The committees planning the Democratic National Convention are touting its accessibility to the public, but uptown road closures will make getting there a challenge.
During the convention road closures and pedestrian restrictions will affect about 30 streets in uptown Charlotte. Officials have advised travelers to allow an extra 20 to 30 minutes when navigating uptown during the Sept. 4-6 convention.
Organizers have invited Charlotteans to attend CarolinaFest, a Labor Day festival on Tryon Street, and President Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 6.
“This is going to be the most open and accessible convention in history, and at every step of the way, our goal has been to include more people,” said Joanne Peters, the Democratic National Convention Committee’s press secretary.
But some say it won’t be that simple.
Central Parking System, which manages five garages uptown, will have to close two of its garages during the convention week, manager Ann Marie Gibbs said.
She said she is trying to find her monthly parkers from closed lots a new place to park.
“Everyone wants to pretend it will be business as usual, and it’s not,” Gibbs said. “People are used to walking a block, and now they’ll have to walk five blocks to work instead.”
In 2004, Boston’s Democratic convention site was near a transit hub and major highway, and both were restricted for security. The city’s “Let’s Work Around It” slogan was lampooned as “Let’s Get Outta Here.”
St. Paul, Minn., touted “an open and welcoming” convention when it hosted the Republicans in 2008. But the public was alarmed when police arrested more than 800 people as 10,000 protesters poured into the city.
Bob Adams, a member of Elevation Church, said he and other congregants usually park uptown for Sunday services, but he’s not sure whether they’ll be allowed to on Sept. 2, when street restrictions begin.
He doesn’t expect many locals to attend DNC events.
“If they can’t drive, they’re not going to do it,” Adams said. “In spite of what the DNC host committees say, I think it’s going to be a lot more problematic than what they’re saying.”
CATS and LYNX
Because there won’t be designated parking for CarolinaFest, officials are recommending public transportation.
The Charlotte Area Transit System’s 325 buses can carry as many as 18,200 people, but Jean Leier, a CATS spokeswoman, said officials haven’t set a specific number of buses to run each day of the convention.
Leier said CATS may also use express buses, which typically have just one stop, to pick up DNC attendees.
The LYNX light rail line has 20 train cars, and two train cars travel together for a trip. One car can hold up to 235 people, Leier said. Trains usually leave in 10-minute intervals, but that frequency can be sped up to 7.5 minutes if needed, she said.
The Sharon Road LYNX station usually fills up quickly, she said. She recommended people try the Interstate 485, Woodlawn, Tyvola, Archdale or Arrowood stops.
“We may anticipate some delays, so please anticipate extra travel time,” Leier said.
The thousands of people expected to receive credentials for Thursday’s speech might have an easier time: DNC officials have announced that there will be remote parking and shuttles for credentialed attendees. Officials haven’t disclosed those locations.
The security at CarolinaFest will be different than at the speech.
Police will not be checking each person who attends the daytime festival on Tryon Street, said Harold Medlock, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s deputy chief.
“If there is something that causes us a concern, we’ll simply stop and ask them about it,” Medlock said. People don’t have to consent to police searching their bags. “That just means they’re not coming to the event,” he said.
Medlock said people should use common sense when they come to the festival, and not bring guns, knives, sharpened sticks, hammers, explosives or other possible weapons.
“We want it to be a very family-friendly environment, and we really expect our local citizens to come out and enjoy it.”
Here are some other potential challenges to expect:
• Security checks at Bank of America on Thursday will be more thorough, he said, adding that bags are already checked at security for NFL games.
As for parking uptown Thursday, Medlock said some should be available east of Tryon Street for those without credentials.
• Parking decks on streets labeled as “local access only” will be available to people with monthly parking passes, but not necessarily for daily users. Medlock said officers will direct cars to the nearest available parking.
• It’s not yet clear how much public parking will be available. Some uptown parking vendors are still waiting to hear if their properties will be open for business because of road closures.
• Taxis will also be an option, but many uptown cab drivers said they don’t know where they’ll be allowed to have a taxi stand. They worry people won’t know they’re available, and that taxis coming in from other cities will take their business.
Going out of town
Drivers also said they’re doubtful Charlotteans who live in the suburbs will come uptown during the convention.
“I think a lot of people will stay away because it’s going to be a big headache,” said one uptown cab driver, who declined to give his name.
May Winiarski doesn’t want to deal with it.
“I’m just going to get out of town for the weekend,” she said. “I’m going to stock up on Traders Joe’s beforehand.”
Staff writer Bruce Henderson contributed.