Four years ago, Halloween in Chapel Hill had become scarier than usual due to crowd sizes that packed people so tightly onto Franklin Street that some participants reported being lifted off their feet from the crowd swell.
At that time, I could see that in spite of our superb team of public works, public safety and transit personnel, we were losing our ability to keep people safe. We received reports of fighting, disorderly conduct, assaults, pickpocketing, intoxication and alcohol poisoning.
Some attendees appeared panicked and frightened by the density of the crowd, which was estimated at 80,000 people. These disturbing trends threatened to end a local tradition that shows off that unique part of our community character — our creativity, sense of humor and playful spirit.
Halloween on Franklin Street was never an officially sponsored town event with programmed activities. The tradition began in the mid-1980s with a few hundred residents, including students and families with children, walking the sidewalks of the 100 block of East Franklin Street in Halloween costumes. Today the event stretches into the entire downtown.
When the crowds had increased beyond a reasonable level, we arrived at a crossroads. We had to find a way to reduce the crowds and improve our management in order to keep people safe who come to our downtown.