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Mayor and NYPD Admit Failure During Holiday Pedestrian Gridlock

10:19 AM EST on January 4, 2019

This was Midtown during the holiday season last year.
Photo: Hyperlink Code

Mayor de Blasio and his police commissioner admitted on Thursday that they didn't do enough to ease dangerous conditions for pedestrians in Midtown and on the Brooklyn Bridge during the holiday season — and vowed to finally do more.

In an otherwise unrelated press conference about year-end crime statistics, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill revealed that he wasn't pleased with how the city handled the crowds visiting the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and strolling the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the city's singular tourist attractions. The NYPD failure was trolled repeatedly on Twitter during the last week of December.

"If you just saw Rockefeller Center, you saw Fifth Avenue, you saw Sixth Avenue – there’s a number of steps we need to take, moving forward," O'Neill said, adding, "And we do have to come up with a strategy for the holiday season in 2019."

Neither O'Neill nor Mayor de Blasio, who was attending the same presser, called for restrictions on automobiles or for seizing automobile travel lanes to widen sidewalks — preferring to focus on a tangential issue.

"We do have to look at vendors to make sure they’re not clogging the sidewalk. We have to make sure that there’s nothing that’s interfering with pedestrian flow," O'Neill said.

The mayor echoed that concern about vendors.

"The enforcement points that the Commissioner just pointed. ... We’ve got to use them where there’s pinpoint locations where there’s a problem," the mayor said. "The here and now immediate thing is to use our enforcement tools in a more targeted manner."

But he did not fully deflect attention away from the obvious solution: removing one of the six travel lanes on Sixth Avenue during the holiday season.

Sixth Avenue has plenty of room for the city to remove a travel or car-storage lane. Photo: Google
Sixth Avenue has plenty of room for the city to remove a travel or car-storage lane. Photo: Google
Sixth Avenue has plenty of room for the city to remove a travel or car-storage lane. Photo: Google

"We’ve got to take this issue seriously and do more," the mayor added. "We also have areas where we need to enlarge the sidewalks, and that is something that the Department of Transportation is working on in some key areas – that’s also consistent with Vision Zero."

The Department of Transportation said it has completed some work along Seventh Avenue to help with overcrowded conditions, specifically seizing a bus and loading lane from vehicles and giving it to pedestrians between Times Square and W. 33rd St.

Neither de Blasio nor O'Neill directly discussed the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian crisis, which is not only an issue during Christmas week, as Streetsblog has reported. ("This is worse than Disney or Six Flags," one tourist noted during Easter week last year.)

The mayor rejected one reporter's suggestion about instituting a Venice-style "tax" to get into the Central Business District — his latest capitulation to drivers.

"We’re not Venice," the mayor said. "I think it’s a situation where we work the way we’re doing it now. We have to take measures though to deal with those numbers."

City Hall has repeatedly refused to comment on whether the city would consider car-free zones like those instituted in London, Madrid, Paris and other cities. The mayor, who rarely rides public transit and has been on a bike only twice during his mayoralty, has been lukewarm about congestion pricing.

And the Department of Transportation has said it can't fix pedestrian and cyclist congestion on the Brooklyn Bridge until cable inspections are completed over the next several years.

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