservation on the aPA’s website or walk-up and wait for a free cab. While I did manage to find a free reservation, we arrived early and had to wait for our time slot. The line really wasn’t very long so don’t be discouraged if you can’t get a reservation.
Once you’re in a cab, you’ll have a roughly fifteen minute ride from one park to the other. Rides are in one direction only. You have to get in line if you want to do a round trip.
The ride is really worth it. It’s a fun experience that allows visitors — whether locals or tourists — to get a unique view of the city. While some cities have pedicabs, Philadelphia doesn’t ordinarily have these bikes going up and down the Parkway. And it’s a lot of fun to see all the museums, the trees, the sculptures and the people as you whizz by. As the evening progresses and it gets darker, the lanterns offer a fun surprise. It’s a dash of the unexpected.
Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies runs every Thursday through Sunday from 6 PM until 10 PM through October 8, 2017. Rides start at either Sister Cities Park or Iroquois Park. Reservations are available via the aPA’s website but walk-ups are available, too.
Also important to note, children under 12 are required by state law to wear a helmet. So be sure to bring a bike helmet along if you have a child rider.
All photos are my own.