Philadelphia Fine Tunes Papal Plans With Residents in Mind

Ask Philadelphia's mayor if he's worried about bad weather marring Pope Francis' visit next month, and he'll tell you the Holy Father himself has guaranteed a perfect weekend.

Ask how security perimeters and traffic zones will impact a host of other things — from parking to pregnant women ready to give birth — and he's likely to deliver a quip or a crack along with his answers.

If Michael Nutter is stressed out over the biggest event in his city since the American colonists told Britain to take a hike, he isn't showing it anymore.

The earlier-than-expected release of detailed traffic and security plans has quieted the rampant speculation that had an exasperated Nutter denouncing rumormongers earlier in the summer as "little people" with little information.

The term-limited Democrat seemed back to his old self Thursday at his weekly briefing on the visit, injecting humor and optimism at nearly every turn as he renewed his call for frazzled Philadelphians to follow his lead and embrace the visit as a once-in-a-lifetime event.

"Let's plan ahead for this historic and joyful event," the 58-year-old Nutter said. "We're the can-do city in the United States of America. It's one of the great things people love about Philadelphia and what we love about Philadelphia ourselves — we get things done."

Francis is scheduled to attend a concert and celebrate Mass before an expected crowd of more than 1 million on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and deliver a speech on immigration to a crowd of 50,000 at Independence Mall.

To help residents and visitors get around and stay nourished, the city is posting walking maps on its website highlighting more than 300 grocery stores and restaurants that are expected to be open while inbound traffic is restricted in a 3-square-mile section of downtown.

The maps will also show places of worship, hospitals and other points of interest.

Organizers of the Catholic conference that is attracting Francis to Philadelphia said they will post a comprehensive guide for residents on their website Monday. The same information will also be printed in the city's newspapers, they said.

"We've worked hard to minimize the impact felt by our great residents," Nutter said.

That includes finding garages and lots where cars can park while a vehicle-free security zone is in effect, adding more handicapped-accessible taxis, adjusting garbage collections and keeping a 311 information line open around the clock.

Nutter — fresh from headlining a political comedy show in Pittsburgh — joked that a reporter who asked about parking garages wanted him to park his car and, citing security, wryly tempered the expectations of anyone hoping to get close to the visiting pontiff.

"If anyone thinks that suddenly they're going to be able to walk up and give Pope Francis a high five, that's probably not going to happen," Nutter said.

Nutter, who leaves office in January, deadpanned that checking to make sure women racing to city hospitals were truly pregnant "probably violates about 13 privacy laws," and riffed sarcastically on the city's decision to temporarily accept a whopping two-dozen bags of garbage per vehicle at its drop-off centers.

"That is a lot of trash," Nutter said. "If you have 24 bags of trash, we need to talk to you about some things."

Buses and RVs — not cars or Eagles fans — will fill parking lots at the city's South Philadelphia sports complex, near a subway line that drops off within a mile from Francis' biggest events. About 1,100 buses will park in Camden, New Jersey, a 2- to 3-mile walk across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from the sites of Francis' public events.

The weather will be perfect for a stroll, guaranteed.

"We've been assured by Pope Francis that the anticipated weather that weekend is somewhere between 75 and 85, with winds out of the northwest at 3 miles an hour," Nutter joked. "Pretty much no clouds in the sky."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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