Planning for Halloween: This is How We BOO It

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Katy Lang Tweet Us @walkarlington@walkarlington November 1, 2019

Katy Lang is the Program Director for Active Transportation. She started living car-free in Arlington in 2010 and is passionate about finding great running routes and safety for people walking and biking.

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Halloween is the biggest day of the year for pedestrians. What if every day were Halloween?

Last night, a few WalkArlington team members went to N Jackson Street to hand out blinky lights and reflective zipper pulls to trick-or-treaters. The Halloween decorations on this street are mind-blowingly good, and we had so much fun (the rain held off!) watching kids, caregivers, and adults trick-or-treat.

Crowds on N Jackson Street

N Jackson-O-Lanterns

We loved how N Jackson St quickly became a pedestrian-only space. Around 6:00 p.m., there were so many people that they started spilling from the sidewalks into the street. Cars stopped attempting to drive down the street. People—adults, teens, parents pushing strollers, ghouls and goblins—could all move at their own pace. The street was able to accommodate so many people without cars in the way.

It felt safe, despite the spooky ghosts everywhere, because everything was at human scale. The illuminated jack-o-lanterns provided light to see by. People’s front porches were open and inviting. The headless horseman was wandering around. Even with the crowds, it never felt chaotic—just bustling and joyful. We could see that the decorations weren’t the only reason that this street is a popular one on Halloween. People clearly flock to N Jackson on Halloween because for just one day, it feels like a space designed for them.

Count Dracula

Of course, our team couldn’t resist the opportunity to count just how many pedestrians were out on N Jackson St last night. After all, we know that Halloween is the biggest day of the year for pedestrians.

We counted our interactions with a few hundred people in the first hour…and then we stopped counting. Neighbors told us they usually stock up on anywhere from 1,500 to 1,800 pieces of candy (!) for the kids that come through. That doesn’t even count the caregivers and adults who take in the scene without taking any candy. But it gives us a rough sense of how many thousands of people were enjoying N Jackson, compared to a normal day.

Ghost of an Idea

It got us thinking: what if we planned our streets like every day was Halloween? What if we had thousands of people walking on N Jackson Street, or other streets in Arlington, every day?

It may sound silly, but we have precedence for this in America. If you’ve ever been to a large shopping mall, you may have noticed that the parking lot is almost never full, except on the biggest holiday shopping days of the year, like the day after Thanksgiving. That’s because planners and shopping mall developers plan for the biggest day of demand.

people walking on sidewalk

If we were to plan like every day was Halloween, what would it look like? Well, it could involve:

  • Opening streets to people walking, people on bikes, and people scooting, and closing them to cars.
  • Widening the sidewalks (a lot).
  • Implementing traffic calming infrastructure to reduce speed.
  • Installing more streetlights.
  • Installing benches and places for shelter.
  • Improving other mobility options that complement walking, such as transit service, e-scooters, and bikeshare.
  • Writing and enforcing policies that keep walkways, streets, and curb cuts clear of debris, leaves, and snow for safe walking.
  • Building more trails and trail connections for a fully connected, protected network of active transportation.

This is How We BOO It

While we don’t do official pedestrian counts on Halloween, Arlington does have programs and policies that ensure that people walking are considered and prioritized in planning—like WalkArlington and the Neighborhood Complete Streets Program. See if your neighborhood is ready for Halloween night next year with this walkability checklist.

Oh, and enjoy that leftover Halloween candy.

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This post was updated on November 12, 2019.

Photo Credit:

Sam Kittner/

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