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Parking restrictions tighten, streets transform, as Francis draws near

More than 370 cars towed by yesterday afternoon.

Trucks line up on 8th Street near Arch on Monday to begin towing. (TOM GRALISH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Trucks line up on 8th Street near Arch on Monday to begin towing. (TOM GRALISH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)Read more

SOMETIMES, best-laid plans don't include you.

That's how Parmjit Singh felt yesterday as he stood idly by his cab parked at the corner of Ludlow and 17th streets, within a wave of the swanky Westin Philadelphia hotel.

But no customers were waving at him nor at the handful of other cabbies parked behind him.

Singh, 50, who has driven for Philadelphia Taxi Cab for 10 years, said he's reached the conclusion that Pope Week, with all its parking restrictions and street closings, was not meant for people who drive around town for a living.

He's staying home when Pope Francis is here Saturday and Sunday.

"It's been very quiet yesterday and today. Everything is shut down, how can I work?" Singh said.

Things will only go downhill on the weekend, he predicted, when South Street will be the closest he'll be able to drive passengers arriving at Philadelphia International Airport.

"Center City is a small town. It's not New York, where you can work in Brooklyn, or Queens or Manhattan," Singh sighed.

The logistics of preparing for Pope Francis have touched just about every Center City street, where some corners have been taken over by scaffolding, lights and Jumbotrons.

Sidewalks running the length of some blocks are hemmed in by 7-foot-tall, black metal barriers, making it impossible for pedestrians to cross the street anywhere but at corners.

"It's like a ghost town. Where's all the cars?" asked a man walking past the closed-until-Tuesday Center for Criminal Justice, on Filbert Street.

Normally chock-full of parked cars on both sides of the street, not one was there yesterday.

That's good news for Richard Dickson, deputy executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, who said most people who live and work within parking-restricted areas got the message.

"Almost everything is clean everywhere. We'll have to go and do some clean up tomorrow, but it has been a really tremendous response from the public," he said yesterday.

As of 4:15 p.m. yesterday, the Parking Authority had towed 377 illegally parked cars, Dickson said. Of the 289 cars towed as of midnight Tuesday, all but 29 had been retrieved by their owners, he said.

With so many security people actually - or imagined - in town, rumors started yesterday that some Center City residents on Winter Street between 21st and 22nd streets had been told by the Secret Service that they could not use their balconies when the pope arrives, and could be shot if they did.

The Secret Service responded via email: "No, we have not told anyone that they can't go out on their balconies. We certainly can't tell folks that they can't access part of their private property and how would law enforcement even enforce that?"

Enough said, until the next rumor.

At the airport, the airlines have not reported any delays, increases in passenger volume or other anomalies, said airport spokeswoman Mary Flannery.

"We have received lots of phone calls and emails that say, 'I'm scheduled to fly out on Saturday, or I'm arriving on Saturday. What can I expect?' " Flannery said.

She noted that the SEPTA Airport Regional Rail Line will operate twice an hour during the weekend, stopping only at University City and Jefferson stations. It is the only rail line that will be running inbound and outbound during the entire weekend, she said.

On the social-media front, the city yesterday announced a new text alert system specifically for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis' visit.

"If you are planning to attend this historic event, we encourage you to sign up for text alerts for the pope's visit to get real time information of importance. Having peace of mind is part of enjoying the event," said Samantha Phillips, director of Emergency Management.

To enroll, text "papalvisit" to 888-777. Messages concerning weather, emergencies, travel and traffic information will be sent out, Phillips said.

-Staff writer Stephanie Farr

contributed to this report.

On Twitter: @MensahDean