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We're freaking out, pope!

Pope Francis’ visit has Philly asking: Is this real life?

Mayor Nutter gives an update yesterday on security plans for Pope Francis’ visit. ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Mayor Nutter gives an update yesterday on security plans for Pope Francis’ visit. ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERRead more

POPEPOCALYPSE. Popeageddon. Popenado. Popetastrophe.

Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia was all cotton candy and rainbows until a June 16 news conference concerning transportation during his visit.

That's when Philadelphians became apopeplectic.

Cars will "not be a viable option," officials said. SEPTA's Regional Rail service would be "truncated drastically," they said. "Be prepared to walk at least a few miles, or more," they said.

But what people heard was: Time to freak out.

Philadelphians' fears were little assuaged by a news conference yesterday that detailed a 3-square-mile "traffic box" around Center City and West Philly and by news of the closures of the Ben Franklin Bridge and parts of Interstates 76 and 676.

Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association, said telling people you're going to limit their mobility can affect their psyches, especially American psyches.

"Americans, we're an extremely mobile people," Farley said. "And we're being warned ahead of time that mobility will be sharply curtailed, well that's just un-American!"

Until yesterday, little official information had been released about road closures and none about security perimeters.

In the absence of information, journalists speculated about everything from 8-foot fences around parts of Center City to the closure of I-95.

G. Keith Still, professor of crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University in England and a consultant for the royal wedding, said engaging the media, giving a timeline of when information will be released and providing information off the record often prevents needless speculation.

"It all comes down to working with the media, then you get the positive side rather than what I'm seeing now in Philadelphia, which is 'What the hell is going on?' " Still said. "It should never be a position where the media are trying to speculate."

Some officials have said the lack of information is because the Secret Service has yet to finalize its security plans, which may not be released until just weeks before the papal visit.

"The danger is that not putting information out gets people uncertain," Still said. "They can't plan, they get frustrated and you end up fighting fires you started in the first place."

Farley agreed, but said he has faith in this city and its people.

"There's a very old theory of aggression, which says that often aggression can be produced by frustration," he said. "But people also tend to kind of roll with the punches. Everybody should view this as an opportunity to toot our own horn and tout Philadelphia. He's coming to Philly. We can do it. This town is full of so many smart people."

Here's a rundown of what Philly is freaking out about:

*  What is this "traffic box" that will encompass Center City and parts of West Philly?

It's an area where private vehicles will be able to exit, but not enter. Once you drive out of the box, there's no driving back in. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be allowed within the box.

Should I freak out?

We'd understand if you did. It's a big ol' box, that's for sure. Nutter said yesterday that no decision had been made about whether cabs will be allowed in the box.

* I'm in the suburbs and I want to see the pope or I have to get to work that weekend.

Well, aren't you brave/faithful/a hardworking son-of-a-gun. Lucky for you, about 22,000 Regional Rail passes remain following SEPTA's papal-pass lottery. However, it's still unclear which of the 18 stations have passes available. That information will be released next week, along with information about passes for SEPTA's Norristown High Speed Line and the Routes 101 and 102 trolleys.

Beyond those options, SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams suggests having someone drive you to the 69th Street Terminal, the Fern Rock Transportation Center, the Frankford Transportation Center or the AT&T Station, where you can get on the subway without a reservation.

Should I freak out?

No, but you may want to buy a bubble-boy suit if getting very, very close to your fellow man freaks you out.

* Where will SEPTA buses and subways run in Center City?

SEPTA's Broad Street Line will pick up riders to the south at the AT&T Station and express them to Walnut-Locust only. Coming from the north on the Broad Street line, riders can get on at the Fern Rock Transportation Center or at the Cecil B. Moore/Temple University station and they will be expressed to the Spring Garden station.

On the Market-Frankford Line, riders who get on at the Frankford Transportation Center or at the Girard station will be expressed to 2nd and Market streets. On the west side of the line, riders who board at the 69th Street Terminal or at 52nd and Market will be dropped off at 30th Street Station.

As for buses traveling through Center City, those that go from north to south will stop at Cecil B. Moore/Temple University, so you can board the Broad Street line to get closer to Center City. All buses normally traveling from South Philly will stop at Washington Avenue. Buses coming in from the west will stop at 38th Street and bus routes that run from the east between Spring Garden and South Street will not operate.

Should I freak out?

No, but you should be prepared for lines and long walks.

* Who is paying for all this? Where are my tax dollars? Rabble, rabble, rabble!

The World Meeting of Families is expected to pay for the entire event, estimated at $45 million. Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald told the Inquirer that the city "is not sharing costs."

World Meeting of Families executive director Donna Farrell told the Daily News that the organization is moving "very positively" toward reaching the goal of raising $45 million to pay for all invoices it receives.

Should I freak out?

No. The economic benefit of the event is estimated at $418 million, according to the Philadelphia Convention Center and Visitors Bureau.

* I don't like Big Brother and I'm especially paranoid of the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, state police and city police. What does a National Special Security Event entail?

A National Special Security Event mandates that the Secret Service be the lead agency for the design and implementation of a security plan. It's unclear how many local and federal law-enforcement officers will be at the event, but state police said yesterday they will deploy more than 1,000 troopers to assist with crowd and traffic control and that the National Guard will be on standby, if needed.

Should I freak out?

That remains to be seen. Farley, the psychologist, said overdoing it on police presence could signal that the United States is becoming "risk-averse."

"Our ability to thrive in the face of uncertainty is one of our greatest attributes as a nation. If we become terrorized of uncertainty, we're finished," he said. "We will have choked off the key ingredient in the American success story - thriving in the face of uncertainty."

* Will there be enough city police officers available in case something happens in my neighborhood? Will there be delayed response times?

Lt. John Stanford, police spokesman, said the department is "planning accordingly" to ensure that they have officers available for all neighborhoods as well as the papal events. However, the department is still working on the logistics of how to get cops into work that weekend, he said.

"Hopefully, we won't have delays beyond normal but with the anticipated numbers of people in the city, delays are certainly possible," Stanford said.

Should I freak out?

Try not to. City police, fire and EMS workers proved their mettle under the most difficult of circumstances when they responded to the crash of Amtrak 188 in May. They did us proud then with no warning. They've had months to plan for this so we hope to see their colors shine again in September.

* How will cops and paramedics move through the crowds to get to someone in need if the roads are closed?

There will be "authorized vehicle access roads" within the traffic box for use by emergency-medical-services personnel only.

Should I freak out?

No, we have faith that the faithful will get you to one of those access roads, if needed.

* I'm due to have a baby that weekend in the city.

If you promise to name him Francis (or her Frances), maybe you could hitch a ride in the Popemobile.

Should I freak out?

Honestly, we think you have good reason to, since nobody has answered this question yet. Heck, you're pregnant, we think you get to freak out about anything you want.

* Will there be fencing around parts of the city, forcing me to get up on the fence, and yell, "Hey! What gives you the right? To put up a fence and keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in. If God was here, he'd tell it to your face, man you're some kind of sinner!"

In early July, the Inquirer reported that organizers were discussing construction of a security fence, perhaps as high as 8 feet, around portions of Center City. When asked about fencing yesterday, Nutter said, "I don't have an answer, for the moment."

Should I freak out?

Given that no information has been given about the security perimeter and the accompanying fencing yet, we can condone some minor freakouts, but let's leave the super freaks to Rick James and wait to see what is proposed.

* Will the Ben Franklin Bridge and I-95 be closed?

The Ben Franklin Bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic from 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, until noon on Monday, Sept. 28.

Despite numerous reports, I-95 will remain open, but yesterday PennDOT announced it will close I-76 East from I-476 to I-95 and I-76 West from I-95 to U.S. Route 1. Also closed will be I-676 in both directions from I-76 to I-95 and U.S. Route 1 in both directions from U.S. 30 to Belmont Avenue. These closures will start at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25 and are estimated to last through Monday morning.

Should I freak out?

Perhaps. Still, the crowd science professor, said gridlock - and resulting car abandonment - is a real possibility.

"We're talking about 1.5 million people trying to get there and the question is: How?" he said. "If you have people driving in and they can't get to a particular site, you have to look at how cars might get abandoned en route."

* I'm handicapped or elderly and I want to see Pope Francis and be a part of this event.

Farrell, of the World Meeting of Families, told the Daily News: "Matters related to accessibility for persons with disabilities are still to be determined in conjunction with those entities responsible for the overall security of the events."

Should I freak out?

Perhaps. We're concerned that this question has yet to be answered, especially given how far people are expected to walk.

* What is my risk of getting stuck in a Kumbaya drum circle?

Farrell, of the World Meeting of Families, said your chances are "slim to none."

"Kumbaya is not a traditional Catholic hymn," she said. "There is a far better chance of a 'Gift of Finest Wheat' sing-along, but not in a circle. Did you know that 'Gift of Finest Wheat' has a Philadelphia connection?"

Should I freak out?

Negative. Either stretch your vocal chords or buy some earplugs. Still, the crowd science professor, said for large, Catholic gatherings, singing is a great form of crowd conditioning to keep the masses happy.

* My sentencing is scheduled for the Friday before the pope's visit at the Criminal Justice Center.

Not anymore. The Criminal Justice Center will be closed from Wednesday, Sept. 23, until Monday, Sept. 28.

Should I freak out?

Um, no. You should thank Pope Francis for giving you a few more days of freedom.

* I pee. A lot.

We're sorry to hear that. Last month, the Inquirer reported that there will be 3,300 porta-potties and 350 urinals for the papal crowds, which officials assured the paper would be enough to cover the estimated crowd of 1.5 million, but other experts the Inquirer interviewed, including die-hard porta-potty professional Bruce Willis, manager of Philadelphia Portable Potty Professionals, said they didn't think it would be enough.

Should I freak out?

We think you should keep your panties on, for now, but it remains to be seen if the porta-potties will be able to accommodate the large crowds.

* I'm terrified of flash mobs, crowd surges, group hugs, etc.

Still, the crowd science professor, said that the papal crowds will "probably initially be very pious and well behaved," however, problems could arise if people are not able to get to the event because of crowds and react out of frustration.

"If they're feeling threatened, people react to that, even if it's just protecting your wife and kids to get out," Still said.

Should I freak out?

No. Listen, this is not the Gathering of the Juggalos, these are not Insane Clown Posse fans. If you're watchful of your surroundings you should be just fine.

* What if it rains?

Farrell, of the World Meeting of Families, said: "There is no rain date. We will all be wet. But let's be honest, the Holy Father makes a poncho look good."

Should I freak out?

No. Just think of it as a holy water shower.

* The Eagles are my religion and there is a game scheduled the same day as the papal mass. Will they cut into the game with his pope guy?

A Fox 29 spokeswoman said that the station's plan is to air both events in their entirety and stream the papal mass live on their website. The spokeswoman said the station is still planning for what to do if the game runs into the Mass.

Farrell, of the World Meeting of Families, said: "The Philadelphia Eagles play at 1 p.m. The papal mass is 4 p.m. NFL games, on average, are three hours. God works in mysterious ways. We rest our case."

Should I freak out?

Listen, we know that Eagles fans are known for keeping their cool, so let's try to do that here, people.