Updated June 27, 2011, to add one more solution: move the parade to downtown.

If you wanted to get to the Pride Parade yesterday, there was no use in driving. Access was reserved for those who arrived on foot powered transportation.

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A pedicab operator carries parade goers closer to Halsted and Addison Streets.

Taking transit was only a decent choice: Buses were caught in the same automobile traffic congestion they always get caught in while people riding bikes slipped through. Street closures meant buses were rerouted and passengers would still have to walk a few blocks to the parade.

Note: While all parades present the same transportation issues, the Pride Parade is one of the largest parades in Chicago, in terms of attending spectators. Other large parades include Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, and the former South Side Irish Parade. Grid focuses on Pride Parade because of its recentness.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) provided additional rail service on the Red and Brown Lines (more frequent service on the Red and longer trains for longer than usual periods on both lines) as well as articulated buses on the 77 Belmont route. I watched one articulated bus pass tens of people waiting at stops because it was full before reaching California Avenue going eastbound.

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This articulated CTA bus was full and skipping stops before California Avenue on eastbound Belmont.

My desired viewing location was Broadway and Addison because I felt it would be less crowded there. I read on the Pride Parade website that the police would be allowing people to cross the parade at Halsted and Addison (and at three other locations).

My friends and I rode our bikes on Belmont to Southport (where drivers saw the first traffic alert sign), then north on Southport to Addison to Sheffield. Automobile traffic was forced to detour at Sheffield, and only people on bikes and pedicabs were allowed to continue toward the parade 1/4 mile away. I figured that the closer we go to the parade route, the harder it would be to find good space to lock our bikes. The Addison Red Line station has a significant number of bike racks so we locked here and walked.

The police officers managing the crossings at Addison were only letting 2-5 people cross at a time, meaning it could take 15 minutes for “our turn” to come up. I found an alternate crossing that was easier to get through and we made it to the east side of Halsted. It was less crowded on this side and we chose to stick it out here. After a couple hours we wanted to leave and had to make another crossing. This time we had to wait 10 minutes because the police officer on the opposite side had to leave the post and assist in letting an emergency vehicle through the barricade and onto the parade route.

What were the “official” recommendations for getting around?

  • As usual for events, the CTA suggested that parade spectators take public transit, a “convenient and affordable service.” On their website and in their service alerts feeds was good information on which rail and bus routes were affected by the Pride Fest and Parade and how this would affect your trip.
  • The City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication, responsible for monitoring and “adjusting” traffic (Traffic Management Authority workers, or “traffic aides,” work for OEMC), had no response on its website.

What were the issues?

Traffic congestion and parade access

Automobile traffic was heavily congested in Lakeview (specifically Boystown and Wrigleyville areas) and Lincoln Park. My post-parade destination was North Avenue beach and our route of Addison to Sheffield to Lincoln was heavily congested, putting me in the door zone on all streets for the entirety of the route. Traffic congestion affects how emergency responders access locations where crime was reported or where people need medical attention. Idling cars create pollution (as do moving cars, but idling cars are not being productive). Traffic congestion also prevents our most productive and efficient vehicles, buses, from being productive or efficient.

Overcrowded trains and parade access

Because of overcrowding at the Belmont Red/Brown/Purple line station, all trains were bypassing it for some time. I’m not sure how long this situation lasted, but I saw it on Chicagoist at at 4:09 PM and CTA Alerts (not affiliated with Chicago Transit Authority) shows a copy of an alert posted at 8:56 PM that said trains were still bypassing the Belmont station. Overcrowded train stations create a dangerous situation that could lead to stampeding, or other falls.

Crossing the parade route

Crowding at the parade crossing location at Addison and Halsted made it difficult to cross in a reasonable amount of time. One woman claimed to be near fainting but it was hard for her to move to the front of the line. Other people remarked how the police officers were on a “power trip” by limiting the number of people who could cross at one time. There were three other crossing locations listed on the official website for the parade. Crossing crowding negatively affects residents, those who need to access restrooms on the other side, and people who fall ill. Additionally, the shape of the parade makes it easy to watch it from the “outside” (west side of Halsted and east side of Broadway) and not the “inside.”

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The crowds are beginning to form at the Addison Red Line station, an hour before the parade ends. This is normal activity for Cubs game days.

Looking at the Chicago plan for the Olympics

The picture I’ve begun to paint has become the opposite of what Pride is: fun, cheerful, sunny. I’ve identified serious transportation issues that have solutions but only the CTA has developed appropriate responses.

In the 2016 Chicago Olympic Committee plan, transportation for spectators, athletes and support staff was addressed by relying heavily on bus shuttles and Metra and CTA trains. People arriving on bicycles would have to park at train stations and then take bus shuttles to the venues. Huge car-free zones would be created around venues. Everyone would arrive to the venues by bus shuttle.

Planning around such disruptive events like the Pride Parade, which some say had more spectators than ever before, can take a cue from the plan for Olympic Games in Chicago.

Possible solutions

  • Traffic congestion is not only a problem for Chicagoans and CTA during festivals, but all days. The CTA can only run its buses as fast and frequent as the Chicago street network, managed by OEMC, allows it to. The Jeffery BRT project is just one project that will prioritize transportation by bus over other modes on the road. Chicago streets need to prioritize travel for the most efficient modes: buses and bicycling over single occupancy automobiles. To start, OEMC can create a larger car-free zone around the Pride Parade (and similar traffic disruptors) so that CTA buses can move as many people in and out of the festival area as CTA trains.
  • The City of Chicago can take on a larger role in marketing transportation options to parade goers. With media partnerships, the Mayor can advocate that people ride their bikes to the parade and park at the nearest train stations or at temporary bike valets that would be setup. The same car-free area will make travel on bicycle safer and more convenient. It appears that no organization, aside from the Active Transportation Alliance (by default) advised people to bike to the parade. CBS2 didn’t recommend it; neither did the parade organizer or all other guides I looked up (TimeOut, Chicago Reader, ChicagoPride.com, etc…).

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The beginning of the car-free zone on Addison started at Sheffield on the west side.

  • OEMC and CTA can work together to provide shuttle service similar to that provided for sports games. The CTA has a number of routes activated only before, during and after events and games at the United Center (19), Soldier Field (128) and Wrigley Field (154). The Wrigley Field Express (154) lets people park their cars at the DeVry University parking lot at Addison/Rockwell and board the bus for only $6 per carload (only for Cubs night and weekend games, roundtrip)! The same offer could be extended to Pride Parade goers. A car-free zone extended beyond Sheffield on Addison and Belmont would ensure this and other routes can travel to the parade without much delay.
  • To ease overcrowding at the crossing locations, there are a number of strategies that could be implemented. The first would be to station police officers who’ve had specific training about crowd control and parade operations. Secondly, crossing locations can be identified with a pole or flag so that those who want to cross know where to go and those who don’t want to cross can stay away. Lastly, crossings could be timed and the parade interrupted so that a greater number of people could cross simultaneously.

A final solution is to move the parade to downtown. Here there’s more space for spectators and it’s more easily accessed, via a multitude of bus routes, train routes, wide streets, and highways.

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A view of the crossing location at Addison and Halsted, behind and to the right of the tall-bike rider.

The Windy City Times is reporting on the dangerous and possibly criminal outcomes of yesterday’s overcrowding at the parade (there’s a mention of people getting into fights and stomping a car roof). The article also mentions how this year’s opening of Clark Street during the parade, different from last year, affected traffic and the parade’s movement.

The city released a report on its handling of the Lake Shore Drive closure during a Winter 2011 blizzard. I expect the Chicago Police Department, OEMC and parade organizers to do the same so that next year delays and disruptions are reduced, and to make the experience smoother and safer for all involved.

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  • Andy

    You could also make the parade route longer.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      That would only do so much to help ease crowding. The other part of the crowding equation is notifying spectators about less-crowded locations (which can be done beforehand and was mentioned in papers), but also encouraging them to move there (by mentioning it during the parade and making it *easy* to get there).

      • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

        Would it help to have an even larger “no cars” zone in the vicinity of the parade, so that even if you got dropped off or took a cab you’d still have to walk a mile? This would definitely persuade more people to bike, especially if a bike valet was available.

        • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

          That fits in to the “shuttle service” idea I first read about in the Chicago plan for the 2016 Olympics.

          However, the plan differs in that it was going to require ALL spectators to arrive at the venue via shuttle. That means bicyclists would have to park and board the shuttle, too.

  • Mike Amsden

    I’m not sure I agree that there’s a problem here, at least in terms of transportation. The problems cited in the article will likely occur regardless of location whenever 750K, mostly intoxicated, people get together. The traffic congestion, transit overcrowding, etc. is a one-day problem, and there was plenty of advance warning – kind of like the day of the marathon. The fact that 750K people can get to the event without driving is truely remarkable, and unique to large, dense cities. Part of what makes living in such a City great, in my opinion. Moving the parade downtown would encourage more people to drive (tons of parking) and take away from the uniqueness of the event. Yes, crossing procedures could be improved (quite easily, I think), but besides that, I’m not sure the City needs to be anymore involved than it already is.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I hope to not come off as “alarmist” but I didn’t mention the possibility for this event, or any gathering of 500k+ people in a small place, to be greatly disrupted by a small event.

      I’m referring to events commonly seen during Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, or other situations where a small event triggers something catastrophic (and tens of people die).

      “Don’t yell ‘fire’ in a movie theater.” – That kind of thing.

      There are plenty of people moving through our transportation network that are not involved in visiting the parade but are affected by it. By working on some of the issues seen during large events, there will be positive cascading effects (like reduced congestion during any event, large or small, because of more people bicycling or faster moving buses).

  • http://twitter.com/rossg rossg

    Right now the parade routs is somewhat a horseshoe shape. This causes the crowd in a smaller area creating more compression. What would you think about having the parade rout a more linear one? This would allow more access points to bring people in via the CTA as well as have more access for pedestrians.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      A linear route would help.

      I believe the parade attendance will only grow and that city officials and parade organizers considering holding the parade downtown.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      A linear route would help.

      I believe the parade attendance will only grow and that city officials and parade organizers considering holding the parade downtown.

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