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St. Paul’s new traffic plan for GOP convention keeps key streets open

Downtown’s St. Peter Street will stay open for traffic when St. Paul hosts the Republican National Convention Sept. 1-4. But don’t try to park there or even stop.

Chestnut Street southbound: open. Tenth and 11th streets, open but no parking. Those are the highlights of St. Paul’s latest transportation plan, released today.

That’s good news for folks who live and work in downtown St. Paul, many of whom have been dreading the congestion that might result when swarms of media, delegates, protesters and gawkers converge on the Rice Park/Xcel Energy Center area during the convention.

Keeping those nearby streets open to traffic should help ease the congestion created by 350 buses bringing delegates to the arena from hotels throughout the metro area.

But no unauthorized vehicles, including bicycles, will be allowed in the direct area of the convention — an area bounded by I-35E, Chestnut, Shepard Road and St. Peter.

Pedestrians will be allowed into most of this interior area, but only those with credentials will be allowed into the arena. (The Smith Transit Garage will be closed and the area inaccessible, police said, because of logistics involving the nearby freeway ramps.)

Why no bikes? Assistant Police Chief Matt Bostrom said bikes are an easy way for “people who’d like to cause harm” to sneak something into the area.

Representatives of some protest groups said Monday that they feel that even though the city claims its plan makes it easier for residents, workers and businesses to go on with daily life during the convention, the restrictions make it hard for protesters to get near the arena.

“The city seems to be making every plan it can to limit access to downtown for anyone who  wants to protest the RNC or the war,” said Jess Sundin of the Coalition to March on the RNC and to Stop the War.

City officials said that protesters, and anyone else wanting to get close to the action, can be dropped off at many points within blocks of the arena.

Maps outlining the plan are available here.

Metro Transit buses will run on their regular schedules, although some buses will be detoured around the convention zone. Details of the detours will be announced Aug. 18 here.

Earlier Monday, officials told business leaders in St. Paul that the convention really is a massive — and media-heavy — endeavor.

Comparing it to a Super Bowl, convention official Anthony Foti said that 3,500 members of the media typically cover the NFL extranvaganza. That compares with about 15,000 media members in town for the convention. In addition to the major U.S. newspapers and television networks, and international newspapers and television crews, there will be hundreds of bloggers putting gavel-to-gavel coverage on their online blogs for anyone who cares to follow it that closely.

“Anyone in the world with Internet access can attend interactively,” he said.

Fox News has set up a large broadcast center in the parking lot near the Smith Transit Garage, and MSNBC is preparing a broadcast center in Rice Park. Many media outlets will be housed inside the arena and in the adjacent Roy Wilkins Auditorium and RiverCentre facilities.

City Marketing Director Erin Dady said the networks, including MSNBC in Rice Park, are encouraging pedestrians to watch the live programming, even hold “Hi, Mom” signs in the background of video shots. (The Fox facility will be off-limits to pedestrians, though, because of its location, Bostrom said.)

Some business people wondered if the city was prepared to deal with an anarchist group, which has said it hopes to disrupt transportation of delegates to the arena.

“We’re confident we have a security plan in place to get everyone to where they need to be,” Dady said.

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