Mayor: Christmas Season Sidewalks are for Trees, Not People

Should we take more space away from car storage to make our holidays even more festive and even more safe? The mayor does not think so.
Should we take more space away from car storage to make our holidays even more festive and even more safe? The mayor does not think so.

Mayor de Blasio doesn’t see anything wrong with sidewalks crowded with Christmas trees — in fact, he sees it as part of the “magic” of the holiday season — even though his administration is still recommending that people stay six feet apart at all times.

At his daily press conference on Monday, the mayor declined to see constricted sidewalks as a problem, even though his administration has worked aggressively to create more space for pedestrians to socially distance during the COVID-19 crisis, in the form of his open streets program, which created scores of miles for safe recreation; an “Open Streets: Restaurant” initiative to allow eateries to use curbside space; and even a pilot program to allow residential buildings to put their garbage in the curbside space instead of on the sidewalk.

Under questioning from Streetsblog, the mayor said he did not see the need for an “Open Streets: Christmas” plan to allow tree sellers to use curbside spaces instead of already crowded sidewalks.

“Well, that’s an interesting idea,” he said, before dismissing it. “In my personal experience, that the way it’s been set up over the years, with folks selling Christmas trees [on the sidewalk], has worked pretty well in New York City. It’s part of the magic of the season.”

There's plenty of room in the street, fir Pete's sake. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
There’s plenty of room in the street, fir Pete’s sake. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

He said he would “look at it,” but added, “I don’t know if we need it immediately with Christmas trees.”

The comment came after de Blasio had singled out Streetsblog — “I’ll give you credit” — for encouraging wider use of public roadways for socially beneficial activities beyond the storage of vehicles.

“We have found we have been able to innovate and have wonderful new experiences by using our public spaces differently,” the mayor said.

But the innovations apparently don’t include sidewalk space during what is widely considered “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — even during a global pandemic.

Advocates see Christmas tree reform as low-hanging fruit — though it’s really just one root of pedestrian discrimination that needs to be cut.

“Yes, it would be nice [to get Christmas trees off the sidewalk], but not the highest priority because it is not year round (and it smells good),” said venerable pedestrian advocate Christine Berthet of CHEKPEDS, who reminded the mayor of her group’s other priorities: safer sewer drains, regulation of sandwich boards, the garbage pilot program, newsboxes, LinkNYC kiosks and, of course, police precinct house commanders who have stolen sidewalks from pedestrians, which Manhattan Community Board 4 recently protested.

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