Preparing for the Traffic Demands of Pope Francis's Visit

Pope Francis will be visiting three U.S. cities this week. Alessandro Bianchi/ Reuters

Officials in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia are bracing for unprecedented challenges this week related to Pope Francis's visit September 22-27.

In Washington, the pope's first stop, transportation planning is "more challenging than preparing for an inauguration," Leif Dormsjo, director of the District Department of Transportation, tells Newsweek.

"Inauguration planning builds on the preceding inaugural event. So, there is a playbook that's been developed over the years," he says, adding that inaugurations don't last as long as the pope's three-day visit, September 22-24, and tend to occur on a holiday. That means there isn't the same demand on the transit system.

In addition to the demands related to the pope's visit and everday commuters, the city's transportation system will be taxed by a baseball series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals as well as major concerts, he says.

Traffic management also reflects heightened security concerns.

"Our traffic management plan is responsive to the security requirements that the Secret Service has for the pope, so we incorporated the road closures into our detour planning and alternate route suggestions," he explains. "Layered on top of that, we are providing additional traffic control resources at 70 critical intersections in the city, so we'll have the benefit of traffic control officers and National Guardsmen at those intersections."

The pope's second stop, New York City, coincides with the United Nations General Assembly.

"I think it's fair to say the United Nations General Assembly alone...," with more than 170 world leaders in the city, "would constitute an extraordinary moment in this city's history," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently said at a press briefing. "And the visit of His Holiness, obviously, at any moment, would be one of the extraordinary moments we would experience. But when you combine them, we can say safely we've literally never seen something like this before."

At the same press briefing, the police commissioner, William Bratton, said officials believe "this is probably the largest security event the department has had to deal with because of the idea of—if you think of it, three major events."

"The president coming in at the tail end of it is normally a major undertaking for any city, but the pope and the U.N. at the same time—and then just to put in a little entertainment on top of it all, we have Beyoncé entertaining 100,000 people in Central Park as the Pope is leaving. So—and I think we have a couple of baseball games scattered in and about at the same time," he said.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the agency is ramping up efforts to ensure smooth service, but the pope's visit and the U.N. General Assembly are nonetheless expected to have an impact on transit.

The MTA's main point of advice: Use the subway for traveling around Manhattan.

Extra staffers will work in the stations along Central Park West, Broadway, the Seventh and Eighth Avenue lines, as well as East Side stations such as 51st, 53rd, and 59 streets, in an attempt to stave off service interruptions.

Bus riders should be aware that service will be affected dramatically, with delays and route changes expected.

In Philadelphia, the Pope's U.S. visit coincides with the World Meeting of Families, the "world's largest Catholic gathering of families." According to reports, his visit and the meeting could attract up to 1.5 million people. The mayor has said Center City Philadelphia neighborhoods "will be most impacted" by these events.

As one would expect, public and private transportation will be greatly affected. According to "Be prepared to walk—several miles, both the World Meeting of Families and Mayor Nutter have repeatedly said. Much of the city will be cordoned off to traffic for security purposes so 'private vehicles will not be a viable transportation option,' the WMOF warns."