Changes may make Walla Walla holiday parade safer

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WALLA WALLA — An accident during last year’s Macy’s Parade of Lights is the driving force behind new traffic and event changes leading into this year’s annual parade.

Barriers to incoming traffic will be put up along sections of Main Street about 31/2 hours before the start of the Dec. 7 parade as a way to eliminate parking along the parade route.

The traffic change is intended as a fix to minimize crowding into the streets during the parade. The decision on the change was made by the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, city of Walla Walla and Walla Walla Police Department.

In the past, vehicles have remained parked along Main Street during the parade. But that’s led spectators to step off the sidewalks and into the roadway beyond the parked vehicles to get a better look and to pick up candy that’s passed out by the parade entrants.

As an added precaution this year, float participants will not be allowed to hand out candy or pamphlets to spectators.

“It’s the only solution that guaranteed safety for spectators and participants,” said Downtown Foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini.

The changes are a safety solution after a girl participating in the parade with the Walla Walla Swim Club float last year got her heel caught under a wheel and had her lower leg run over. The injury was reported as minor. Officials said she was walking too close to the float as the swelling crowds pushed participants in toward parade entries.

The parade takes place the first Saturday in December, which also happens to be one of the busiest weekends downtown. Holiday Barrel Tasting, which runs the same weekend, draws visitors for wine tasting from all over the region. Downtown is also typically packed with holiday shoppers.

The change will mean less parking availability ahead of the parade on the busiest stretch downtown. It won’t please everyone, Agostini said.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to track down owners of the vehicles and ask them to move, added Tim Bennett, public information officer for the Walla Walla Police Department. And towing isn’t ideal either, he said.

“It is very important to have the cars moved from the parade route for obvious reasons,” Bennett said in an email. “The float drivers need to be able to see any pedestrians along the route. With vehicles parked on the street it can be difficult to see a little one dart out into the street, which should be minimized by not having any candy thrown.”

The issue hasn’t been a problem at the annual Fair & Frontier Days Parade, officials said. That parade takes place in the morning, and parking along the route is prohibited.

The evening time frame poses a unique traffic challenge for the Parade of Lights.

This year, traffic barriers will go up starting at 2:30 p.m. to prevent incoming traffic along Main Street from Third Avenue to Palouse Street, the foundation said. This should provide time for already parked vehicles to clear out before the start of the 6 p.m. parade. The barriers are expected to be removed around 8 p.m., after the parade ends.

Agostini said officials will evaluate how the changes go this year with angled parking a serious possibility to come on Alder Street, too. Although not yet officially approved by the city, the foundation is endorsing a changeover to angled parking on Alder that would add another 66 spots.

Consequently if put in motion by next year, the traffic flow expectations could affect other sections of the parade route next year, too, he said.

“Right now, we’re focusing on where it is most cramped — from Third to Palouse on Main,” he said. “We need to open it up so there is no danger to people coming close to moving floats.”

About 75 floats are expected in this year’s parade. New this year is also a $20 fee, which officials say will be used to pay for signs to communicate the traffic changes.

To download an entry form, click here.

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