Streets around Rockefeller Center will be closed to cars for part of the day during the tourist-packed holiday season, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced.
After initially backtracking when an earlier vision of the plan leaked in October, de Blasio said on The Brian Lehrer Show Friday that beginning November 29 into early January, 49th and 50th streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues will be exclusively open to pedestrians during the area’s most congested hours.
“Literally, each year, more and more people are coming. It’s creating a real safety issue and we want to protect those folks,” de Blasio said. “Be they New Yorkers or folks visiting from out of town. There’s a congestion problem so we are acting on it.”
Some 20,000 pedestrian move through the area per hour during the busy holiday season to visit attractions, like the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday windows and Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree, according to city Department of Transportation data. City Council member Keith Powers, who represents the area, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have long-advocated for regular street closures to address the overcrowding.
The city will implement the changes from 2 p.m. to midnight from Monday to Thursday; 1 p.m. to midnight on Friday; and 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays. Movable jersey barriers will be used to enforce the streetscape improvement for “full or partial street closures,” according to City Hall.
Barriers will be placed on the east and west sides of the streets on 5th Avenue between 48th and 52nd streets, eliminating a lane of traffic on each side of the thoroughfare. Sixth Avenue, on the other hand, will be monitored and barriers will be put in place depending on crowd conditions.
But the MTA isn’t sold on the idea, and in a statement Friday afternoon, NYCT President Andy Byford says the plan for buses to simply bypass 48th and 52nd streets during the street closures “only serve to increase congestion and result in slower speeds for our passengers” and “flies in the face of the work that the MTA has done with NYC DOT to speed up bus times, decrease dwell times, and increase ridership across our system.”
“While the MTA fully supports safe pedestrian access for New Yorkers and visitors during this busy holiday time, we are disappointed that the plan put forward by the Mayor gives no priority to MTA buses and ignores the needs of bus customers,” the statement continued.
Though de Blasio said on WNYC that “this is not anticipated as a permeant action,” Powers says he hopes the effort will inform how to fully pedestrianize the area year-round.
“The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a must-see for visitors and residents alike, and now there will be more space to enjoy the sights and move through the area,” Powers said in a statement. “This pilot will give us a sense of how full pedestrianization can be achieved all year round, and demonstrates the value of thinking differently about how we use our streets.”