Researchers with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) used data provided by INRIX, a leading provider of historical, real-time and predictive traffic information, to monitor congestion during the Pope’s visit. Using the results of this traffic analysis, El Paso officials hope to better prepare for similar events in the future.
Despite what many believed would be a day of reduced traffic mobility due to congestion, most areas experienced free-flow conditions and manageable, if increased, pedestrian traffic. While some locations experienced a dramatic increase in both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, border crossings had no major security or congestion issues, and processing times were quick. Researchers found that attendees relied more heavily on foot and transit modes than driving their own vehicles when traveling to see the Pope.
“In anticipation of likely congestion problems from the Pope’s visit, city officials had multiple road closures and U.S. Customs and Border Protection [CBP] brought on additional staff, opening up all lanes for cars and pedestrians,” says TTI Assistant Research Scientist Sushant Sharma, who led the study. “The data INRIX provided was vital in us getting a complete picture of how the Pope’s visit impacted the El Paso transportation system.”
TTI also collected data using pedestrian counters, video cameras and other detectors at all points of entry (POE). Researchers with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research worked with CBP, the Texas Department of Transportation, the City of El Paso and Sun Metro to obtain supporting data.
Sharma and others compared traffic counts for major corridors during and after the visit.
- Major corridors — Interstate and state highway travel times were comparable to an average weekend, though streets near Sun Bowl Stadium were congested in the hours before the Pope’s mass began. Researchers believe that closed businesses and schools offset much of the increase in Papal visit traffic.
- El Paso POEs — Passenger vehicle traffic was lower than normal, though pedestrian traffic was high before and after the mass event in Juarez. There were 15 to 20 percent fewer pedestrians on the day of the Papal visit compared to an average weekday/weekend.
- Stanton Bridge — Passenger car traffic dropped by 50 percent compared to an average weekday/weekend, but pedestrian traffic increased by 500 percent between 5 and 9 a.m. However, there were fewer pedestrians than normal the rest of the day.
- Bridge of the Americas (BOTA) — Overall, passenger vehicle traffic decreased by 70 percent from average, though early morning saw a 200 percent increase. Southbound pedestrian traffic increased by 500 percent, attributable to busses dropping of passengers who walked across to attend the event. Northbound pedestrian traffic grew by 800 percent following the mass.
- Paso del Norte Bridge — There were 5 times more pedestrians compared to an average weekday/weekend evening.
Sun Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit System experienced the overall biggest change as a result of the Papal visit, increasing from an average of 1,750 riders to 2,290 riders.
“It looks like many people stayed home, electing to watch the Papal mass on television,” Sharma speculates. “Restricted commercial traffic at BOTA also helped to alleviate congestion problems there.”