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Two million at Phillies parade? Not likely

When attendance figures are tossed out like confetti, the mistakes can add up.

Crowds were thick from Center City into South Philadelphia during the Phillies' 2008 World Series Parade. (Clem Murray and Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographers)
Crowds were thick from Center City into South Philadelphia during the Phillies' 2008 World Series Parade. (Clem Murray and Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographers)Read more

Thursday's Thanksgiving parade had the likes of Santa and Super Grover, and New Year's Day brings the Mummers back - weather permitting.

But for a long time, Philadelphia parades will be defined by Halloween a year ago.

On Oct. 31, 2008, after the Phillies won the World Series, rivers of red - caps, sweatshirts, jerseys, and jackets - lined Broad Street as Budweiser Clydesdales, pulling a wagon with leftfielder Pat Burrell, led a caravan of trucks carrying players, coaches, executives, ball girls, and broadcasters - including since-departed legend Harry Kalas.

Rowdies on rooftops. Tangles of truants. Gawkers at office windows. Gridlocked groups on side streets. Media helicopters. And lots of police. They all joined a human-sardine production line that stretched for miles.

"The streets were so crowded, it was unbelievable," said Phillies pitcher Brett Myers.

What's unbelievable is the oft-quoted estimate that two million people turned out.

No one will ever know for sure, but even half that might still be too high.

The time has come to rein in such outlandish estimates. And not just in Philadelphia.

"Nobody wants the truth in a circumstance like this," said Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociologist and the author of Damned Lies and Statistics, explaining that exaggerations result from a "hometown boosterism effect."

Up to 1.5 million on the Ben Franklin Parkway for a 1984 fireworks concert? An Inquirer analysis before 2005's Live 8 concert showed the area can comfortably hold at most 400,000.

Even Barack Obama's sprawling inaugural extravaganza fell short of two million, though it did set a District of Columbia record with 1.8 million people, according to the National Park Service.

"Two million is a considerable stretch beyond my imagination, but I know it is possible in India during the period of the Kumbh Mela religious festivals," said crowd-estimating expert Clark McPhail, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois.

Contrary to media reports, no official estimate was released for last year's Phillies parade.

"Nah, we never gave anything official. We didn't really have any estimate," said Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman.

"We did not establish . . . any official number," said Doug Oliver, spokesman for Mayor Nutter. "The two million was floated around, and we've never refuted nor confirmed."

Police have a term for unscientific estimates - SWAG, for "stupid, wild-ass guesses," said McPhail. The most precise yardstick is to find an actual count, like ticket sales, he said.

For the Phillies parade, that existed only for the crowds at ceremonies at Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field. Neither was filled, however, according to reports and a check of YouTube videos. Since the two facilities together hold about 110,000 people, 100,000 attendees would seem a generous "ballpark" figure.

Otherwise, to calculate a crowd, McPhail said, one needs to determine the area occupied, and factor in an estimate of how tightly people were packed.

Such an analysis quickly deflates the notion that two million people crammed the sidewalks and curbs along the official parade route - from 20th and Market Streets to Broad Street to Pattison Avenue to Citizens Bank Park.

Along that four-mile stretch - about 21,000 feet - crowds packed about 20 to 25 feet wide on each side. Suppose crowds were 30 feet deep on each side - allowing spillage over the curbs or extra room in more open spots - making 60 feet total, counting both sides.

That means the lines of onlookers filled about 1.25 million square feet - nowhere close to the room two million Phils (or Flyers or 76ers) fans would need.

The densest crowds (outside of Tokyo subway cars) have about 1 person every 2.5 square feet.

One person every 5 square feet is more likely, said McPhail, after reviewing photographs of the parade.

That means the parade-route throngs contained as many as 500,000 people - but perhaps as few as 250,000.

Combined with the stadiums' 100,000, that's a rough preliminary range of 350,000 to 600,000 people.

There are missing pieces - side streets; people at windows and on rooftops; those flanking Spring Garden Street along the little-publicized, unofficial starting route. But they're just not large enough to stretch the final tally to seven figures.

Rough calculations, based on photographs and eyewitness accounts, suggest the total for the side streets, the crowd above the crowd, and the sparsely attended pre-parade added up to possibly 50,000 to 100,000 people. That still puts the grand total around 420,000 to 750,000 people.

Could a million people have been there? Perhaps, but it's difficult to find where they could have come from.

As of 2005, about 513,000 people lived or worked in either Center City or South Philadelphia, according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Last Halloween, SEPTA fares were up about 715,000 - or about 200,000 to 350,000 people.

"You're in the right ballpark," said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney, explaining that a person taking a train and then a subway round-trip would count four times.

The PATCO High-Speed Line carried about 38,000 extra people, judging from about 76,000 additional fares, according to Delaware River Port Authority spokesman Ed Kasuba.

On the other hand, driving was not up, as people apparently heeded well-publicized warnings to take mass transit.

"I can tell you from personal observation that driving was not an issue," said Charles Metzger, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. ". . . Parking lots were basically empty."

Traffic was not busier on the Delaware River bridges, Kasuba said.

Fewer than a half-million extra riders. A pool of a half-million residents and workers. Add them together and what do you get?

A very impressive turnout for an unforgettable parade.

Just not two million people.

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