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News » US » Data from Pope’s Visit Helps Texas Transport Planners » published 22 Apr 2016

Data from Pope’s Visit Helps Texas Transport Planners

The recent visit to El Paso by Pope Francis has provided vital data for El Paso’s transportation planners in their studies of congestion.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) said that major events typically produce major traffic issues, but that this wasn’t the case when Pope Francis visited the El Paso/Juarez area in February.

TTI researchers used data provided by Inrix, a provider of historical, real-time and predictive traffic information, to monitor congestion during the visit. Using the results of the traffic analysis, El Paso officials hope to better prepare for similar events in the future.

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, said the researchers. They 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 US 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 CPB, 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. 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.

For 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% fewer pedestrians on the day of the Papal visit compared to an average weekday/weekend.

At Stanton Bridge — Passenger car traffic dropped by 50% percent compared to an average weekday/weekend, but pedestrian traffic increased by 500% percent between 5am and 9 a.m.

At Bridge of the Americas, overall, passenger vehicle traffic decreased by 70% from average, though early morning saw a 200% increase. Southbound pedestrian traffic increased by 500%, attributable to buses dropping off passengers who walked across to attend the event. Northbound pedestrian traffic grew by 800%.

Paso del Norte Bridge had five 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 said.  


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This article was published on 22 Apr 2016 (last updated on 22 Apr 2016).

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