To Help Holiday Crowds, New York to Close Streets Near Rockefeller Center – The New York Times

Countless visitors make the pilgrimage to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan during the holidays to bask in the glow of the towering Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, gawk at glittering window displays, and take selfies with sidewalk Santas.

And soon New York will carve out more room for the holiday crowds in the heart of the city by taking the groundbreaking step of removing or severely limiting cars on several streets, including an iconic stretch of Fifth Avenue.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, during a radio interview on Friday, announced that a pedestrian zone would be created around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall by temporarily closing all or part of several blocks to traffic at certain hours, starting the day after Thanksgiving and ending in January.

But the mayor’s decision immediately put the city at odds with the transit agency that runs its public buses. And the mayor, in moving the plan forward, seemed to have traded one traffic problem for another by failing to accommodate the hundreds of heavily used buses that would be slowed by the street closings.

“We are disappointed that the plan put forward by the mayor gives no priority to M.T.A. buses and ignores the needs of bus customers,” said Andy Byford, who oversees buses for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He added that the “unilateral decision flies in the face of the work that the M.T.A. has done” with city transportation officials to speed up bus times and increase ridership. M.T.A. officials said they were not consulted about the plan, which city officials disputed.

Fifth Avenue, a one-way street heading south, has four traffic lanes, including two that are dedicated to the 1,300 express and local buses that run every weekday. The city’s plan would close one of those bus lanes, forcing buses into the one remaining lane and slowing down even more buses that already crawl along during the holidays, according to M.T.A. officials.

In addition, parts of 49th and 50th Streets that are used by a crosstown bus route would be closed for the pedestrian zone, requiring dozens of buses to be rerouted.

Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, a grass-roots advocacy group for public transit users, said that while the mayor had the right intentions, the city needed to go even further to meet bus riders’ needs as well.

“We don’t need to pit pedestrians against bus riders,” he said. “A more complete plan for the efficient use of scarce street space in Midtown would prioritize both.”

The holiday street closings are the city’s latest attempt to redraw longstanding traffic patterns in some of its most congested neighborhoods, where gridlock has paralyzed buses carrying frustrated commuters.

Last month, the city all but banned cars from the busiest stretch of 14th Street in Manhattan, a major crosstown artery for 21,000 vehicles a day. And more recently, the City Council approved a plan to significantly expand bus and bike lanes, which would mean eliminating more parking spaces and traffic lanes.

While New York’s streets are closed from time to time for parades and big events, including the New York City Marathon and United Nations meetings, it is unusual for some of the busiest streets to be closed for such an extended period, city officials said.

But as Fifth Avenue’s elaborate window displays and exuberant holiday cheer have attracted more visitors, the festivities have been accompanied by crowds that have slowed New Yorkers’ typically brisk sidewalk trot to a crawl.

As many as 20,000 pedestrians pass through that part of Fifth Avenue every hour during the holiday season, according to city transportation data. Up to 1,500 vehicles an hour use the street.

In recent years, the congestion has been amplified by heightened security around Trump Tower, the longtime New York City residence of President Trump.

The mayor’s decision to close streets for the holidays came just weeks after he seemed to quash the idea. In a letter to a local community board in October, a city transportation official had revealed the Fifth Avenue plan, saying it would ease congestion for tourists and locals alike during the holidays.

At that time, Mr. de Blasio had called the disclosure premature, suggesting that it might have been done by someone “trying to further their own agenda.”

But on Friday, the mayor said it was important to make sure that people were safe and able to enjoy themselves at the increasingly packed holiday sights.

“Literally, each year, more and more people are coming,” the mayor said on the radio show. “That’s creating a real safety issue, and we want to protect those folks, be they New Yorkers or folks visiting from out of town. There’s a congestion problem, so we are acting on it.’’

Still, city officials said they were not ready to commit to any other street closures at this time.

The planned street closings drew mixed reactions from pedestrians, workers and drivers along Fifth Avenue.

“It’s awesome,” said Scott Dodds, 26, a project manager said of the plan. “More people are going to be here, and it keeps less cars on the road.”

Lisa Dontzin, 66, a personal stylist, said she agreed “a hundred percent” that a pedestrian zone was needed during the holidays. “It will indeed make it safer and a little less congested for everyone,” she added. “Let’s try it and if it doesn’t work, we’ll do something else next year.”

But Jun Park, a vendor who brings in his merchandise in a van, said the street closings would make it harder for him to make a living and also hurt delivery workers and commuters who drive. “It’s going to be a mess,” Mr. Park, 45, said. “I don’t know why they are doing this now.”

Josh Williams, a hotel bellman, said he was concerned that the changes would inconvenience some hotel guests and shift traffic — and congestion — to nearby streets.

“It isn’t going to be good for my wallet,” Mr. Williams, 48, said. “Because when a taxi cannot come, the traffic is going to get backed up, and the guests don’t want to give a tip.”

Michael Gold contributed reporting.