Sneakers. Backpack. Sunscreen.
With 2 million people estimated to be making the trip to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia next month, journeying by foot over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from the Camden side is most likely the best mode of transportation
A small group took a trial walk Thursday over the bridge, which will be closed beginning at 10 p.m. Sept. 25 for the pope’s visit and open only for pedestrians that weekend.
Walking past a construction zone on the streets of Camden, a group of reporters and state officials moved slowly under the afternoon sun with temperatures in the 80s. Ronnie Hakim, executive director of NJ Transit, changed out of her suit and put on some comfy shoes while others laced up their sneakers and shed some layers.
It was hot, but that didn’t deter any of the walkers. Hakim said she wanted to experience the same walk pedestrians would take to get to Philadelphia during Francis’ visit Sept. 26 and 27.
Hakim, transportation officials and police speaking at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden said there would be multiple road and highway closings, delays, blocked access and extremely limited parking for people traveling to Philadelphia for the papal visit.
Apart from travel related to Francis, between Sept. 24 and 27, New Jersey will be filled with travelers attending New York Giants and Jets home football games and a United Nations General Assembly summit in New York. Officials warned that travel anytime during that week will be more difficult than normal.
The trek to Philadelphia began at the Rand center and continued with a 135-foot climb to the elevated pedestrian walkway. During the bridge’s closing, people will be able to walk along the road lanes.
To get to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, near where the outdoor mass will take place Sept. 27, the walk is 5 miles of inclines and stairs. Officials predict it will take people three to five hours to walk the distance due to crowds and the slower pace of senior attendees.
After making it across, people may have to stand for the public Mass. By the time activities for the day are over, worshippers may need flashlights to make another 5-mile, multihour walk back over the bridge.
“It’s not an easy hike,” Sam Schwartz, a state transportation consultant, said after recommending seniors bring an extra day’s worth of medication with them and be prepared for the physically demanding pilgrimage.
But getting close enough to the bridge to walk it is another hurdle, as there will be little parking available in Camden. Camden County police Capt. Albert Handy said there will be 1,100 parking spots for charter buses that have credentials from organizers for the World Meeting of Families and zero spots for private vehicles.
“For papal visitors who are driving, leave no later than Thursday (Sept. 24) morning,” Schwartz said for those who plan on staying in Philadelphia. Officials predicted 37 percent of drivers heading to the city will come from North Jersey and are up to 250,000 cars will pass through the state that weekend.
Public transportation seemed to be one of the few ways people can get into Camden before walking the bridge. Express-only trains from the Atlantic City Rail Terminal to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station will run that weekend. River Line service from the Trenton Transit Center to the Rand center in Camden will run that weekend with five stops in between.
About 4,140 special tickets for the A.C. express service will go on sale on the NJ Transit website at noon Saturday.
Many New Jersey interstate and local roads in Camden, Salem, Gloucester and Burlington counties will be closed or have roadblocks, so residents within 25 miles of Philadelphia should avoid unnecessary driving, Schwartz said.
For travelers driving elsewhere, Schwartz said to avoid a 50-mile radius around Philadelphia.
Interstate 676 will be closed on the westbound side from Exit 3 to the Ben Franklin Bridge from Friday, Sept. 25, to noon Monday, Sept. 28. A similar closing applies on Route 30 to the bridge. Drivers will be redirected to north and southbound Route 130 for alternate ways into Philadelphia.
There was no clear response as to whether people can bring bicycles across the pedestrian bridge and whether water ferries will be open to transport people across the channel, if they can get to them.
“The goal is simple, yet how we achieve it will be difficult,” said Sal Cowan, director of traffic operations for the New Jersey Department of Transportation.