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UPDATED 10/05/11 10:15 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Following reports of major crowd control problems at the Gay Pride Parade this past summer, the City of Chicago has decided to move the start of the parade north to Uptown and push up its start time by two hours.
For decades, the parade has followed the same route through the East Lakeview neighborhood – north on the Boystown strip of Halsted Street from Belmont Avenue north to Broadway and Grace Street, then making a turn of more than 135 degrees to head southeast on Broadway to Diversey Parkway, and finally east on Diversey to Cannon Drive.
But starting next year, the parade will begin at the intersection of Broadway and Montrose Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood, 0.75 miles from the north end of the Halsted Street Boystown strip, organizers said. The parade will continue southeast on Broadway to Halsted Street, and head south down the Boystown strip to Belmont Avenue.
Then the parade will head east for two blocks on Belmont and return to Broadway, where it will resume its traditional route and head south on Broadway and east on Diversey.
The change means an increase of five blocks in the total length of the route. The only section of the old route that will be eliminated is Broadway between Grace Street and Belmont Avenue, where huge crowds have traditionally gathered in the parking lot of the Treasure Island grocery store at 3460 N. Broadway, at the mouth of several east-west cross-streets, and on rooftops, to watch the parade.
In addition, the start time of the parade will move from noon to 10 a.m., with the hope of cutting down on public drinking. While some neighborhood bars set up outdoor refreshment stands during the parade, many people bring their own coolers and drink throughout the day, even though doing so is technically forbidden.
Furthermore, the number of entries will be cut from 250 to 200, which will shorten the time of the parade and allow the streets to reopen sooner, organizers said.
This year’s parade drew an estimated 800,000 people, according to the Sun-Times. The crowd swelled to the point that police had to stop the parade briefly so that a swarm of people could cross Halsted Street at Belmont Avenue and reduce congestion.
When the parade resumed, about 40 participants had to be diverted south on Clark Street at the intersection with Halsted Street and Barry Avenue, and did not get to appear in the parade at all.
Farther north, the crowds reportedly swelled to the point of danger. The Windy City Times reported after the parade this year that many people had to get out from behind barricades because due to lack of space, and some packed spectators scaled an eight-foot chain link fence among Halsted Street.
Fighting was also reported at Belmont Avenue and Halsted Street, and the Windy City Times showed a photograph of a damaged car with a shattered windshield that reportedly had been danced on by parade spectators on Belmont.
Immediately after the parade, organizer Rich Pfeiffer told the Windy City Times that alternate routes might have to be discussed.
On the Boystown Facebook page Wednesday morning, the changes to the time and route met with mixed reaction.
One man called it “Probably not the worst idea,” but, “the people who ruined it this year will eventually learn to get there earlier though.”
Another man wrote, “If they are so worried about drinking, maybe there needs to be a set time when the bars open and close around the time of the parade…. I’d like to see an Alderman throw that idea out there.”
In a poll on the page, 56 respondents had voted no on whether the changes to the parade would reduce the problems of recent years, while only six voted yes as of 10:15 a.m. Wednesday.
The first Gay Pride Parade was actually a protest march from Bughouse Square at Dearborn and Walton streets to what is now the Daley Center, on June 27, 1970. But the parade has been held in East Lakeview ever since, through the city’s current gay nightlife district on Halsted Street, and a former one at Diversey, Clark and Broadway.
But in recent years, calls have mounted to make changes to the parade, as crowds have swelled and drunken rowdiness has annoyed neighbors. Last year, Gay Chicago reported one neighbor, Doug Ochab, called for limiting the parade only to Halsted Street and charging admission fees for spectators.
But area businesses resisted eliminating any street from the route, noting the boost for business the parade provides.
There was also discussion moving the parade to Columbus Drive in Grant Park downtown. But that would have required a change in the date so the parade wouldn’t conflict with the Taste of Chicago, and besides that, Pride Parades have often lost support when they’ve been moved out of largely gay neighborhoods, the Windy City Times reported in June.