NYC to close streets around Rockefeller Center to cars during holiday season

November 22, 2019

The city will expand pedestrian space around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall during the holiday season, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday. Starting Nov. 29, 49th and 50th Streets, as well as Fifth and Sixth Avenues, will be partially closed to cars to alleviate congestion caused by the roughly 800,000 people who visit the Christmas Tree every day during the season. The expansion marks the first time the city has created a defined pedestrian space for the area.

“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,” the mayor said in a press release.

“The historic announcement pedestrianizing Rockefeller Center will keep holiday revelers safe while ensuring minimal disruption to the rest of the life of the city.”

Starting next Friday, 49th and 50th streets will be closed to cars between 2 p.m. and midnight Monday through Thursday, 1 p.m. and midnight on Friday, and 10 a.m. and midnight on Saturdays and Sundays. Buses will skip stops located between 48th and 52nd Streets.

On Fifth Avenue, a lane of traffic will be eliminated on the east and west sides by placing movable barriers between 48th and 52nd Streets. The barriers will be installed between 5 p.m. and midnight, and starting at noon or earlier on the weekends. On Sixth Avenue, one lane of traffic will also be eliminated with barriers put on the east side of the street.

The street closures announcement follows years of pressure to pedestrianize the heavily foot-trafficked area from residents and community leaders. Council Member Keith Powers and Borough President Gale Brewer asked the Department of Transportation in July to study the pedestrianizing through-streets around Rockefeller Center, citing the overcrowding during the holidays.

As 6sqft reported earlier this month, the DOT had released its pilot program to address crowding during the holidays. In a leaked letter to Manhattan’s Community Board 5, DOT Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar wrote that the street closures would “provide forty-percent more pedestrian space along these three blocks of Fifth Avenue during the holiday season this year.” But when asked about the program, de Blasio dismissed the idea and said it was “premature” and “not signed off on by City Hall.”

DOT will work with NYPD to monitor the area to adjust barriers during “times of unusual pedestrian activity or extreme weather,” according to the city. Some city officials say a successful pilot could lead to year-round pedestrian space around the area.

“This pilot will give us a sense of how full pedestrianization can be achieved all year round, and demonstrates the value of thinking differently about how we use our streets,” Powers said in a press release.


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