How Many People Saw the Rose Parade?

Two decades ago, while a young reporter for the Pasadena Star-News, I convincingly debunked the official claim that a million people show up in person to see the Rose Parade. It took about five minutes of simple arithmetic to show that it was impossible*, and my colleagues and I then attempted to estimate the real crowd size by doing actual crowd counts.

From some random newspaper:

Pasadena, Calif., police estimated that more than a million spectators came out for the Rose Parade….

From the Star-News:

Hours after seeing off the turbulent, historic year that was 2008, hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the streets of Pasadena on Thursday…. (emphasis added)

Thanks, Larry!

* the simple calculation

  1. Parade route 5.5 miles long, or approximately 30,000 feet.
  2. Imagine a line of people standing shoulder to shoulder, each occupying 1.5 feet (people generally don’t stand that close, it’s a bounding scenario). A single line of people down one side of the parade route, then, is 20,000 people. Down both sides of the route, 40,000 people.
  3. 200,000 people in grandstands, leaves 800,000 people standing along the streets and sidewalks.
  4. To get to 800,000 people, the crowd needs to be 20 rows deep.
  5. The typical Rose Parade crowd (I reviewed a lot of photos to confirm this) is rarely more than 5 to 7 rows deep, and is always more loosely packed than my 1.5 feet constraint.
  6. Tweek the variables however you want (people in buildings, etc.). There’s simply no way to get to a million people.


Comments are closed.