Following scenes of record overcrowding and outbreaks of violence at the Chicago Pride Parade last year, parade organizers say that safety is their top concern this year and have implemented a new parade route to help ease crowds.
Good weather helped the event draw a record turnout in 2011 – most estimates set the number at 750,000 people, or 50 percent more than the year before, a long way from the 250 people who showed up for Chicago’s first pride parade in 1970.
- Pride Parade this year kicks off at noon at Broadway and Montrose, in Uptown
- After rounds of negotiations, organizers decided to put safety above all matters
- Public encouraged to use Lawrence, Wilson and Sheridan CTA Red Line stops
People were seen jumping fences and barricades to get away from dangerously packed spots, others were unable to move for hours, stuck in tight intersections. A few fainted and had to be taken away by ambulances.
This year, the parade – now in its 43rd edition – has been reshaped to accommodate ever-larger crowds and ease its impact on police, public transit and on itself.
The parade steps off at noon on June 24 at the intersection of Broadway and Montrose, almost a mile north of the traditional starting point at Belmont Avenue and Halsted Street. It runs southeast on Broadway Street back to Halsted, heading south down the Boystown strip to Belmont.
Once it reaches Belmont, it heads east for two blocks towards Broadway, where it runs south to Diversey, then east to Sheridan, where the parade ends.
After rounds of negotiations with the police and city officials, organizers decided to put the safety of attendants and participants above all other concerns.
“The issues last year made us realize the parade route had to be changed for the event’s sake,” Richard Pfeiffer, the parade coordinator, said.
To let people move around more easily, the parade this year will have seven crossover points, which spectators can use with the help of police. “Four police officers will assist people at each crossover,” Pfeiffer said.
Spectators can now avoid the masses near Belmont and Halsted and get to the parade using the Lawrence, Wilson and Sheridan CTA Red Line stops, said Max Bever, an aide for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who participated in the discussions that led to the event’s changes.
The new route design added five blocks to the parade – from 17 to 22 – and eliminates the V-turn from the north the end of Halsted (near the IHOP restaurant) to Broadway, where hundreds of parade-goers got stuck for several hours last year.
To shorten the duration of the event, the number of floats representing politicians and organizations was cut from 250 to 200, to allow the neighborhood streets to reopen earlier than usual, organizers said.
A few months ago organizers tried to move up the starting time to 10 a.m., to put off excessive drinking, but local churches objected claiming it would difficult access to morning services and the conventional noon start was upheld, which led to Chicago Cardinal Francis George’s controversial remarks comparing the parade to a Ku Klux Klan march.
But not all involved in the negotiations were pleased. Some neighborhood business owners fear the change to the route will hurt sales on one of the busiest days of the year.
“I know a few stores on Broadway who are not on the route this year have expressed concern, but public safety has to come first,” Bever said. “With the changes, pedestrians will actually have better access to those businesses, and we predict a very successful day for all.”
For more information on the route and safety tips, visit www.chicagopridecalendar.org.