Pope Francis will spend two days in Philadelphia at the end of this month, but visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the pontiff will have to make every minute of their planning count. His two big public events will both be on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to the city's museum district. He'll attend the closing ceremonies of a Vatican-sponsored international gathering of families Saturday night and then celebrate Mass late Sunday afternoon.
Organizers faced an outcry last week after announcing that tickets would be required for access to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the Pope will visit a festival and say Mass. The ticket plan will keep most of Pope Francis' audience at his two biggest Philadelphia events several blocks away. A map added to some confusion over the size of the ticketholder-only zone.
Many details are still being worked out, but tickets to at least one event - on Independence Mall - will become available on Tuesday at noon at worldmeeting2015.org. Here are answers as of early September to some key questions. For more information, go to visitphilly.com/pope.
When will he arrive? The pope arrives in Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 26 and leaves at 8 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 27.
Can I drive in? To a certain point, but security perimeters, highway closures and vehicle bans will make it impossible to get close to the papal events. Organizers recommend taking mass transit or a charter bus — and even that could mean miles of walking.
What highways will be closed? In Philadelphia, beginning at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25: Interstate 76 will be closed eastbound from I-476 to I-95 and westbound from I-95 to U.S. 1. I-676 in downtown Philadelphia and 2 miles of U.S. 1 near where the pope is expected to stay will also close at that time. The nearly 2-mile-long Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Camden, N.J., and Philadelphia will also be closed to traffic until around noon Monday but will be open to pedestrians and PATCO rail service.
What about local roads? Vehicles can't enter a 3-square-mile "traffic box" beginning at 6 p.m. that Friday in downtown Philadelphia and 10 p.m. in neighborhoods west of the Schuylkill River. You can drive within the zone, but cars won't be let back in once they leave.
No vehicles will be allowed within security perimeters around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Independence Mall or on designated emergency access roads, including parts of Lombard, Vine and Market streets. The security perimeters go into effect at 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24; the emergency access road restrictions start at 8 a.m. Friday.
Cars parked on streets in those areas will be towed. For more information, go to phila.gov.
OK, so how do I get there? Philadelphia regional transit agencies are severely limiting service and selling special papal weekend passes in advance to accommodate expected high ridership. If you haven't gotten your ticket already, it might be too late.
From Southeastern Pennsylvania: SEPTA commuter trains are running from just 18 outlying stations. They'll go to one of three city stations. The Airport Line will continue operating between Center City and Philadelphia International Airport. SEPTA received orders for about 330,000 of the $10 papal visit tickets it made available through a lottery for its commuter service, meaning 20,000 could be sold by other means. It's also selling $10 three-day passes for Route 101/102 trolleys and the Norristown High Speed Line through a similar system.
Subway service is limited to 11 stations, but special passes are not required.
What about Amtrak? Amtrak is adding 34 extra trains for Sept. 26-27. It's about a 75-minute train ride from Baltimore. Amtrak also plans to lengthen scheduled trains from Washington and New York, including some borrowed from regional commuter lines. However, Amtrak says there's won't be taxis or rental cars available at its 30th Street Station during the visit. And only outside bathrooms will be open.
So, maybe a bus instead? Officials expect 10,000 buses to bring 400,000 people to the papal events. The majority will park in the city's sports stadiums, including Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and Wells Fargo Center. Megabus.com will not offer service from Baltimore to Philadelphia the weekend of the Pope's visit. However, service on Friday and Monday will be normal. Online, rallybus.net which allows users to organize their own trips as long as there are enough riders, is putting together trips from Baltimore's Penn Station. Round-trip tickets are $70.
Can I take a cab? Taxis will be permitted to exit and re-enter the traffic zone until 2 a.m. Saturday. After that, they'll only be permitted to take people up to the edge of the restricted area.
What about walking? Tight security and traffic restrictions will put considerable distance between dropoff points, some train stations and papal events. 30th Street Station is eight-tenths of a mile from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. But bus parking areas along the Camden waterfront are about 21/2 miles away, about 11/2 miles of which is the Benjamin Franklin Bridge — which has a steep 135-foot climb.
What if I'm elderly or disabled? Special seating is being set aside; officials are also working on possible accommodations for people who have trouble walking. Some ADA-compliant taxis will be available, and SEPTA's paratransit service will be available in some areas.
OK, I'm there. Where can I see the pope? He will speak, meet with families and listen to performances from Andrea Bocelli, Juanes and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the World Meeting of Families' closing ceremonies starting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. He'll celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. the next day. Both events, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, are free. Organizers say some areas could require tickets and other sections could be open to the general public. In any case, the site cannot accommodate more than 25,000 to 30,000 people.
Do I need tickets to attend the Pope's public events in Philadelphia? It depends on the event. The pope is holding three major public events in the city: a Sept. 26 speech on immigration and religious freedom in front of Independence Hall, an appearance at the closing festival of the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 26 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and a celebration of Mass on Sept. 27 on the same boulevard.
Do I need tickets for the Independence Hall speech? Yes. Beginning at noon Tuesday, 10,000 tickets are being made available to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis through the website worldmeeting2015.org/tickets. There's a limit of four per person. Thousands of other tickets are being given out to parishes with large immigrant communities in an effort to assure a diverse audience.
Do I need tickets for the two Benjamin Franklin Parkway appearances? No, if you don't mind standing at least 2.5 blocks, or a quarter-mile, away. Francis' appearance at the closing festival of the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 26 is expected to draw 750,000 or more people, his celebration of Mass on Sept. 27 up to 1.5 million. If you want to stand in the 2.5 blocks closest to the stage on Sept. 26 or the altar on Sept. 27, you will need a ticket.
Who gets tickets for these two big events? Tickets are being distributed primarily to parishioners in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, plus surrounding dioceses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The thousands of people attending the World Meeting of Families, the triennial Catholic conference attracting Francis to Philadelphia, are automatically receiving passes. Passes also are being given to event sponsors and members of other faith communities and church social service programs. There are also 10,000 tickets for each day that will be made available to the general public. They will be distributed Sept. 9 through a website on a first-come, first-served basis; details have not yet been announced. Papal visit planners decided to make that last batch available after a backlash over the announcement this week that several blocks up front had been set aside for ticketholders and that tickets were largely reserved for parishioners in the city and four surrounding counties.
If I don't have a ticket, will there still be an opportunity to see the Pope? Yes. Organizers also announced that Francis will parade along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway before the Sept. 26 and 27 events, giving many an opportunity to see him up close. They said the parade the first day would likely be longer than the one before the Mass. Papal events will also be broadcast on 40 huge screens throughout the city for crowds to watch all his appearances during his two-day visit to Philadelphia, including those that are not public.
What if I'm so far away I can barely see him? From his arrival to his departure, his time in Philadelphia will be broadcast on dozens of large screens set up around the parkway and other key locations.
What languages will the pope speak? He is expected to speak primarily in Spanish. The big TV screens will provide English captions.
What can I bring to the security zone? Food and beverages are OK. Selfie sticks are not. Small bags and backpacks of a certain size are allowed. Other bags may be subject to size restrictions. Signs made of cardboard, poster board or cloth are allowed if they are no larger than 5-by-3 feet. Support structures for signs aren't allowed.
Other banned items include balloons, bicycles, pets, hard-sided coolers, laser pointers, drones, anything made of glass, and, not surprisingly, weapons and explosives.
Will food be sold on site? Vendors will be set up all along the parkway. Food trucks will also provide a variety of cuisines and Philly favorites. No alcohol will be sold.
Will restaurants be open? Officials are encouraging downtown restaurants to stay open, suggesting they bring in extra goods before security and travel restrictions go into effect. They are also considering allowing limited overnight deliveries — possibly to centralized dropoff areas within the closed "traffic box" — on Saturday.
Where can I find a bathroom? More than 3,000 portable toilets will be available on the parkway, including some accessible to the disabled.
Will my cellphone work? Maybe. Cellphone carriers are boosting service with mobile cell towers and new antennas. AT&T's Brandy Bell-Truskey suggests texting instead of calling. That takes up far less capacity.