GRINCH NO MORE! Mayor Will Create More Pedestrian Space in Rockefeller Center for the Holidays

This was Rockefeller Center last Christmas season. Photo: Stunt Queen
This was Rockefeller Center last Christmas season. Photo: Stunt Queen

His heart has grown three sizes!

Mayor de Blasio will finally prioritize pedestrians around Rockefeller Center by nixing two lanes of car and bus traffic on two of the seasonally super-crowded avenues and closing two side streets entirely to cars — an expansion upon an initial plan that was hastily scrubbed by de Blasio as “premature,” earning the mayor the nickname “the Grinch who stole pedestrian space.”

Hizzoner announced the new-and-improved plan on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show on Friday, with details provided by the city at roughly the same time. The plan now calls for:

  • Movable barriers will be deployed after 5 p.m. on weekdays and around noon on weekends to carve pedestrian space out of a lane of car and bus traffic on each side of Fifth Avenue between 48th and 52nd streets. The barriers will remain in place until midnight. Cars will not be allowed to turn on 47th, 49th, or 51st streets. (New York City Transit President Andy Byford is not pleased; see below.)
  • The city will similarly place barriers, as needed, on each side of the Sixth Avenue for the same four blocks, an improvement on the original proposal.
  • W. 49th and 50th streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues will be entirely closed to cars between 2 p.m. and midnight, Monday through Thursday, 1 p.m. and midnight on Fridays, and 10 a.m. and midnight on weekends. Buses will bypass stops between 48th and 52nd streets.
  • The NYPD and DOT will monitor the area and adjust the barriers as needed.

The changes go into effect on the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29, and will continue through Jan. 6.

The long overdue plan will finally make the epicenter of holiday madness safer and more enjoyable for the tens of thousands of people who every day journey to the area to shop, gaze at holiday displays in retailers’ windows and, of course, gander at the massive arboreal attraction on the plaza in front of 30 Rock.

“The Rockefeller Center christmas tree is New York City’s crown jewel during the holidays, and we’re always excited to welcome the world to see it — but when the world descends on Rockefeller Center for a month on end, additional tools are clearly necessary so that our Vision Zero agenda stays in place,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This historic announcement pedestrianizing Rockefeller Center will keep holiday revelers safe while ensuring minimal disruption to the rest of the life of the city.”

Nothing was said about the odd, two-week delay that followed preliminary reports of the initial plan, which DOT released via a letter to the local community board on Oct. 30. City Hall has insisted only that the plan was premature. The mayor tabled the plan the next day, later complaining that someone within the agency leaked the news before it had been discussed and approved, accusing the leaker of being someone within DOT with “an agenda.” The Grinch label stuck.

mayor de blasios heartBut like Dr. Seuss’s celebrated anti-hero hermit of Whoville, Mayor de Blasio finally saw the light — no, his heart did not physically expand in his chest, but Cindy Lou Who would likely approve of the resulting plan.

Mayoral spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said the improved plan is a result of more inter-agency cooperation after the initial “premature” annoucement.

“Once DOT and the Police Department worked together to ensure the safety of New Yorkers and maximize the experience for pedestrians, the mayor happily approved the plan,” she said on Friday.

But whatever happened behind closed doors, the plan is a big win for the festive area, which in years past led to dangerously crowded conditions for pedestrians.

That said, New York City Transit President Andy Byford was not pleased, issuing the following statement after initial publication of this story:

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. This unilateral decision 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. The plan also lumps MTA buses in with cars and trucks — the exact opposite of our collaborative efforts with the city on the success of the 14th Street busway, the innovative bus lane camera enforcement program and transit priority citywide. Thousands of buses travel these lanes every day getting riders where they need to go for the holidays to see family and friends, and the plan as put forward will only serve to increase congestion and result in slower speeds for our passengers.

The statement did not point out that there is a double bus lane on that stretch of Fifth Avenue (pictured below).

Photo: Google
Photo: Google

But a mayoral spokesman said City Hall had been in weeks-long discussions with MTA bigwigs and their suggestion would actually have eliminated pedestrian space — and that for years, the city has diverted bus service on those blocks during the holiday season.

“We’re glad the MTA shares our goal of safe pedestrian access during the holidays. We’ve discussed this plan with them numerous times over the last few weeks and only in the eleventh hour did they raise the idea of a dedicated bus lane,” said William Baskin- Gerwitz. “Unfortunately, the MTA’s proposal would have reduced pedestrian space—the exact opposite of our shared goal.”

Still, others are hoping that the moves around Rockefeller Center will be just the first step in doing more to accommodate pedestrians. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers and Council Speaker Corey Johnson have called on the mayor to pedestrianize the area year-round.

“Rockefeller Center is the most heavily visited site in all the five boroughs during the holiday season. While this is a good problem to have, it does require increased and proactive planning for the crush of pedestrians that descend upon the space,” said Brewer. “I am pleased that the mayor and the DOT have headed mine and Council Member Powers’s calls to increase pedestrian space in this area. It is my hope that this likely-successful pilot during the holiday season can lead us to a year-round pedestrianization of the space.”

Hizzoner said during an unrelated press conference on Nov. 6 that he would look into it, but told Lehrer on Friday that it wasn’t likely.

“In this case around Rockefeller Center, no this is not anticipated as a permeant action, just for the holidays,” he said.

How our cartoonist originally played the Rockefeller Center story. Cartoon: Bill Roundy
How our cartoonist originally played the Rockefeller Center story. Cartoon: Bill Roundy

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