2010 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade

by Parade Guy on March 18, 2010

Hi everyone.

I was lucky enough to be asked back to help make the 249th Annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  It was another beautiful day for a Parade, as they all are in my book.  This year’s parade was bigger than last year, leading up to a crescendo of parades, the 250th Anniversary of the first parade.

We had the luck of the Irish on our side this year.  New York City, in an effort to control and reduce its budget deficit, placed a limit of five hours on existing and new parades.  While this may not seem to be an issue for most parades, last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade took six hours and seven minutes from the time the first unit passed the starting line until the last unit passed the starting line.  The City also has ordered that each existing parade reduce its overall length by twenty-five percent.  The luck of the Irish?  The new regulations started on April 1st.  I am not sure if it helped that we had NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly as our Grand Marshall.

A six hour parade is not your normal parade.  It is huge.  It is so big that staging cannot take place all at once.  And as a participant, just think about having to wait for six hours before you were placed on the route.  The result of this is that groups and units are staged in shifts.  There are five streets that cross 5th Avenue that create ten staging areas.  Additionally, units are staged on various parts of 5th Avenue.

When it comes to creating the parade, the half blocks are emptied from the South to the North, East first, then West.  Based on the number of people in each half block, we can estimate the time it will take to empty the staging area.  Through extrapolation, we can also determine when the next set of units should report to each block.  It is a balancing act to maximize the availability of each unit and minimize the wait time.  If the parade moves quicker than expected, the units may not be where you need them.  If the parade moves slower, the potential to have units arriving at a full staging area increases.

This year, the Parade moved slower than expected.  Unfortunately, this meant that many units were waiting for a lot longer than they were either expecting or wanting to tolerate.  This presents a challenge to the Parade volunteers.  It is important for both volunteers and participants to remember that as a rule, everyone is a volunteer and should be treated with courtesy.  It was also unfortunate that not everyone remembered this.

So why was the Parade slower than expected?

I like to think of a parade as a long water pipe with many valves before the final spigot.  If all of the valves are wide open, then the water flows just as fast as it comes from the source.  If any valve is closed even partially, the flow is constricted and the end result is that the amount of water flowing out of the spigot is reduced.  It doesn’t matter which valve is closed.

In the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, there are several choke points along the route.  If they are not managed properly, the flow of the entire parade is affected.  In this case, the choke points fall into two categories:  Cross Streets and Reviewing Stands.  At each Cross Street, NYPD and Parade staff measure the number of people waiting to cross moving either East or West across 5th Avenue.  When a critical mass is reached, the parade is stopped and people are allowed to cross the route.  The length of these delays can and should be managed with time limits.  This needs to be agreed upon and coordinated in advance.

The second category, reviewing stands, is also difficult to manage.  In this parade, some units expect to stop and perform.  This is where a Stage Manager is required along with pre-established guidelines for the performance.  Careful and polite management can ensure that the Parade flows as desired.  In the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the reviewing stand is closer to the end, so gaps created stops in front of the reviewing stand impact the least amount of spectators as possible.  The parade also passes in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  This year, there was a new Archbishop reviewing the Parade.  In fact, he is a very well liked and respected Archbishop.  The Cathedral is very close to the integration point of the parade.  I noticed that the Parade did not flow smoothly from staging through integration on to the route.  I deduced that for the Parade to stop so very early after integration, there must have been a reason for the bottleneck within a few blocks.  This is a lesson to be learned so that the parade can be better managed next year, when there will be time constraints to be dealt with.

Overall all, the Parade went very well.  As with anything this complex with so many moving parts, there were issues.  The goal is to keep them small and to mitigate them as best as possible.  The volunteer group that puts on the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade did just that. 

For me, it was another enjoyable event.  My favorite part is walking up the route as the Last Man Marching.  I turn over Fifth Avenue back to the people of New York, block by block, waving my parade waves and saying “See you next year!”

I hope you enjoyed it too.

See ya’ on the route!

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t get to see the parade this year, but I sure missed it. I wished I’d found this blog earlier. It’s great. I’ll be sure to tell all my friends about it!

  • Antonia

    I could not agree more!

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