NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Traffic changes are coming to the heart of Midtown.
With the holidays approaching, throngs of tourists will once again descend on Rockefeller Center.
“It’s gotten more and more popular. So literally each year more and more people are coming. That’s creating a real safety issue,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
To accommodate the influx, the city is expanding pedestrian space in the area. To do that, there will be street and lane closures during peak pedestrian hours.
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.
The closures will start on Nov. 29, Black Friday.
For pedestrians in and around Rockefeller Center, it means more space for sightseeing and selfies.
“New York’s a pedestrian city. That’s why we’re here,” said tourist Steve Rogers.
The plan may be good for pedestrians, but the lane closures include taking away the bus lanes.
“It’s really going to disrupt everybody else’s commute.
NYC Transit President Andy Byford is not happy with the closures. He issued a statement saying he’s disappointed that the plan hurts bus riders, and he’s disappointed the MTA wasn’t consulted.
“While the MTA fully supports safe pedestrian access for New Yorkers and visitors during this busy holiday time, we are disappointed that the plan put forward by the Mayor gives no priority to MTA buses and ignores the needs of bus customers. 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. “The plan also lumps MTA buses in with cars and trucks – the exact opposite of our collaborative efforts with the City on the success of the 14th Street busway, the innovative bus lane camera enforcement (ABLE) program and transit priority citywide. Thousands of buses travel these lanes every day getting riders where they need to go for the holidays to see family and friends, and the plan as put forward will only serve to increase congestion and result in slower speeds for our passengers.”
It didn’t take long to hear what car drivers think of de Blasio’s plan.
“He is killing the city,” one driver told CBS2’s Nick Caloway.
Many drivers worry that the already congest Midtown will only get worse.
“Making it pedestrian friendly is good, and I guess it’s good for the environment. But at the same time, it’s making it really difficult for motorists,” said a driver.
“Terrible. Terrible. You can’t move,” said another.
NYPD and Department of Transportation personnel will be on hand to adjust the barriers as needed.
The closure will run from Nov. 29 to just after Jan. 1.
De Blasio says there’s no plan to make the closures permanent, like the 14th Street Busway.
An estimated 125 million people visit Rockefeller Center every year to see the tree and shop. As many as 20,000 people walk through the area every hour during this time of year.