City firefighter union says Rockefeller Center street closures ‘misguided’

A general view during the 86th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)

The head of the union representing thousands of New York City firefighters blasted the city’s plans to close several blocks near the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree starting later this week.

FDNY-Uniformed Firefighters Association President Gerard Fitzgerald said Sunday that he has “deep health and safety concerns” regarding the expanded pedestrian plaza plan, which aims to accommodate the tens of thousands of visitors who converge upon Rockefeller Center during holiday season.

The road closures, Fitzgerald charged, will compound the normal holiday related gridlock in Manhattan, making it more difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate the area and respond to various emergencies. He also claimed that the city “failed to adequately notify” the FDNY companies in the immediate vicinity of Rockefeller Center, which would be most impacted by the changes.

“The move to increase ‘pedestrian space’ surrounding Rockefeller Center is misguided and makes this city less safe — plain and simple,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “As it is, traffic is interfering with our firefighters abilities to reach the scene of a fire, but this new plan will have wide-felt repercussions in the form of traffic from river to river. We all want pedestrian safety, but a key component of safety for all is the ability for New York’s first responders to reach the scene of an emergency, and this is not the best way to ensure the safety of New York’s over-8 million residents and millions of holiday visitors.”

In response to Fitzgerald’s charge, a Fire Department spokesperson told amNewYork Sunday, “As has happened every year during the holiday season, the Department will work closely with NYPD and DOT to ensure both the safety of New Yorkers and visitors, and that our members can quickly respond to emergencies in and around Rockefeller Center.”

Will Baskin-Gerwitz, a City Hall spokesman, added, “Keeping New Yorkers safe across the city throughout the holiday is of the utmost importance. The NYPD and Department of Transportation employees on the ground at Rockefeller Center will have the flexibility to re-open lanes of traffic as necessary in the event of an emergency.”

The plan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday during an appearance on WNYC-AM radio, involves converting two traffic lanes along Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center into added pedestrian space. Cars along Fifth Avenue will also be prohibited from accessing 49th and 50th Streets during certain hours of the day.

De Blasio said the plan is in response to the growing numbers of holiday visitors at Rockefeller Center in recent years, which has created “a real safety issue” and a “congestion problem.”

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

The city originally announced plans for extra pedestrian space along Fifth Avenue in an October letter sent to a local community board, but once word of it became public, de Blasio initially backpedaled, saying it was prematurely leaked by someone with an “agenda” at the Department of Transportation.

With additional reporting by Vincent Barone. This story was updated at 4:50 p.m.

Robert Pozarycki