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Transportation & Environment

Proposal to address pedestrian overcrowding on the blocks surrounding Rockefeller Center

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, November 14, 2019, the following resolution passed with a vote of 31 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:

WHEREAS, The area around Rockefeller Center has become heavily congested with pedestrian traffic, especially during the holiday season; and

WHEREAS, Dangerous conditions have been observed on 49th and 50th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues, as well as on 5th Avenue for several blocks in the upper 40s and low 50s; and

WHEREAS, The NYPD has responded each November through January with ad hoc pedestrian barricades and vehicular closures and detours, which has the intended effect of controlling the crowds in the area but also the unintended effect of further slowing and compressing the pedestrian traffic; and

WHEREAS, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute has proposed a plan for the area surrounding Rockefeller Center that would include: - the temporary closure of 49th and 50th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues during the weeks when the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is standing, and - establishing bus, truck, and pedestrian priority on approaching portions of 49th and 50th Streets across Midtown, and - designing pedestrian-friendly street design treatments (bollards, etc) to make each of these streets more accommodating to the increased seasonal crowds; and

WHEREAS, This section of the City is currently used by enormous numbers of pedestrians (a peak count of 20,000 per hour on the most crowded block) and very low numbers of cars (only a total of 560 total car-commuters live within Community Board Five); and

WHEREAS, City Councilmember Keith Powers and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have co-authored a published op-ed calling for the pedestrianization of 49th and 50th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues; and

WHEREAS, Published reports indicate that the NYC Department of Transportation has designed an improved pedestrian plan for the blocks of 5th Avenue between 48th and 51st Streets; and

WHEREAS, This month the New York City Council approved a sweeping call for a long-term streets “master plan” developed by the NYC Department of Transportation that would include the creation of substantial new pedestrian spaces across New York City in future years; and

WHEREAS, Currently, there are no approved official plans to address either this year’s impending pedestrian crisis on these blocks, nor are there long-term plans to permanently solve the problem; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five has repeatedly called on the NYC Department of Transportation for a comprehensive street use plan to address street use by all users and designs to improve the utilization of our City’s streets; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five has also repeatedly called on the NYC Department of Transportation for a specific plan to make 5th and 6th Avenues into “Complete Streets” to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists moving north and south through the Midtown core; and

WHEREAS, Solutions both short-term, applying to the current calendar year and holiday season, and long-term, including study of any short-term pilots and long-term planning for future years and holiday seasons, must be pursued on these blocks; and

WHEREAS, The large numbers of pedestrians in the area as well as the significant numbers of crosstown bus riders who use 49th and 50th Streets should be studied and prioritized over the small number of private and for-hire vehicle users; and

WHEREAS, Any additional pedestrian space created should be prioritized for the flow and access of pedestrians, and not compromised with the addition of new programming, vendors, or kiosks which would impede the flow of pedestrians as intended by any plan; and

WHEREAS, Any redesign or pedestrianization of areas adjacent to Rockefeller Center should be studied comprehensively for its effects on pedestrian flow, traffic, and public transit, including: effects on traffic on 5th and 6th Avenues; effects on traffic to the west of 6th Avenue; pedestrian counts on the pedestrianized areas of 49th and 50th Streets; effects on noise in the area; effects on cross-town bus routes; continued access for emergency vehicles; the effects of increased tourism and its impact on residents; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends immediate coordination between DOT and the NYPD to implement temporary improvements to 49th and 50th Streets and 5th Avenue for the coming holiday season, including but not limited to the reported DOT treatment of 3 blocks of 5th Avenue, as well as better-designed pedestrian control techniques on all of these streets; and be it further

RESOLVED, Community Board Five calls on DOT to implement a comprehensive study of the area around Rockefeller Center, especially 49th and 50th Streets, to determine the feasibility of full closure and pedestrianization of one or both of these streets next year; and calls on DOT to use this year’s holiday months to test the effects of possible designs (ie, through studied short-term closures of each and both of the blocks in question, as well as other possible treatments on these and surrounding blocks), and urges DOT to complete such a study and propose a new design for these streets no later than summer 2020 to allow for full implementation of an approved plan by the 2020 holiday season.

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