NYC unveils plan for car-free streets in Midtown to reduce holiday crowds

November 23, 2022

Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

Some streets in Midtown Manhattan will be closed to cars during the holiday season to provide New Yorkers and visitors a safe way to enjoy the festivities, Mayor Eric Adams announced Thursday. Under the plan, the city will open 11 blocks to pedestrians, including a strip of Fifth Avenue from 49th Street to 57th Street, the first time in 50 years the iconic thoroughfare will close to traffic. Starting next week, certain streets around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall will only be open to pedestrians during the busiest hours.

“Shop Your City” campaign. Credit: New York City Department of Small Business Services

“The holiday season brings more New Yorkers and larger crowds to Rockefeller Center and the surrounding area, and ensuring our streets are safe for all these visitors must be our top priority,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said in a statement.

“I am extremely excited that the city is taking these commonsense steps to create more space for New Yorkers and tourists to the area, and I applaud the mayor, Councilmember Powers, and Commissioners Sewell and Rodriguez for their work and leadership to make this happen during the holidays.”

Starting with the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting on November 30 and running through mid-January, the streets surrounding Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall will partially or fully close to cars.

The city will make West 49th Street and West 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues pedestrian-only from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. daily.

Movable barriers will also be placed on the east side of Sixth Avenue between 48th Street and 52nd Street, to take away one lane of traffic for pedestrian space. The city first pedestrianized the space around Rockefeller Center, which sees roughly 800,000 visitors to its famous Christmas Tree every year, in 2019 under former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

On December 4, 11, and 18, Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th Streets will go car-free from noon to 6 p.m. On all other days throughout the season, the movable barriers will be placed on the east and west sides of Fifth Avenue, between 48th Street and 52nd Street, to change one lane of traffic into space for pedestrians. During the open street initiative on Sundays, there will be food and beverage vendors and live performances.

The plan marks the first time Fifth Avenue will be closed to cars for pedestrian use since Mayor John Lindsay closed the iconic avenue from 42nd to 57th Streets in 1970, part of a test program to see the effects on the area’s commerce, traffic, air pollution, and “citizens’ convenience,” the New York Times reported at the time.

In addition to reducing crowds, the city hopes the plan encourages more shopping. Last month, the Department of Transportation released a study that showed businesses on streets closed to cars under the Open Streets program reported better sales than those located on streets with traffic.

The mayor also announced the launch of two marketing campaigns to coincide with the Midtown open streets that encourage supporting local businesses.

“Every year, people come from across the world to New York City, and to Midtown Manhattan specifically, during the holiday season. This year, we are going to make that experience safer and more enjoyable for all New Yorkers and visitors with more access to Open Streets,” Adams said.

“This is the kind of bold, creative thinking that we need to ensure the city’s comeback is strong, equitable, and inclusive. And to all those coming in from out of town, I have only two messages: Happy holidays and spend money.”


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