Responding to a steep jump in attendance and chaos at last year's Pride Parade, parade officials announced several changes intended to curtail public drinking and disburse crowds over a larger section of the neighborhood.
The changes add five blocks to the route, incorporate the use of two additional el stations, decrease the number of entries by 50 and move the step off time to 10:00 a.m., two hours earlier than past years.
The changes are the most significant to the parade in many years, said Rich Pfeiffer, chief organizer of the event.
"You weigh the pros and cons… and the bottom line was safety," said Pfeiffer. "We just did not want a repeat of last year."
A near doubling of attendance at the parade in June presented greater challenges for parade officials. At the 2011 Parade, crowds were so large and out of control that many parade-goers said they feared for their safety. Last year's parade saw a turnout of approximately 800,000 people, compared with an estimated 450,000 in 2010.
"We were shocked [ by the turnout ] ," Pfeiffer said.
Max Bever, a spokesperson for 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, said that his office saw "numerous public safety concerns" after last year's parade.
"Certainly, we didn't want to go the route of the South Side St. Patrick's Day Parade and up and cancel it," Bever said.
Several called for changes to the event and suggested alternative routes. Officials announced such changes on Oct. 5.
The new route kicks off at Montrose and Broadway, heading south on Broadway and then turning onto Halsted. It will turn east on Belmont and then go south on Broadway, finishing east at Diversey and Cannon Drive.
The changes eliminate the sharp curve in the route at Halsted and Broadway, where two lanes of parade traffic and crowds sometimes made the corner impassable by police and sandwiched crowds into a single city block. Bever said that the "V" created by the curve trapped residents who lived at the corner for hours and blocked emergency vehicles from accessing the parade route.
In addition, the new route adds five blocks, making the parade accessible by two more Red Line El stops at Wilson and at Sheridan.
The added El stops are expected to relieve congestion at the Belmont El station, where crowds became so thick after the parade in 2011 the station had to be shut down temporarily.
"It's going to be way more manageable this way," Pfeiffer said, adding that come Spring, event organizers will be widely publicizing the changes and recommending parade-goers consider watching the parade from less crowded locations.
Attendees will also be waking up earlier for the parade, which steps off at 10:00 a.m. instead of noon.
"By staging this earlier, hopefully you'll have less alcohol consumption," Pfeiffer said, "Unless you're a hardcore drinker, you've not going to be drinking at 10 a.m."
Several brawls erupted throughout Lakeview at last year's parade, and a group of people jumped up and down on a car until its windshield broke, raising concerns that high alcohol consumption and large crowds set the stage for disaster.
The parade has also been cut down from 250 to 200 entries to shorten the length of the parade. Registration forms, which typically come out on March 1, could be released as early as February this year.
As in past years, entries in 2012 will be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis. LGBT groups however, are not expected to have a problem entering, said Pfeiffer.
"Most of the largest LGBT groups register early," Pfeiffer said. But he urged LGBT contingents to get their paperwork in as soon as the forms are released to ensure participation.
In 2011, the last 50 entries in the parade were diverted off the route after crowds spilled into the start point at Belmont and Halsted. Several of those groups asked for refunds. Groups that did not take refunds were promised spots towards the front of the route for 2012.
So serious were problems at Pride 2011 that Pfeiffer met with city officials on the issues on five separate occasions. Parade coordinators typically meet with city officials just once the week after their respective parades.
Overwhelmingly, officials identified the problem as one of capacity. Attendance jumped so dramatically that organizers said they felt blindsided.
Some have attributed high attendance to media attention on LGBT people leading up to the Parade as civil unions went into effect earlier in the month.
High attendance also raised concerns that the parade had outgrown Boystown altogether.
"We do get some of the feedback every year," said Bever. "But its location in the heart of Lakeview is very important."
Bever said that the decision to start the parade route further north, however, was also in part because the city's LGBT community appears to be moving further north.
According to Pfeiffer, numerous city departments signed off on the changes, including police, fire, the Office of Emergency Management, Streets and Sanitation, Human Relations, aldermen and the Mayor's office. Bever said that Tunney, 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith all consulted on the changes as well.
More changes could be made in coming years, Pfeiffer acknowledged. He also accepts the possibility that high attendance in 2011 was a fluke. Still, he said, organizers are planning for the prospect of 800,000 people.
Note: Please see Windy City Time coverage of the Pride Parade of 2011 at the links: