Consultant: We’re Closing Ben Franklin Bridge for Pope Visit, Maybe Shutting Down I-95

Details continue to drip out about the massive event.

The gist: Yesterday, we told you that big details about Pope Francis’ upcoming visit came out at a Philadelphia Parking Authority board meeting: namely, that a “significant security perimeter” would stretch from Girard Avenue to South Street, river to river. Well guess what? Even more details dripped out of a Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission meeting on Thursday.

According to PlanPhilly, papal visit consultant Michael Pitts confirmed the following specifics:

  • He said the Ben Franklin Bridge will be shut down to vehicular traffic, despite the fact that the Delaware River Port Authority said “that’s not in the plan right now.” Pitts said, “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. 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.”
  • He said the “security perimeter” is actually going to extend even further than from Girard Avenue to South Street. “A little secret? They’ve expanded it out further but I can’t tell you where,” said Pitts. “You can’t go east, so guess.”
  • Pitts said he is also trying to persuade officials to close down I-95 in both directions for two days or “strategically open it up periodically.”

Why it matters: As Citified noted previously, the fact that details are leaking out in such a haphazard way — little by little from consultants and the Philadelphia Parking Authority, as opposed to in a streamlined fashion by the World Meeting of Families and City Hall — doesn’t exactly inspire public confidence in the city’s ability to pull off the ginormous event.

But hey, maybe that’s the point? Or, at very least, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that public enthusiasm might be ever-so-slightly tempered as a result of the apparent chaos. PlanPhilly reported yesterday that Pitts “essentially confirmed what Duncan Black has been saying, that the event organizers have intentionally been sending a message to stay away.”

Pitts said, “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 flip side of that message is that one of the major ways that Philadelphia stands to benefit from the pope’s visit is by seeing its image boosted around the world. But if the city is telling people, either explicitly or implicitly, to stay away because it can’t handle them, what good does that do for Philly’s brand?