CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Be prepared, be patient — and if you can't be on your feet for many hours, stay home.
That was the message offered by New Jersey transportation officials Thursday as they laid out plans to accommodate the expected hundreds of thousands of people who will pass through New Jersey next month for Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia.
With anticipated major traffic delays, congested train platforms and the prospect of a several-miles-long walk from New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge to the site of the Pope's Sunday Mass, state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox offered sobering words.
"If you are not prepared to walk a significant distance, you may want to re-evaluate whether in fact you want to go to this event," he said during a news conference in Newark.
More than a third of the up to 2 million people projected in Philadelphia for the weekend of Sept. 26-27 is expected to pass through New Jersey, officials said. More than half of all attendees will be senior citizens, said Sam Schwartz, a traffic engineer and former New York City traffic commissioner.
Since buses will be parking along the Camden waterfront, it's expected that more groups will be electing to walk over the bridge into Philadelphia rather than crowd PATCO commuter trains that will already be running on a special schedule with fewer stops.
Schwartz recommended that trekkers make sure to have cellphones charged and to take steps to preserve their batteries; carry flashlights for a return walk likely to be in the dark; and bring comfortable shoes; light-colored clothing and extra medicine.
"We want people to come, but we want them to be prepared," said Schwartz, who also helped plan the transportation logistics for President Barack Obama's 2008 inauguration, attended by an estimated 2 million people.
At the inauguration, he said, people showed they were willing to walk miles from bus parking areas to the main event, and he expects the same to happen for Pope Francis' visit. The difference is that many of those buses will be parked in Camden across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia. The bridge, which is to be closed to all traffic except emergency vehicles, is about a mile and a half long and includes 135 feet of steep incline.
"There ain't nothing to it," said Lillie Williams, a 58-year-old retired nurse from Florence, New Jersey, who said she's considering traveling to see the pope, though she's Baptist. "You just get up there and walk."
But crossing the bridge is just a part of the journey. It's another mile to the Ben Franklin Parkway, where the pope is giving the Mass, and nearly another mile beyond that to get a close-up view.
For those taking the River Line trains that stop in Camden or on buses parking there, the walk to the bridge will be only a few additional blocks. But tickets are limited for the train and only 1,100 of the 10,000 buses expected to carry people into the area will be able to park in Camden.
But major roads into Camden are going to be largely blocked, so there won't be a way to drive into the city. That could mean parking in the suburbs and walking miles — and likely hours — more.
Those taking the PATCO train will be required to buy a one- or two-day Freedom card pass ahead of the weekend.
Porter reported from Newark.