Papal event consultants confirming Ben Franklin Bridge closure, seeking I-95 shutdown and expanded security perimeter

We’ll have a proper report out of this morning’s Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission meeting later on today, but first, let’s get to the latest news on the Papal visit.

Michael Pitts, an event consultant with the Archer Group retained by World Meeting of Families, dropped by at the end of the DVRPC board meeting to share the most recent security details, which as the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s Richard Dickson remarked yesterday, have seemed to change by the hour

Following on a presentation from Camden Mayor Dana Redd on some of the upbeat news out of Camden, Pitts joked that “Camden’s one of the places we’re going to use as our parking lot,” but that’s no joke.

He confirmed, contrary to the Delaware River Port Authority’s pushback on this reporting yesterday, that the Ben Franklin Bridge will in fact be closed to vehicular traffic.

“They’re still saying we’re considering closing the Ben Franklin Bridge, but we’re taking 15,000 parking spaces to park buses over there, so it’s closed,” he said, “That’s how people are going to get over. Sorry. You don’t want to tell people that? People with common sense already knew it.”

Pitts implored critics of the security plan to take into account the regional scope of the Papal visit’s impact.

“The problem is getting everyone to look at it collectively” he said, “This is a regional operation. We’ve got a request in to the Mayor, to the Governor, to the feds, to close down the entire region. That’s the only way you’re going to manage it with this kind of volume.”

“I think traffic patterns are going to be affected as far away as Maryland, and obviously New Jersey, Delaware, and of course Pennsylvania. Our plan is to try to put as many people on buses who are coming from out of town, because buses are easier to manage than cars. Our analysis right now says that 30% of our population will come by motor coach, 36% will come by private vehicles. If we have 1.5 million people, that’s about 6,500 motor coaches, and 130,000 extra cars. There’s no place for them.”

He also let slip that the security perimeter, already considered large by many observers, will be expanded.

“Obviously the Secret Service is shutting down the entire city, for the most part. Right now the boundaries are Girard to the north, South Street, the two rivers, and a little secret? They’ve expanded it out further but I can’t tell you where. You can’t go east, so guess.”

Pitts said the trade-off with expanding the security perimeter is that it takes a lot of potential parking spaces out of use, so “our intent is to create a permit policy so we can permit people and motor coaches and other types of vehicles who are coming into the city and give them a place to park, and directions on how to get to and from those parking lots.”

“About 50% of the people coming are considered senior citizens, so being a walking city that’s not going over well, because we’re talking about parking a lot of people at the stadium complex, over at the waterfront, and having them walk. Public transportation, as you know, is at capacity. They think they can squeeze in 600,000 people on rail combined, which I doubt it. People’s options are going to be to go to public transportation, take buses, maybe drive, and of course walk.”

Samantha Phillips of the city Office of Emergency Management confirmed last night at a Bella Vista Neighbors Association meeting that bicycles will be allowed within the security perimeter, though not inside the Pope fence zones.

Another controversy Pitts is running up against in his negotiations with the city is “convincing people that we need to close 95 down, both north and south, at least for two days, or maybe strategically open it up periodically” to accommodate the people coming on buses from all over.

“What we’re concerned about is the rogue bus element, so we’re trying to create an incentive by saying things are closed down so they’ll buy our permits, and know they can’t come into the region without a permit. So convincing people that closing down 95 has to happen, and rerouting people as far away as on I-83. None of this has actually been announced.”

Pitts also essentially confirmed what Duncan Black has been saying, that the event organizers have intentionally been sending a message to stay away. 

“The truth is, you’ve got a five pound bag, and you can only do five pounds. So at some point you’ve got to discourage people from coming here. It’s message. Design, management, and message–that’s how we manage this. The message needs to be much more concise, much more dramatic, and much more consistent a lot sooner than three weeks before the event.”

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