City will add pedestrian space around Rockefeller Center for holidays

Spectators catch an early glimpse of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree before the lighting ceremony.

Holiday shoppers in Manhattan will get extra room to stretch out after all.

The city will convert two traffic lanes along Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center into added pedestrian space and close car access to 49th and 50th streets for certain hours of the day to accommodate the crush of pedestrians in area during the holidays, Mayor de Blasio announced on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show Friday.

“One of the things people look forward to so much is being in Rockefeller Center for the tree for the skating—the whole environment,” de Blasio said during the segment.

“But it’s gotten more and more popular,” he added. “So literally each year more and more people are coming. 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’re acting on it.”

The city first announced plans to add space to Fifth Avenue in an October letter to the local community board—only for de Blasio to backpedal on the concept, saying it was possibly prematurely leaked by someone with an “agenda” at the Department of Transportation.

The pedestrian spaces will be in effect for parts of the day from Friday, Nov. 29, through Wednesday, Jan. 1, de Blasio said.

On Fifth Avenue, the city will convert the curbside lane on each side of the street into eight-foot temporary sidewalks from 48th to 52nd streets. Barriers to create the space will be in place 5 p.m. “or earlier” and midnight during the week, and between noon “or earlier” on weekends, according to a news release from the mayor.

The city might also create similar additional pedestrian space on one traffic lane of Sixth Avenue between the same blocks, depending on whether it’s needed, according to the mayor’s office.

On 49th and 50th streets, the city will ban through traffic between Fifth and Sixth avenues, from 2 p.m. to midnight from Monday to Thursday; 1 p.m. and midnight on Friday; and 10 a.m. and midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.

Buses will have to bypass the area between 48th to 52nd streets, according to the city — a move that has angered MTA Transit President Andy Byford. That stretch of Fifth Avenue is a key corridor for bus traffic and uniquely features two bus lanes.

Byford said he supports the effort to improve pedestrian space but that the plan would go too far in slowing buses.

“This unilateral decision flies in the face of the work that the MTA has done with NYC DOT to speed up bus times, decrease dwell times and increase ridership across our system,” Byford said in a statement.

“Thousands of buses travel these lanes every day getting riders where they need to go for the holidays to see family and friends,” Byford continued, “and the plan as put forward will only serve to increase congestion and result in slower speeds for our passengers.”

Safe streets advocates originally described the mayor’s plans as “timid.” Though de Blasio on Friday said the approach strikes a “good balance” and is intentionally somewhat vague to allow for adjustments.

“The bottom line is we found I think a good balance that will really focus on keeping people safe but give us some flexibility depending on the conditions,” de Blasio said.

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