After having been closed to car and truck traffic during the busiest times of day since November 29th, West 49th and West 50th streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues–the two streets on either side of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree–may become permanently car-free if some city officials have their way. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he believes the vehicle-free streets were safer for the estimated 750,000 pedestrians who were expected to traverse the plaza each day during the crowded holiday season, the Wall Street Journal reports.
As 6sqft previously reported, pedestrian space around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Musical Hall was expanded during the holiday season to alleviate congestion caused by tree visitors and holiday shoppers, representing the first time the city has created a dedicated pedestrian space in the area. The street closures are currently scheduled to end Sunday, the same day the tree comes down.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York City Councilman Keith Powers, in whose district the Rockefeller Center area is located, have requested a meeting with city police and transportation officials to discuss the possibility of keeping the area restricted to traffic permanently.
Though de Blasio has asked for a formal evaluation and has said he’s open to the creation of more pedestrian plazas in congested areas, he also said he doesn’t think cars should be permanently barred from the streets flanking Rockefeller Center, saying only that “From what I saw, it succeeded because we had really huge crowds and it helped keep those folks safe.”
New York City Transit President Andy Byford was initially against the street closures, saying they did not consider the needs of bus customers. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said buses were, in fact, slower and more delayed in the area over the holiday season this year than in previous years. According to the MTA, transit times increased by about two minutes on weekdays and almost two-and-a-half minutes on weekends on 49th Street between Fifth and Seventh avenues. Bus speeds through the area decreased between 0.3 and almost 2 miles per hour.
For their part, Brewer and Powers said they were interested in seeing data on how the street closures changed traffic congestion and bus routes. They had sent a letter to city officials in July discussing the possibility of making Rockefeller Center a pedestrian area.
Car and truck traffic has been restricted recently in other areas of the city. In Times Square, the Bloomberg administration built a pedestrian plaza after closing off portions of Broadway to vehicles in 2009. Traffic accidents declined. In 2015, Mayor de Blasio appointed a task force to investigate whether the streets should reopen to traffic after some complaints about half-nude and costumed panhandlers, but the group did not recommend removing the pedestrian area.
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