The midtown Christmas mess is all de Blasio’s fault

The midtown Christmas mess is all de Blasio’s fault

‘Tis the season — for reindeer-crushing crowds. A packed Midtown around Rockefeller Center is a good thing. But New York bizarrely mismanages its throngs, making its dense urban spaces stressful rather than fun.

Last year, the city had an excuse for the far greater number of metal barriers, plus new cement blocks, that portended Christmas in Midtown. The Hudson River bike-path terrorist had killed eight people three weeks before Thanksgiving.

The NYPD rigged up a way to protect the thousands of walkers who traverse Fifth and Sixth avenues. The result was imperfect: caging pedestrians on sidewalks and in crosswalks behind metal and cement, so that any attack would do less damage.

But there’s no excuse for a repeat this year. Months earlier, Mayor de Blasio should have convened a commission to figure out a permanent, elegant solution.

The city now had plenty of time, for example, to install retractable steel bollards along 49th and 50th streets, the cross streets closest to the Rockefeller Center tree, to allow for a welcoming pedestrian plaza at holiday-crunch times, while still allowing a lane for off-hour deliveries to office buildings, plus buses.

In the absence of leadership from City Hall, the NYPD is still doing its thing.

Santa’s elves at the NYPD’s traffic operations division have made one nice decision: closing off these two cross streets on holiday weekends and busy weeknights.

This does make a difference. On a busy Friday evening, people are no longer packed right up against each other in front of the tree, as they are when traffic is flowing. Because sightseers can naturally spill out into the mid-block plazas beyond the two streets, they have room to take photos.

But this ad-hoc solution has downsides. It’s not good for the drivers, for one. When the streets are open during the day, barriers stored for later deployment cut off traffic lanes.

The NYPD has long done these limited street closures, but now more early and often — because foot traffic is relentless. Tishman Speyer, which runs Rockefeller Center, estimates that 800,000 people see the tree daily (fewer than 900,000 cars and trucks enter all of Manhattan daily).

People don’t mysteriously materialize at the foot of the tree, like presents: most visitors must cross one of the two avenues. Even on an average non-holiday weekday, foot traffic can be tight: nearly 40,000 people pass through the corners of either 50th and Sixth or 50th and Fifth during the afternoon rush, up 13 percent from a decade ago.

Nobody counts avenue pedestrians and drivers around the holidays — so I tried. At a “quiet” noontime, more than 100 can cross each avenue during one “walk” signal — far more than the 40 or so cars and trucks that squeeze through. On a weekend evening, the number of walkers is more than double that, with people lined up a quarter of a block to cross.

One NYPD decision on the avenues, then, doesn’t seem nice, but naughty. Just when they’re most needed, the city closes off the four midblock crosswalks on Fifth and Sixth, cutting pedestrian-crossing capacity in half and forcing walkers into pinch points at the corners.

The NYPD offers some logic. One of the midblock crosswalks ­allows a perfect view of the Saks Fifth Avenue light show, something that didn’t exist when then-Mayor Giuliani created the mid-avenue crosswalks in the late 1990s.

But the long-term solution is — again — attractive, permanent infrastructure. Retractable fencing at the mid-block crossings would allow for seasonal flexibility. And if pedestrians are cut off from crossing mid-block, they should be able to cross at the four corners that Giuliani had closed to walkers in favor of the mid-block spots.

New York can’t grow without reducing space for the most inefficient vehicles. New York will welcome more than 65 million visitors for all of 2018, up from 47 million a decade ago. What will streets look like when the figure hits 75 million?

Tough decisions require leadership, and sometimes require annoying important people — something Mayor Bloomberg was willing to do in Times Square, plagued with similar issues, more than a decade ago. Where’s our mayor today?

Nicole Gelinas is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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