I don't want to side with the Washingtonian rhetoric that dubbed Philadelphia a second-rate stopover, but Philadelphia and our city services have been making our town look like the Mayberry of major metropolises ever since the Pope announced he'd be dropping in. While a lot of the problems rest with the antics of the U.S. Secret Service, Philadelphia has been capable of handling this kind of influx since Day 1. And since Day 1, Philadelphia should have been working with the Secret Service to prove that.
Street closures make sense. We deal with that on New Years, major conventions, and last week's Welcome America! concert. All cities close streets when they anticipate a bunch of road warriors inexplicably expecting convenient parking.
Where Philadelphia failed was with SEPTA's reluctance to accommodate those who won't be driving in.
Don't think SEPTA can handle it?
Well think about this: Philadelphia's vast network of rail-lines have been handling throngs of residents, commuters, and tourists since the early 1900s. As one of the earliest mass transit systems in North America, Philadelphia's been ferrying passengers in and around the city since trolleys were pulled by horses.
In the mid 20th Century, Philadelphia was home to two million residents, 500,000 more than today. And back then, a lot more of us relied on public transportation. To this day nearly every inner city rail-line is still in operation and the regional rail system has expanded to the airport.
But instead of jumping in front of the task at hand, instead of using this event as an opportunity to showcase Philadelphia's massive transit system, rather than saying, "Yeah, we got this," SEPTA was burning the midnight oil to engineer ways to opt out of the ordeal.
And what happened? Those two million pilgrims once planning to come to a perfectly capable Philadelphia started canceling their reservations, and now hotels are having trouble giving rooms away.
Yes, we knew that the Papal Visit was going to be a royal ass ache. But Philadelphia is a massive city that deals with ass aches every day. We should have risen above it and proven that we were ready, willing, and able to deal with anything. But instead we cowered in the corner, gave the Secret Service carte blanche, and the national audience exactly what they already think of Philadelphia.