Thursday, April 30, 2015

'Philly Is Baltimore' Protest Blocks Traffic in Center City
By Kevin Pulsifer and Dan Stamm

A protest in response to recent events in Baltimore moved from Philadelphia's City Hall into Rittenhouse Square and eventually to the roads above the Vine Street Expressway, causing traffic troubles along the way and leading to confrontations with officers.

The demonstration began peacefully at Dilworth Plaza. It wrapped up shortly before 6 p.m. as protesters headed onto city streets -- one group group marched on the streets around City Hall then down Broad Street in the other direction before turning onto Locust Street, winding around Rittenhouse Square and onto Walnut Street where they surrounded a police cruiser before moving along.

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There were some verbal arguments during the march but nothing physical until nearly 8 p.m. when police could be seen removing some protesters who became rowdy after the the groups walked hand-in-hand down 16th Street toward the Vine Street Expressway.

Police then blocked the I-676 ramps to 15th Street as some protesters sat down in the intersection before the confrontations.

A smaller group walked up Broad Street toward North Philly.

Earlier, dozens of protesters marched along Chestnut Street in University City toward Center City shortly after 4 p.m. Philadelphia Police followed the peaceful protest as it marched. At the same time, the crowd began to grow at Dilworth Plaza -- near City Hall.

As of 5 p.m. the majority of the rally remained contained at Dilworth Plaza with police estimating 600 to 800 demonstrators taking part.

The protest is one of many happening nationwide in response to the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered spinal injuries while in Baltimore Police custody following his April 12 arrest. Gray died a week later.

Some officials warned commuters to plan their evening commute as the large crowd could mess with travel around City Hall and throughout Center City but for the most part things continued to move as normal.

SEPTA officials did not announce any planned detours due to the protest, but acknowledged that they would keep an eye on the proceedings and make adjustments to mass transit schedules if necessary.

SEPTA reported several bus routes with delays in Center City.

Commuters planning on driving through Center City should avoid Market Street and Broad Street near City Hall and expect congestion on other nearby roadways. Posts on social media indicate the protesters plan to march slowly north on Broad Street -- meaning commuters heading home from the city's Francisville/Fairmount and Poplar neighborhoods may experience delays. Also expect delays around Rittenhouse Square.

For commuters looking to avoid the crowds, staying completely clear of the area is likely the best option.

Police maintained peaceful boundaries during the demonstration. At least one Philadelphia school announced an early dismissal so students could get home safely.

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