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Walkin' Around the Christmas Tree: Mayor de Blasio Announces Historic Expansion of Pedestrian Space Around Rockefeller Center for Holidays

November 22, 2019

Partial closures of 49th and 50th Streets, 5th and 6th Avenues in first-ever commitment of defined pedestrian space around area

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced a major temporary expansion of pedestrian space on the streets around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, taking new steps to ensure the safety of New Yorkers and visitors in one of the City’s busiest areas at the height of the holiday season.

“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,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This historic announcement pedestrianizing Rockefeller Center will keep holiday revelers safe while ensuring minimal disruption to the rest of the life of the city.”

“The NYPD is second to none at protecting millions of people at some of the world’s largest events,” said Chief of Department Terence Monahan. “Due to collaboration with the Department of Transportation and our ability to adjust assets on the street in real-time, NY’s Finest will ensure the safety of those enjoying the holiday season in the Big Apple while minimizing vehicular congestion.”

Starting Friday, November 29, the City will pedestrianize the streets surrounding Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, using movable barriers to institute full or partial street closures that will alleviate the crush of foot traffic. The closures are as follows:

Side Street Closures: 49th and 50th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues will be open to pedestrians alone during the most congested hours.

  • By default, these streets will be closed between 2 p.m. and midnight from Monday to Thursday, 1 p.m. and midnight on Friday, and 10 a.m. and midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.

5th Avenue: Movable barriers will be placed on the east and west sides of the streets on 5th Avenue between 48th and 52nd Streets, eliminating a lane of traffic on each side of the avenue to create more pedestrian space. Additionally, there will be no turns on 47th, 49th, or 51st Streets.

  • Barriers will be put in place between 5 p.m. or earlier and midnight during the week, and between noon or earlier on weekends.

6th Avenue: Movable barriers may be placed on the east side of the street on 6th Avenue between 48th and 52nd Streets, eliminating one lane of traffic to create more pedestrian space.

  • 6th Avenue will be monitored and barriers will be put in place or removed depending on crowd conditions.

Buses: MTA buses will bypass 48th to 52nd Streets.

Additionally, the NYPD and Department of Transportation (DOT) staff will conduct joint round-the-clock monitoring of the area to adjust the barriers if needed during times of unusual pedestrian activity or extreme weather.

The new street policy is a major step forward that will protect pedestrians while ensuring minimal disruptions to transit and police operations. Even during the holiday season, pedestrian traffic has historically dropped substantially in poor weather and during weekday business hours. Relying on timed closures will allow the City to permit the flow of many morning commuters while protecting pedestrians at peak times. The NYPD and DOT can add or remove pedestrian space at off-peak hours as demand allows.

The Rockefeller Center area has always been one of New York City’s most popular holiday attractions, drawing crowds from across the country; however, in recent years, crowds have grown to unmanageable levels, sending pedestrians into Midtown traffic in an attempt to navigate the crowds. In recent years, local elected officials, including Council Member Keith Powers and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, had advocated for more regular closures in this area to address pedestrian crowding. While the City has previously conducted ad-hoc closures of 49th and 50th Streets, 5th and 6th Avenues remained open, and a formalized policy was never put in place.

“One of New York’s greatest gifts is our street space but for decades we’ve sacrificed too much of it for cars. Few streets are more precious than the ones surrounding Rockefeller Center, where throngs of tourists and New Yorkers jockey to see the iconic holiday tree as well as get to work. They need relief,” said Speaker Corey Johnson. “This announcement is good news to kick off the holiday season. I look forward to continuing to work with the administration and with my colleagues in the Council to find more opportunities to give street space back to people all over New York City.”

“An estimated 125 million people visit Rockefeller Center each year during the holiday season,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman. “They deserve to visit a space that is safe and enjoyable for all. That’s why I’m so thrilled Mayor de Blasio and his Administration will be working with the Department of Transportation and NYPD to implement new, pro-pedestrian changes at Rockefeller Center. These much-needed changes come after months of advocacy from Council Member Powers and Borough President Brewer, both of whom were instrumental in calling attention to the need for safety at Rockefeller Center during the holidays. The most wonderful time of the year is about to get even better!”

“Rockefeller Center is the most heavily visited site in all the five boroughs during the holiday season. While this is a good problem to have, it does require increased and proactive planning for the crush of pedestrians that descend upon the space,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I am pleased that the Mayor and the DOT have headed mine and Council Member Powers’ calls to increase pedestrian space in this area. It is my hope that this likely-successful pilot during the holiday season can lead us to a year-round pedestrianization of the space.” 

"Earlier this year, I asked that the City reimagine how we handle the immense congestion surrounding Rockefeller Center by pedestrianizing its nearby streets,” said Council Member Keith Powers. “Today’s announcement provides much-needed relief. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a must-see for visitors and residents alike, and now there will be more space to enjoy the sights and move through 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. I am glad to see the Mayor take action on mine and Borough President Brewer’s proposal in time for the much-anticipated holiday rush.”

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