Every New Yorker, and every tourist trekking to see the Rockefeller Center tree, knows it: The holiday streets in Midtown are mayhem.
More than 750,000 pedestrians a day hit the center’s 12 acres between Fifth and Sixth avenues for the season. As the Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas notes, it’s now nearly 40,000 people just for the average afternoon rush, up 13% from a decade ago.
At peak, it’s 20,000 pedestrians an hour.
And the sidewalks don’t have remotely enough room.
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently disowned one approach to the mess, involving lane closures on the avenues, since he wasn’t briefed before the plan leaked. But he ought to support some answer before the holidays hit.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilman Keith Powers have endorsed a solution they’d like de Blasio to implement: “Pedestrianize the historic plaza by closing 49th and 50th streets from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue for the holiday season.”
He needs to at least give the plan a hard look. It lets tourists wade into the street to take pictures of the tree (which some do anyway, snarling traffic and risking harm) and, more important, gives pedestrians room to flow.
With proper notice, block closures are better for drivers, too: They don’t get trapped by mobs, nor risk hitting people walking illegally on the street because there’s no other way to move.
The NYPD now imposes sporadic closures without notice, when cops judge that the throngs have grown too thick. But that requires storage of barriers and cement blocks right in the middle of the packed area, adding to the chaos and taking lanes away from cars anyway.
As regular readers know, we’re no “enemy of the auto.” But in extreme situations, it can be better to bite the bullet and close a street or two. And the pre-Christmas mess at Rock Center is about as extreme as it gets.
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