TAMPA — Drivers got a taste of the next few days as protesters briefly closed E Kennedy Boulevard on Monday and other routes were cleared to make room for marchers.
Most of the day, including morning and afternoon rush hours, was trouble-free, despite lashing rain from Tropical Storm Isaac, officials said.
"Traffic this morning was fine. No snarls to speak of. I think people were paying attention to what we said over the past month," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said during a morning briefing.
Still, a few hiccups occurred.
Westbound traffic on E Kennedy Boulevard was halted at Tampa Street for 15 minutes Monday afternoon as police tried to disperse a group of protesters who sat down in the middle of the street. The group returned to the sidewalk after a crowd-control officer explained they might delay ambulances heading to Tampa General Hospital and afternoon commuters.
Also, police closed several downtown streets — Orange Avenue; E Kennedy Boulevard; and Pierce, Polk, Morgan, Tyler, Cass, Zack, Twiggs, Madison and Jackson streets — to let a coalition of protesters march from Perry Harvey Park.
With Tropical Storm Isaac moving away from Tampa Bay and delegates set to return to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, today could offer motorists their first real test of downtown driving conditions.
Officials have asked drivers to allow extra time, arrive early, and leave early to avoid the afternoon rush. Mornings are expected to be less stressful because most RNC events are scheduled for afternoons and evenings. The RNC has leased 400 buses to move delegates from hotels into the event zone south of Jackson Street. Generally, streets south of Jackson are closed to the public.
Police are monitoring several potential trouble spots and asking drivers to remain patient. Among them are Tampa and Whiting streets. The streets are designated as dropoff spots for delegates and convention visitors, but they also serve as commuter routes to the Fort Brooke and Whiting Street garages. Because the garages lie within the event zone, vehicles entering will be subject to searches, which could trigger delays.
"I would imagine downtown will have a very different dynamic as people try to figure out what to do and where to go," Buckhorn said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.