HOULTON, Maine — Police in Houlton are happy with the results of a public safety experiment they initiated on Halloween to assure that trick-or-treaters in a busy neighborhood remained safe as they rushed from house to house.
Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin said Tuesday that he and his officers still were evaluating the results of the Halloween night initiative, which had the department blocking off High Street to traffic during an approximately four-hour span. Asselin said that police, so far, have heard only positive feedback about the initiative.
Beginning at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, police blocked off High Street from Franklin Avenue north to the First Congregational Church near the Park Street intersection. Unless a resident lived on that section of the roadway, driving was prohibited.
Because of the lack of sidewalks and the width of the street, the south side of Franklin Avenue near Dow’s Market was posted with no-parking signs for 200 feet east and west of the intersection. Weeks Street also was blocked off near the Fair Street intersection.
Such action was taken because of the increasing popularity of High Street and surrounding routes among trick-or-treaters. Each year, hundreds of children flock to that neighborhood, which is popular not only for its candy, but also because several homeowners go all out decorating their houses and yards. The houses also are close together, so children can tote away big bags of candy without having to walk too far.
Every Halloween, the neighborhood becomes congested with vehicles, adults, teenagers, small children and pets. Because children sometimes wear masks and don’t always carry flashlights or wear reflective clothing, the chief was concerned that an accident might mar the neighborhood’s strong safety record.
“We started to really see heavy foot traffic around 5:15 p.m.,” Asselin said Tuesday. “We had volunteers from our past Citizen’s Police Academies and some officers watching over things, and it seemed to work quite well. We didn’t hear any negative comments, and we didn’t have any problems with traffic congestion.”
Residents still were able to park close to the neighborhood if they wanted to, as the First Congregational Church on High Street was open and could accommodate up to 40 cars at one time.
By the time police opened the area just after 7:30 p.m., approximately 1,012 children had flocked to the street, according to the chief.
Jana Trombley and her nephew and niece Connor and Michaela were three of those visitors. Trombley, who has lived in Houlton for three years, takes the children to High Street and Commonwealth Avenue every Halloween.
“When I first moved to town, everyone told me that High Street was the place to go for candy,” she said Tuesday. “But it was scary. You really had to hold on to your kids tight. There were several times that I saw a child get overexcited and try to run out into the street without thinking.”
Trombley said that “it seemed very different this year.”
“It was much safer, I felt,” she said. “You could see that the kids were happier, too, because the parents were less tense and [the children] had a little more freedom.”
Robert Castle, who also lives in Houlton, agreed. He brought his grandchildren trick-or-treating.
“We usually just trick-or-treat near the elementary school, but we did stop by High Street this year,” he said Tuesday, adding that the police closing the street to motorists factored into his decision. “I felt it was a great idea to close it.”
Asselin said that, at this point, he feels no need to expand the closure to other streets. He said the department plans to solicit additional feedback on its Facebook page, but he speculated Tuesday that police likely would close the street again next year.