SALEM — Residents overwhelmingly endorsed the city's handling of the Haunted Happenings in a recent week-long survey, but results show a sharp need for officials to improve traffic and parking issues throughout October, as well as a departure from Salem hosting a carnival downtown.
Just shy of 650 people responded to the city's recent Haunted Happenings residential survey. Questions asked survey-takers to weigh in on everything from the city's public safety and clean-up efforts to one-time events and whether street sweeping should be done at all during October. The survey ran from Nov. 4 to 12.
The full breadth of responses showed that 87 percent of residents supported the city's police and fire plan throughout October, while 89 percent supported what they saw the night of Halloween specifically. Cleanup efforts from the Department of Public Works got similarly high marks.
At the same time, only 41 percent of survey-takers found traffic management throughout October to be good or very good. Being said, 56 percent supported what they saw for traffic plans on Halloween exclusively.
"For us, it's just invaluable feedback we use as we think about planning efforts for next year," city Mayor Kim Driscoll said. "I think it's helpful in understanding the overall impressions, but we want to dig a little deeper on areas like traffic and parking, and see if there are ways to improve on that."
Results also showed two of the three least popular events asked about in the survey target Salem Common: Fiesta Shows food vendors on Salem Common and the kiddie carnival the surrounding neighborhood hosts as a fundraiser during the last two weekends of the month. The MDA Motorcycle Ride, which took place on Oct. 13, proved to be the least popular event with only 45 percent of responses saying it was good or very good, while 20 percent considered it "fair" and 34 percent called it "poor" or "very poor."
Overall, 73 percent of responses had favorable impressions of the entire Haunted Happenings season, with barely more responders also saying the same for the Halloween exclusively. A similar 73 percent said they would recommend people come to Salem at some point during the season, while only 61 percent said the same for Halloween itself.
The survey also showed changes in the public's opinion over last year. With more than 800 responses in 2018, 58 percent called for the "relocating of five to seven (adult-specific carnival) rides to Salem Common, in addition to the existing five kiddie rides." This time however, 49 percent said no to Salem providing a carnival anywhere downtown, while only 28 percent said yes to the carnival and 23 percent said it didn't make a difference to them either way.
When asked about this year's results on the issue, Driscoll said she didn't know "if they're responding to the Common, that they didn't want it on the Common. This obviously didn't dictate where it would be located."
"We're trying to keep people safe, give activities for a range of folks and ages to do," Driscoll said. "So that's what drives the carnival or anything else we're doing."
Now, officials take the data and start applying its lessons to what'll happen in 2020. Halloween will land on a Saturday next year — the effective worst-case scenario from a crowd management perspective — as well as on a full moon, upping the significance for modern-day witches celebrating Samhain as it overlaps with the Hunter's Moon.
Traffic and parking are the largest areas of need, according to city police Chief Mary Butler.
"One of the things we want to do better is having some consistent messaging around any street closures for the weekends in October," Butler said.
At times, officials in 2019 were "flying by the seat of our pants based on what foot traffic looks like," Butler said. "Other times, we're focusing too hard trying to problem-solve mid-stream throughout the month. We need to get things squared away and up and running before the month."
Officials want to also get more going with the free shuttles the city runs to keep cars from going downtown on weekends.
"These are important things not only to people coming to town to visit, but residents trying to navigate around the town," Butler said. "The other thing was trying to figure out how we work with the Pedestrian Mall in a way that provides access for those that are differently-abled and still allow for vendors to be out there."
Haunted Happenings (Oct. 1 to 30) impressions
Topic % Good % Fair % Poor
Overall 72.5 17 10.5
Public safety 87 6.9 6.1
Clean-up efforts 87.6 8.4 4
Traffic management 40.9 27.2 31.8
Parking enforcement 44.8 22.7 32.5
Vendor management 74.4 18.2 7.5
Performer management 71.6 19.1 9.3
Halloween (Oct. 31) impressions
Topic % Good % Fair % Poor
Overall 73.4 16.1 10.5
Public safety 88.6 6.4 5.1
Clean-up efforts 87 7.4 5.6
Traffic management 55.7 20.5 23.8
Parking enforcement 52.3 18.7 29.1
Vendor management 77 16.3 6.6
Performer management 74.3 16.4 9.3
Impressions on events/offerings
Event % Good % Fair % Poor
Salem Chamber Parade 83.4 11.2 5.4
Kiddie Carnival on Common 63.1 20.9 16.1
Visitor Info Booth 91.7 5.7 2.6
MDA Motorcycle Ride 45.4 20.2 34.4
Film Nights @ Forten Park 77.2 13 9.8
Food vendors on Common 46.7 25.6 27.7
September Food Truck Festival 84.1 8.2 7.7
Vendors on Essex St, Derby Sq 76.7 15.6 7.7
Great Salem Pumpkin Walk 71.6 17.3 11.1
Oct. 31 concert on Common 78.5 13.5 8
Oct. 31 music stages/beer gardens 74.9 14.1 11
Agree or Disagree?
Question Agree Unsure Disagree
No October street sweeping 68.9 20 11.1
Reduce Pedestrian Mall vendors, or move them 50 21.4 28.6
Reduce Pedestrian Mall performers, or move them 44 21 35
Disincentivize driving with shuttles/parking changes 83 10.6 6.5