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Memo to Grant Park rally organizers
The Obama campaign and the City of Chicago is planning a huge Election Day rally in Grant Park. Details are sketchy, and apparently planners are still struggling with the logistics. Well, we have experience attending this sort of event downtown ( Lollapalooza, Independence Day fireworks, papal visits), and so here are some suggestions to make it as effective as possible:
1. Make it family friendly with special seating and screening. Kids should be able to attend, to celebrate, to witness history in the making. But the thought of big crowds and long lines is likely to scare off many parents. There's a solution: Set up separate security screening lines and seating areas designed to get families through lines quickly and into an area where they are protected from more rowdy followers. Not only is this good crowd management, it's good theater. A section full of newly optimistic families makes great visuals.
2. Inside/outside. Figure out some safe, efficient way to get the 70,000 lucky ticket-holders through the crowd of up to a million people without tickets. It seems overly optimistic to think that opening the gates at 8:30 p.m. will give the 70,000 enough time to get into the south end of Grant Park.
3. Don't forget about exiting. Too often events are spoiled on the way out, by somebody not setting up enough exit doors/gates, or otherwise making it harder than it needs to be to leave. Consider the departing in the planning, even those who need to get out before the event is officially over.
4. Amenities, amenities, amenities. This means porta-potties aplenty, water even though it's autumn, and, in case of rain, lots of people selling those cheap rain ponchos they sell at ballgames.
5. Spring for the big screens. The more of them you have, the less of a crush toward the stage there'll be. This is especially important because only 60,000-70,000 fit in Hutchinson Field, the area in the southern part of the park that will hold the stage. The guess is that tens of thousands more will want to just be in Grant Park. After all, Obama drew 100,000 for a recent rally in St. Louis.
6. Security, with a smile. The police department needs to assign its friendliest Officer Friendlys to take care of crowd control, especially those working in the midst of all those people. Nothing can sour a big-crowd experience like a sour-humored copper growling and glowering.
7. Spread the love. If Woodstock taught us anything, it's that 1 million people don't belong in all in one place. So, plan several events in neighborhoods, either telecast Obama's comments, or put him on tour. Maybe Cellular Field and Wrigley Field could host crowds.
8. Have bands perform before Obama shows up. People don't want to stand around and twiddle their thumbs. And don't settle for C+ cover bands. The Obama name can draw big acts: Wilco, Beastie Boys, Kanye West are all Obama supporters.
9. Make 'em ride. No way the rally organizers are going to be able to let anyone park in the underground garages at Grant Park for security reasons. So the CTA needs to go overboard in providing bus and rapid transit service to the Loop for the rally, especially as the crowd disperses. Maybe even borrow a page from New Year's Eve and provide the rides for free. Or have the Obama campaign subsidize them.
10. Make 'em ride: Part 2. Close Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, as of 6 p.m.---and announce that plan ahead of time so everyone can make their adjustments. With up to a million people expected, traffic is going to be a disaster anyway, so get as many cars out of the area as possible.
11. Rethink the 8:30 gates opening plan. There could be tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people already amassed in Grant Park, along Michigan Avenue and then you're going to open the gates to those with tickets, and check photo identification? Seems like a problem. Open the gates at 7.
Contributing: Steve Johnson, Tim Bannon, Pat Reardon, Robert K. Elder, Kevin Pang