Pope’s visit could mean three-mile walks for commuters

Pope’s visit could mean three-mile walks for commuters

Residents should be prepared to walk “at least a few miles” amid massive disruptions to traffic and public transit during Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September, Mayor Michael Nutter said Tuesday.

Officials from the SEPTA, Amtrak, PATCO, the Philadelphia International Airport said thetime for residents and tourists alike to start thinking about how they’ll get around the city during what is expected to be massive gridlock and street closures is now.

They especially want people to know that they shouldn’t even think of bringing a car to Philadelphia for the papal visit.

Planners from the World Meeting of Familiesexpect between 1 and 2 million people to arrive in the city for Pope Francis’ visit, making it the biggest event in modern city history and one of the largest in U.S. history.

“What you would normally do, to get to an Eagles game or something, forget that,” Nutter said.

SEPTA will operate normally between September 22 and 25 during the World Meeting of Families. The big crush will come on the 26th and the 27th, when Francis will be in town.

The transit agency expects to convert nearly anything with rails into an express line moving people from the city’s extremities to the center. The number of stations that will be used will drop to 31 from 282 along the Regional Rail, Market FrankfordLine, Broad Street Subway, trolley lines and the Norristown High Speed line, SEPTA general manager Joe Casey said.

For those two days, for example, the Broad Street Line will only pick up at Cecil B. Moore and Fern Rock going south, and AT&T station going north. Regional rail lines will also operate as express trains, picking up passengers at Paoli, Norristown, Chestnut Hill West, Lansdale, Media, Wilmington, and a handful of other stations. They’ll be shuttled straight downtown.

Don’t ask where passengers will be allowed to get off the train. It’ll be somewhere in Center City, but SEPTA isn’t saying wherefor security reasons.

Regional rail passengers will need special, station-specific tickets for the weekend of the pope’s visit. Officials expect them to sell out. They go on sale July 15. SEPTA will also sell special $10, 3-day passes for buses and trolley during that weekend.

Amtrak passengers will need reservations. Airline passengers are expected to fly into 8 different airports stretching from NYC to D.C.

All of Philadelphia has only about 11,000 hotels rooms.
So where will 1.5 million people sleep? Well, plenty of homeowners think they might have an answer, and make a tidy little profit at the same time,
On Airbnb.com, rooms in Philadelphia are going for thousands of dollars a night for the week of the papal visit, Sept. 22-27.
Most rentals on Airbnb.com in the Fairmount area near the Parkway where the papal mass will be held are around $1,500 a night, with one house on the Parkway listed at $3,500 a night — which would mean a total cost of $17,500 for the five-day World Meeting of Families.
A bill introduced to City Council by Councilman Bill Greenlee, which would add an 8.5 percent city tax to rentals through services like Airbnb and is set to take effect in July, is still pending.
If those stats aren’t enough, officials are warning that crowds could be larger than expected. In Manila, Francis drew a crowd of 6 million — in the rain.
“There is no specific, scientific, documentable way for us to actually figure out today, 90 days out, how many people will actually show up,” Nutter said.

There is no word on possible traffic closures, but it seems likely there will be many. Nutter says those details will be announced in the future.