The Town of Chapel Hill will not preemptively close any roads for Halloween this year and has advised against attending the famous annual celebration on Franklin Street, according to a press release.
In past years, Town officials have closed Franklin Street and surrounding areas to motor traffic from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. in anticipation of thousands of Halloween celebrators. But this year, the Town will not close any roads in advance.
However, if closures become necessary due to foot traffic, roads will close no earlier than 8 p.m and and reopen no later than 9:30 p.m. in an effort to keep the area open for vehicles.
“If crowd size and safety dictate closing the roadway so people can more safely move around, that’s what we’ll do,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said.
Halloween crowd sizes on Franklin Street have hit as high as 40,000 people in 2015. Since then, attendance has dropped significantly — only 16,000 people attended in 2018.
“It got massive at one point in time, and people were coming from all over the state to Franklin Street, and that was kind of overwhelming for our town,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said. “Over the years, we have tried to create what’s called ‘Homegrown Halloween,’ where we have reduced the size and scale of activities on Halloween evening downtown.”
Blue said turnout is unpredictable, but he expects a smaller turnout than previous Halloween nights because of COVID-19 and the fact that the holiday is on a Sunday.
The Halloween festivities on Franklin Street have not been promoted with videos, as the Town does not want to encourage large social gatherings, Hemminger said.
“We are asking people to wear their masks and to be careful, but we are not going to enforce anything,” Hemminger said. “We are just asking people to be socially responsible.”
Alex Carrasquillo, the community safety public information officer for Chapel Hill, said Halloween on Franklin Street is tricky because it is not a Town event, but a tradition.
“There aren’t statewide executive orders to enforce in terms of COVID and large gatherings, so that is why it is a recommendation that people find a safer alternative,” Carrasquillo said. “We are not saying people cannot go down and support local businesses, but just stay on the sidewalk and be safe.”
Instead of the traditional Franklin Street celebration, the Town of Chapel Hill is encouraging small gatherings this Halloween, citing COVID-19 as a safety hazard in large crowds — even outdoors.
The Town has identified three tiers for Halloween activities: lower, moderate and high risk.
Lower-risk activities include carving pumpkins with members of one's household, decorating one's house and having a virtual Halloween costume contest.
Some of moderate-risk activities the Town suggests are socially distanced trick or treating, outdoor movie watching and small, outdoor costume parties.
Among the high-risk activities are indoor haunted houses and large outdoor gatherings, similar to Franklin Street Halloween celebrations in past years.
“We’re certainly advising folks to be really thoughtful and measured about those activities,” Blue said. “We’re doing well with our response to COVID, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”
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