Papal ‘traffic box’ gets a makeover

 Mayor Michael Nutter discusses the new designation of the 'traffic box' as the 'Francis Festival Grounds.' (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Mayor Michael Nutter discusses the new designation of the 'traffic box' as the 'Francis Festival Grounds.' (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia officials and the World Meeting of Families are working to add some sparkle to the upcoming papal visit — which has generated plenty of angst over traffic, crowds and restrictions in the past few weeks. 

“We are reimagining the Center City Area from South Street to Girard Avenue and the Delaware River to 38th Street as the Francis Festival Grounds,” said Donna Farrell of the World Meeting of Families at a news conference Wednesday.

Farrel said organizers want people to expand their plans for the papal weekend  beyond the Sept. 27 mass and festival on the parkway.

They’re encouraging visitors to come downtown to feel the vibe and watch the events on one of the billboard-sized TV screens to be scattered through the Francis Festival Grounds, also known as “the traffic box.”

That’s the section that people cannot enter with a vehicle once security restrictions take effect during the papal visit.  But Farrell said organizers hope to get people thinking of the weekend as an event to be enjoyed, not feared.

“We’re working incredibly hard and fast to address all of the questions and concerns that we have been hearing,” Farrell said. “We hear you, and we can’t promise we can solve every problem and do it all, but we will try.”

Mayor Michael Nutter says the traffic box rebranding is not in response to negative reactions voiced when the travel restrictions were announced. He says organizers have been talking about the issues for some time.

“In many, many of these meetings different ideas come up and we say hey that sounds like fun, that sounds good, let’s do that,” Nutter said. “We want people to really enjoy this and experience it.”

Businesses are also stepping up, including the Reading Terminal Market, which Nutter says has made special arrangements with the city for deliveries during the papal weekend.

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