How Will the Democratic National Convention Affect Your Ability to Get Around Philly?
We all remember the transportation dilemmas posed by the Papal visit in September 2015. At the time, 4.7 square miles of Philadelphia was closed to travelers and commuters trying to get to work or see the pontif himself. Since the city has recent experience with road closures and high volumes of people in small areas, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) should pose fewer problems to people trying to get around the city. However, if 2016 is anything like the 2000 Republican National Convention (RNC), the city may have more issues on its hands than it might be planning for. How will the DNC affect your commute?
At the 2000 RNC, around two thousand protesters intentionally blocked major intersections throughout the city, even though the police were trying to keep protesters out of the street. Still, 200 people “ran in and out of traffic along several city blocks.” The poor management of the RNC in 2000 is unlikely to be repeated. Instead of arresting protesters, the city is planning on giving $100 civil citations (essentially like parking tickets) to them instead. Newly implemented laws, such as the decriminalization of marijuana possession, should also reduce the number of protesters arrested.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the city of Philadelphia arrested as many as 400 people on a single day during protests at the 2000 RNC. Some protesters were held in jail for several days with bail set as high as $1 million. Protesters were arrested for incidents where they beat police officers or doused them with “caustic liquid.” People flipped over dumpsters outside of the Warwick Hotel where John McCain was eating dinner. Others punctured the tires of police cars or vandalized buildings with paint-filled balloons, a Tiffany & Co. jewelry store to be specific.
While these types of actions are going to be in the minds of authorities when preparing for securing the area around the 2016 DNC, it is hard to plan for all variables that protesters may display. Protesters seem to have a universal reason for showing their discontent with the government. One protester at the 2000 RNC told a reporter: “We’re sick and tired of this whole system — capitalism and the state.” The man did not give his name and was wearing a gas mask during his interview. Groups of protesters chanted things like: “Police run the City! We can shut it down!” Signs were hung across City Hall that said, “Resist,” and protesters held up signs that said, “Stop the Texas Killing Machine.” One can only imagine what the chants and signs that will be seen during the 2016 DNC.
According to Politico, the city of Cleveland has prepared for the worst, attempting to use a portion of their $50 million grant to purchase two thousand sets of riot gear. Cleveland will secure the 2016 RNC by setting up 100 video surveillance systems throughout the city that can be viewed on a high-tech video wall with 20 screens. This technology will be an interesting accent to the police officers on horseback that will trot through town to control protesters. Cleveland is also planning on opening unspecified fire hydrants throughout the city to allow people to cool off from the July heat.
What is the city of Philadelphia using their $50 million grant for? “A lot of the planning you are seeing in Cleveland is also happening here,” David L. Coehn, special advisor to the host committee, stated in March. According to city spokesman Mike Dunn, that money is going toward “staffing and equipment.”
Although this event seems like it is going to make daily life difficult for Philadelphians, former Governor Rendell does not think that anyone will need to change their regular habits during the week of the convention. However, one has to think that SEPTA’s 115 damaged cars could slow down travel throughout the city. Even though there are 50,000 additional people inside the city, officials believe that since the convention takes place outside of the “peak hours” of use, that there should not be an issue getting around.
SEPTA trains are making more than 200 less stops per day than normal weekly figures. SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel said earlier this month that they are “partnering with Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and Maryland rail authorities to borrow trains and add 1,700 seats in Philadelphia.” SEPTA may also add express buses between crowded train stops.
Uber recently decided they were not going to boycott working during the convention, so they remain as an alternative to other public transportation. Penn. Governor Tom Wolf also legalized car sharing servcies like Uber and Lyft throughout the convention. Look out for an increase in their charge rates if you are going anywhere near the convention area. Even at a normal rate, an Uber may also have difficulties getting around the area, since much of the area around the Sports Complex is shut off to all drivers.
Anyone planning on driving trucks, buses, RV’s, and other large vehicles will see more inconveniences. Starting July 22 and lasting for a week, I-95 exits between Penrose Avenue, Interstate 76 and 676, and 26th street will be closed for those vehicles. Exact details can be found at Secretservice.gov.
In addition to vehicle restrictions, there are also airspace and waterway restrictions. In case you were considering flying your drone during the DNC, the area “within 30 Nautical Miles of downtown Philadelphia, to include FDR Park… will be a no drone zone” from July 25 to the 29. FDR Park will also have security fencing around it for protesting, although “delegates will be able to see and hear what is going on there” according to Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Jr.
If all goes according to plan, then the daily commute of Philadelphians will not be affected and there will be much less trouble than what took place at the 2000 RNC. One would hope that this is true, considering that taxpayers funded 59 percent of the $66 million cost of the 2000 RNC, according to a Philly.com article.
As prepared as the city can be, there is no way to account for certain variables. The unexpected protests in 2000 at Franklin Square are an example of this. In order to have your DNC experience go as smoothly as possible, make sure to leave extra time in your plans for traffic and public transport delays, large crowds of citizens and delegates walking to the convention area, and protesters potentially showing up in parts of the city that were not originally expected to see that type of behavior.