It’s Shockingly Easy to Get Into Philly Right Now

Come on in folks, there's nothing to be afraid of. Here are three pretty easy ways to get in on the Francis Festival fun.

Follow Philadelphia magazine’s live coverage of Pope Francis’s historic visit all weekend long.

For months now, the unfortunate message has been that visiting Philly this weekend will be a logistical nightmare.

But it’s not. Not yet anyway. Getting into Center City is a relative piece of cake. The highways — those that are open anyway — are empty. Volume on most boulevards into town is extraordinarily light. And SEPTA and PATCO are both reporting far lighter-than-expected crowds.

True story: I just drove from Delaware County to West Philly, where I parked a car at 38th and Market Streets, and then strolled downtown. It was like driving into town early on a Sunday morning. Here was the scene on my way in at Chestnut and Farragut (between 46th and 47th).

Chestnut and 46th, around 11:30. | Photo by Patrick Kerkstra

Chestnut and 46th, around 11:30 a.m. | Photo by Patrick Kerkstra

It’s likely to get busier as the day wears on, and tomorrow could be a different story altogether. But right now, getting to the Francis Festival on the Parkway is a BREEZE. Truly.

Here are some options.

1. SEPTA

The last inbound regional trains for the day have already departed, so that window’s closed. But volume on the system was quite light — way lighter than papal pass sales for Saturday would have indicated, said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams. The upside? “Everything has gone extremely smoothly as far as the logistic of moving people,” Williams said. So if you’ve got a papal pass for tomorrow, use it. These crowds are just not shaping up to be the overwhelming mass that officials planned for.

If you haven’t already bought a papal pass, you’re out of luck. Despite the low ridership, Williams says SEPTA has no plans to make additional regional rail tickets available.

But SEPTA can get you close to the action on other modes of transit. The Market and Broad Street elevated and subway lines have PLENTY of seats available. With the exception of AT&T station, where buses of pilgrims are being offloaded, crowds are “extremely light” throughout the system, Williams says.

In other words, if you can get to an open station on the Market-Frankford Line or the Broad Street subway, you’re going to have an easy time joining the Francis Festival.

Buses too. Yes, there are many routes that are suspended, but a lot are not. Check SEPTA for details. If your bus line is running, it’s going to have a lot of spare seats and open roadway to work with.

2. PATCO

Like SEPTA, volume on PATCO trains is L-I-G-H-T.

And unlike SEPTA regional rail, PATCO trains are operating all day, and any rider who’s already got a Freedom card can hop on. You can buy a Freedom card today and tomorrow at select stations. In other words, if you’re in South Jersey or can get there by car, you’ve got a comfy, reliable ride into the heart of Center City. You can do this.

3. Drive.

There. I said it. Drive. Just drive as close as you can, and then park and walk the rest of the way. Officials have been saying how bad an idea it is to drive into Philly this weekend, and, well, people listened. So much so that if you leave right now, for the events Saturday afternoon and evening, you’ll find that parking in the neighborhoods around Center City is, if anything, easier than normal. And the traffic? Just gawk at all that green (those red dots are the road closures we’ve all heard so much about).

Screenshot 2015-09-26 13.42.02

Now, don’t be an idiot. This is a situation that could change quickly, so be sure to check for a live traffic update. And driving Sunday, when the largest crowds are expected — that’s still probably a very bad idea.