Mayor and NYPD Admit Failure During Holiday Pedestrian Gridlock

This is Midtown during the holiday season. 
Photo: Hyperlink Code
This is Midtown during the holiday season. 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

“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.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They need to monitor the Brooklyn Bridge and act to prevent crowding before a tragedy occurs.
    A bunch of people were killed and crippled on that path due to overcrowding and a panic a few days after it opened.
    On 9/11, and during the 2003 blackout, I though there might be a repeat. Crowding got so severe that people tried to reverse. My wife was pushed back into Manhattan. People were jumping down to the roadway, where we all ended up walking.
    When post 9/11 emergency planning was being discussed, I wrote in that the city had to be prepared to shut down the inbound bridge quickly so pedestrians could use it to walk out. Now, it seems, that it might not take a disaster for this to be necessary.
    BTW, the company I work for was bought, and I’ll be moving back to Downtown in the next couple of months. The bike commute will drop from nine miles one way to six, something I can do every day the weather doesn’t prevent it, five days a week, if I can get over the Brooklyn Bridge rather than the Manhattan.

  • sbauman

    A bunch of people were killed and crippled on that path due to overcrowding and a panic a few days after it opened.

    The people were killed on a flight of stairs. Those stairs were removed in the early 1980’s.

    It took about two years of fighting to get 5 sets of stairs on the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade removed.

    It took another 6 months to get the City to commit to 24/7 bicycle/pedestrian access while the stairs were removed and the Promenade deck was replaced.

  • Larry Littlefield

    For those who don’t know the story.

    https://untappedcities.com/2013/10/23/rumor-brooklyn-bridge-stampede-collapse-sparked-fatal-during-opening-week/

    My recollection is that people were trapped by the crush where the stairs narrowed the promenade. Of course there is still a place like that now.

  • bluecanary1

    Sixth Avenue is a shitshow every day; it’s hardly limited to the holidays. Every day, I have to walk down Sixth Avenue. Every day pedestrians are in the street because the sidewalks are insufficient.

    It’s 2019 already. Rip out the traffic lanes, widen the sidewalks, and let the car culture die already. De Blasio is an utter fool.

  • Zach Katz

    Someone needs to put up flyers. Get people mad.

  • Andrew

    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.

    This refers to the holiday season that runs from January 1 through December 31, correct?

  • mushr00m

    Glad they’re finally gonna do something, maybe? Every year they do this shit. They make it easy for cars to move around by kettling pedestrians. It’s ridiculous.

  • Daphna

    The NYPD not only did not do enough to ease the pedestrian overcrowding in midtown, but the NYPD exacerbated the crowding by severely restricting where pedestrians could go. Pedestrians around Rockefeller Center needed more space – they needed 49th and 50th Streets closed to cars for much longer periods – and they needed NOT to have crowd control barriers placed by the NYPD everywhere limiting their movement to only certain section of sidewalk and only certain sections of crosswalks. Pedestrians needed full use of the infrastructure designed for them plus some extra space during the holiday crowding, and instead they were not even allowed to fully use the existing infrastructure that was supposed to be for them.

  • Joe R.

    I was there yesterday. These are the NYPD’s idea of crowd control. They look more like they would at home in Jurassic Park, not NYC:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/859d4ffd0a75ae373b9769e7178fcdc04197476ab6fb87f831fa72d15a8eece1.jpg

  • Vooch

    Solution –

    Open up ALL of :

    1) Broadway from 34th to Columbus Circle
    2) Fifth from 57th to 34th
    3) Sixth from 59th to 34th

    to Pedestrians

    from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day

  • It is so much easier to blame the vendors, who are poor and not white, rather than cars and their drivers who have more revenues and are white! This is a disgusting racist response…
    De Blasio and O’neill Show their true stripes … I am surprised they did not blame delivery cyclists!

    And If the barricades are still there, pedestrians should move them in the moving lanes to help the city do its job…

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    “progressive” de blazoo strikes again!

  • cjstephens

    You’re OK with taking away space from private vehicle storage for pedestrian use (as am I), but you’re not OK with taking it away from private businesses that set up shop in pedestrian areas? Is there that much difference between a person storing his car on a crowded sidewalk and a pirated-handbag vendor setting up a table on a crowded sidewalk? I would put the needs of pedestrians ahead of both private cars and private businesses.

  • Yes I am totally wiht you. I am very much in favor of vendors setting up shop in parking lanes, not on sidewalks. Still DeBlasio’s answer was pure demagoguery, especially when you look a the huge amount of empty car space there was.

  • cjstephens

    Indeed – hardly the first time the mayor’s response on these issues has been indefensible.

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