DEAR DAILY NEWS and my fellow Philadelphians,
I write to provide clarity, facts and important information on the biggest event to take place in our lifetime in our great city. My goal is to address some thoughts and statements written to me by Mr. Will Bunch in an opinion piece yesterday. What follows are recaps of Bunch's claims and my response.
Bunch: You're not a security expert . . . You're a leader. Your job is to coordinate security, and communicate with the public, with the average schlub like me.
You are right; like you, I'm not a security expert, but, as mayor for the last 7 1/2 years, I have overseen an experienced team of managers and experts, and planned and hosted many large events. For the World Meeting of Families, I play a coordinating role. The city of Philadelphia is part of a team made up of the World Meeting of Families, the commonwealth and many of its agencies: the Governor's Office; PennDOT; the Pennsylvania National Guard; the Pennsylvania State Police; Department of Health and Human Services; Emergency Management; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the U.S. Secret Service; and the full range of city departments from police and fire, to emergency management, streets and L&I; other agencies like DRPA, Amtrak, SEPTA, PATCO, NJ Transit, the Philadelphia Parking Authority; the counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery, and other entities. This team has been planning the key events of the World Meeting of families for many, many months. Among these many agencies, there are a host of seasoned experts who bring years of experience in real events to the table.
It is also my job to ensure that information is communicated to the public. The city and its partners have held a series of news conferences to date. Another is slated for later this week. Indeed, each week as we approach late September, the city will have at least one media briefing to help residents and visitors prepare for this magnificent event.
Bunch: Closing the city's main thoroughfares and so sharply curtailing traffic, including a walking mini-marathon across on the Ben Franklin Bridge, is a baffler, and so is the cascading shutdowns of area schools and colleges.
SEPTA has explained several times why closing some train stations is necessary.
Regarding vehicle traffic, we created a traffic box that prohibits incoming traffic as part of an overall safety effort. Vehicles can move around within the box, but once outside of the box, those vehicles can't come back in. At a very practical level, the huge crowds expected will be walking on narrow city streets and sidewalks. Pedestrians will literally overwhelm and take over our streets, making vehicular movement almost if not completely impossible. To accommodate this unprecedented influx of people, thoroughfare closures are necessary. If we allowed vehicles to attempt to move through large crowds, the resulting accidents and gridlock would be predictable and potentially deadly.
Further, providing emergency services to more than a million visitors requires dedicated emergency routes free of civilian vehicle traffic. As we noted last week, only emergency vehicles will be permitted to drive or park on authorized access roads. And by the way, pedestrians and bicyclists can use the Ben Franklin Bridge. There will not be screening stations or magnetometers on the bridge. Early on, we made clear that walking would be an integral part of this event. And I wouldn't call the roughly 3 1/2 mile journey from the Camden end of the Ben Franklin Bridge to 20th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway a mini-marathon. These joyful pilgrims will be fine, and remember, they are coming to see Pope Francis.
Bunch: On Sunday, the Inquirer talked to a bunch of top security experts . . . .
The four individuals quoted in the Aug. 9 Inquirer piece have not been briefed by any authorized agency or involved in any of the planning of these events. They have apparently relied on some of the same inaccurate or false information presented by unauthorized or uninformed individuals and reported by the media.
Bunch: People are sleeping in cots in their offices.
The city is not directing personnel or business decisions. Those decisions are being made on an individual basis by the business themselves. By the way, the School District of Philadelphia and any other educational institution will make their own decisions about being open in the days before the event. As we noted last week, the First Judicial District has decided to be closed from Sept. 23 through 28. And while the city will be open for services, that service will be limited during the same period. We'll provide more details in the days and weeks to come.
Bunch: I'm sure all the talk about America becoming a police state will be quelled by rapid instant towing of any car that's parked illegally.
Cars parked illegally will be towed within a certain, secure, limited area, which will be detailed and announced. And as noted above, vehicles will not be allowed to park on "authorized vehicle access roads."
Bunch: The good news is that there's still plenty of time to turn this thing around. The important first step is to listen to the critics, broaden your circle of experts and see what can be altered. Don't always always err on the side of caution!
I agree, but our network of experts is made up of individuals with practical, real-world experience planning events of this magnitude. This is a big deal and I know that they think the decisions made to date are both smart and sane.
Bunch: You and other officials are basing many of the plans on estimates that 1 million or 1.5 million or maybe 2 million people may come to town for this - but what is that based on?
Our estimate is based on previous World Meeting of Families Papal Masses with a million attendees, namely: Manila, Philippines, in 2003; Valencia, Spain, in 2006; Milan, Italy, in 2012; and his most recent trip to South America. We believe attendance will exceed these past events, given the excitement surrounding Pope Francis and his message. It is better to be prepared than surprised.
Bunch: Mayor Frank Rizzo all but ruined the 1976 Bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia with his constant, wildly unwarranted warnings of domestic terrorism. So why do you seem determined to summon the Dark Spirit of '76 on this?
We have not issued any warnings of domestic terrorism, not one. Some members of the news media are scaring people though. But, the world has changed a great deal since 1976 and we think being prepared for any circumstance is vitally important.
Bunch: Philadelphia isn't the only city that's hosting Pope Francis on this trip - he's also going to D.C. and New York . . . Are we coordinating and maybe modeling some of our planning on what these other cities are doing?
The size and scope of the events are different. You can't compare them. Unlike the papal visits to New York City and Washington, Pope Francis' two-day visit to Philadelphia involves events that invite huge attendance and viewership. For example, for the parade and Festival of Families and the Independence Hall event on Saturday or the Papal Mass on Sunday afternoon, there will be many hundreds of thousands of visitors on city streets. Equally significant, all major events, including the mass at the Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul on Saturday morning will be viewed on dozens of jumbotrons set up strategically at various locations on city streets.
And the security for all three stops on Pope Francis' American visit is being overseen by the same, well-known, expert entity - the United States Secret Service.
Bunch: But making this city look small, Mayor Nutter, is the worst cardinal sin there is.
We're making sure that this big city and its citizens are prepared. Shortchanging the public safety of millions, including the pope, would be a grievous error and a mortal sin.
Prayerfully and respectfully, enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience and this opportunity for Philadelphia to shine. Let's all show our civic pride and demonstrate why we are worthy of world-class events and a heightened sense of self esteem. Go Philadelphia!