HOULTON, Maine — If you’re a veteran trick-or-treater in Houlton, you know that the High Street neighborhood is the place to see lots of decorations and get candy on Halloween.
But with hundreds of children flocking to that neighborhood every Halloween, police are becoming increasingly worried about the combination of so many excited youngsters weaving in between houses and cars on a pitch-black evening.
This year, the Houlton Police Department has decided to take steps to assure that the neighborhood’s excellent Halloween safety record remains unblemished.
Police Chief Butch Asselin announced on Wednesday evening that High Street will be blocked off to through traffic from 4:30 until 9 p.m. Oct. 31.
The route will be blocked off from Franklin Avenue north to the First Congregational Church by the Park Street intersection. Asselin said that unless a resident lives on that section of the street, driving will be prohibited.
“Typically, residents in this area see several hundred children during the evening trick-or-treating and it can become quite congested with vehicles, adults, teenagers, small children and their pets,” the chief said. “Because children sometimes wear masks, don’t always carry flashlights or wear reflective clothing, the community has been most fortunate over the years not to have had a child injured or knocked down by a slow-moving vehicle.”
Asselin said that he made the decision after soliciting comments from the public. An officer went door-to-door last week to discuss the idea with residents, and the department solicited comments on its Facebook page.
Asselin said that the response was “very good and incredibly positive.”
Residents still will be able to park close to the neighborhood if they want, as the First Congregational Church on High Street will be open and can accommodate up to 40 cars. Asselin noted that the entrance of the church parking lot is U-shaped and ideally suited for traffic to enter and exit in one direction. If the church lot fills up, the High Street barricade will be moved up to Park Street to include the parking lot in the safe no-driving zone. Parking will be allowed on adjoining streets.
Volunteers from the department’s Citizen’s Police Academy will be posted at either end of High Street that night. The volunteers will move the barricades for emergency vehicles and for people who reside in that area. The department also will have one officer on foot patrol within the enclosed area to assist where needed.
Because of the lack of sidewalks and the width of the street, the south side of Franklin Avenue by Dow’s Market will be posted with no-parking signs for 200 feet east and west of the intersection. Parking will be allowed only on one side of the street in that vicinity.
Weeks Street will be blocked off by the Fair Street intersection.
Jennifer Lowrey, a Houlton resident, said Thursday that she thought the idea was “fantastic.” She takes her three nieces trick-or-treating in the High Street area every year.
“It really is a madhouse over there,” she said. “But it is a very popular neighborhood. I used to trick-or-treat there myself when I was growing up. I think this is a great idea, because we are talking about kids who are all excited to be out there in their costumes, and they get excited about what they are doing and don’t always watch where they are going. It only takes a second for an accident to happen, and no one wants to see that.”
Marie Chase, who also lives in Houlton, agreed. She lives near High Street and recalled taking her children trick-or-treating in that area two or three years ago.
“Kids were all over the street and the lawns and the sidewalks, and there were cars driving up the street with several people talking on their cell phones behind the wheel,” she recalled. “This is a very good idea. It is not just the kids, it is the drivers, too. There are too many scary stories of distracted driving. I am glad the department is doing this.”
After Halloween, Asselin said, the department will critique the plan in an effort to improve it for 2011.