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Pedestrianizing Southport for Trick-or-Treaters Is a Frightfully Good Idea

This year, cars won't be draggin' down the Halloween fun on Southport. Photo: Tag Buzzard via Flickr

Tired of cars gobblin’ up all the right-of-way when there should be more space for pedestrians? Take your little witches and werewolves down to the annual Trick or Treat on Southport, organized by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce.

This free, annual community event takes place this Sunday, October 26, from 1-4 p.m. on Southport, from Belmont to Irving Park. Big turnouts in recent years had crowds overflowing the sidewalks. In response, this year's candy-fest will include a few blocks of street closures, create a safer environment for the throngs of costumed kids.

For the last few years, the chamber has pedestrianized a block of Southport between Grace and Byron to hold a Pumpkin Party during the trick or treating event, with a bouncy house and other activities. “It was a place where kids could go after trick or treating to run off the sugar,” explained Heather Way Kitzes, director of the chamber.

This year, the car-free area will be expanded to include sections of Southport from Roscoe to Addison, and from Waveland to Grace. That's three out of the four blocks between the Southport Brown Line station and Grace. “The number-one comment we’ve gotten year after year is that the sidewalk congestion was creating an unsafe condition for pedestrians, so we decided to try this out,” Kitzes said. She expects that between 3,000 and 5,000 families will participate.

The permits and barricades for pedestrianizing the street will cost the chamber $3,000. However, the city is sending police officers to direct traffic at no additional charge, and is not requiring the chamber to pay for traffic aides. While a few merchants have grumbled about these blocks being made car-free, Kitzes said the vast majority of businesses supported the idea. The change will affect deliveries to a bakery, and a car wash will close for the afternoon.

Crowds overflowing the sidewalk during Southport trick-or-treating. Photo: Lee Crandell

“But, honestly, there was so much congestion because of large numbers of pedestrians crossing the street, no one was getting anywhere anyway, and people were at risk,” Kitzes said. She noted that it’s especially tricky for kids to safely navigate in costumes and masks.

Due to the extra expenses, the chamber won’t be holding the Pumpkin Party this year, but there are a gaggle of other activities to keep your little monsters out of trouble. There will be two Smile Booth stations for taking family portraits with a pumpkin patch background. Merry Music Makers is holding a kids’ drum circle.

Performers from A Spoonful of Magic will be there, dressed as characters from the hit children’s movie “Frozen.” Local yoga instructor Cindy Houston will be leading kids in a hula-hooping circle, and students from the Little Gym will be doing a gymnastics demo.

Kitzes said the decision to make these blocks car-free for trick or treating was not influenced by the chamber’s successful Sunday Play Spot series, since the two programs were planned around the same time. The Play Spot events pedestrianized Lincoln between School and Roscoe on four Sundays in September for active games, crafts, picnicking, an art installation, bike riding, and live performances.

Kitzes estimates three or four thousand people participated in the Play Spot program, with attendance building each week. Some 500 families showed up for a “Frozen”-themed parade alone. Does the chamber plan to do the Play Spot series next year? “Oh yeah!” she said.

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