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I’m not a big fan of crowds, but when Al Benkert calls to ask if I can be a judge in the Vero Beach Christmas Parade, I try to make sure I can be there.

Between the weather, floats, live performances, holiday spirit and location, the parade — which a rollerblading Benkert has overseen the past 12 years for the Oceanside Business Association and Sunrise Rotary Club — might be the best hour of free entertainment in Indian River County.

It was no different Dec. 4, when perhaps a record crowd — there’s no official attendance estimate — lined Ocean Drive to watch the parade from Flamevine Lane to Jaycee Park.

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Thousands of people gather along Ocean Drive for the 37th annual Vero Beach Christmas Parade Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Vero Beach. The parade and festivities were presented by the Oceanside Business Association and Sunrise Rotary Club.
Thousands of people gather along Ocean Drive for the 37th annual Vero Beach Christmas Parade Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Vero Beach. The parade and festivities were presented by the Oceanside Business Association and Sunrise Rotary Club.

The event is wonderful, but such mass popularity breeds challenges — or opportunities.

For example: I thought I’d planned for traffic, allowing an hour for what Apple maps projected would be a 35-minute trip over the Barber Bridge to Riverside Park and walk to the judges’ table.

I left at 5 p.m. and got to the bridge and standstill traffic at 5:15 p.m. — the map app now telling me I’d get to the park at 6:50 p.m.!

Police Chief David Currey, also stuck, told me the issue was eastbound traffic was stopped so floats could go from Riverside Park onto Beachland Boulevard to stage on Cardinal Drive.

Officers debriefed after the parade. Currey said they’d come up with proposals to ameliorate pre-parade traffic issues.

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It was bumper to bumper on the eastbound Merrill Barber Bridge about 5:15 p.m. Saturday Dec. 4, 2021, as motorists headed to the Vero Beach Christmas Parade.
It was bumper to bumper on the eastbound Merrill Barber Bridge about 5:15 p.m. Saturday Dec. 4, 2021, as motorists headed to the Vero Beach Christmas Parade.

Most people got to where they needed to be on time Saturday. Once the floats were in place, traffic flowed smoothly. I got to the judges’ tent by 6:05 p.m., a few minutes before the parade got to us.

Lesson: Leave earlier like many people do and enjoy the Oceanside Business District during late afternoon.

Pre-parade traffic is expected. It’s what I saw after the parade that got me thinking.

As we sat after the parade at Ocean Drive and Beachland judging, we saw several near accidents and aggressive driving. We also heard about the crash a block away in front of Bobby’s. Two folks were transported to a trauma center after being struck by a car whose driver was impaired by alcohol, police said.

Because the crash blocked northbound traffic, vehicles attempted to back into the Ocean/Beachland intersection, conflicting with drivers heading westbound (often blowing through a stop sign) from Sexton Plaza.

As a firetruck heading to the crash approached Ocean Drive from the east with its lights and sirens on, a northbound vehicle slowly rolled into the intersection. Benkert ran into the road to stop it so the emergency vehicle could get through.

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Vero Beach police and emergency personnel work the scene of a crash Saturday Dec. 4, 2021, on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach just west of Bobby's restaurant. Police said they charged a woman with driving under the influence after a crash that hospitalized two pedestrians following the Christmas parade.
Vero Beach police and emergency personnel work the scene of a crash Saturday Dec. 4, 2021, on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach just west of Bobby's restaurant. Police said they charged a woman with driving under the influence after a crash that hospitalized two pedestrians following the Christmas parade.

A story about the crash posted on the Vero Beach Neighborhood Facebook group elicited all sorts of comments. Some folks said they didn't attend the parade because it was too cluttered or they had safety concerns (relative lack of lighting, too many drinkers, other reasons). At least one person suggested moving the parade to 14th Avenue, saying it was held there decades ago.

To me, though, the parade is great where it is. Post parade, however, traffic can be a madhouse as some folks who got to Sexton Plaza or other places along the route bolted after spending several hours in the shopping and entertainment district.

How many had been partying much of the afternoon before roads were closed for a pre-parade 3K race? There’s no telling. Regardless, Ocean at Beachland in the 45 minutes or so after the parade doesn’t seem too safe.

It's cool how many people stay in the district to eat after the parade.

After the judging and cleanup, I started walking back to Riverside, but saw a huge backup on the bridge. So I headed to Casey’s on Cardinal. It was busy. I waited patiently for my food, enjoyed it, then walked to my car.

Riverside Park still had lots of vehicles, including post-parade tailgaters listening to a band outside Riverside Theatre.

All of this got me thinking. Are there ways to enhance the parade experience, business district commerce and safety?

Here are some ideas:

Benkert didn't like the radical one I suggested to close Beachland to general traffic for most of the day. He does not want to hurt retail businesses, which rely on holiday traffic.

"We need to help the retail to keep our small-town atmosphere," Benkert said. "It's a valuable asset. It's important to all of Indian River County."

OK, but could Ocean Drive be closed to general traffic from Flamevine to Beachland until 10 p.m., creating a more pedestrian-friendly zone? More shuttles could be set up for parking at multiple locations. There already is a shuttle from Memorial Island in Riverside Park.

Could police direct traffic at Ocean and Beachland until all the traffic clears?

Drop-off locations could be set up for carpoolers or ride-sharing services, such as Uber.

People already are paying premiums to stay in hotels along the route for that weekend. Is there a way the shopping district or city could capitalize on the valuable parking space it has along Beachland? Could they sell reserved parking spots, leaving others open for retailers?

Currey and Benkert said officials will consider other ideas.

As TCPalm reporter Thomas Weber noted before the parade, officials already improved safety in the wake of the attack at the Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christmas parade Nov. 21.

Vero Beach police also increased security because in 2019, the last parade held on the beach (a reverse parade was held near the city’s airport in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic), a drunken driver wound up in the middle of the parade, Weber reported.

Greater minds than mine closer to the business district and parade can determine whether any of these ideas make sense — with goals of safety, fun, handling increasing attendance and spurring more business and daytime foot traffic in the district.

The Oceanside Business Association and Sunrise Rotary have done an incredible job building the parade into what it has become. How can it become even more successful?

If you've got any thoughts, please send me an email.

This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him via email at [email protected], phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Vero Beach Christmas Parade is great; how'd you make it better?

Source : https://news.yahoo.com/vero-beach-christmas-parade-great-110112971.html

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