On Sundays in December, in the heart of Midtown, in the busiest weeks of the tourist season, pedestrians will take over a major thoroughfare. Drivers will grouse, but it’s a bold move by the Adams administration to make life more manageable for tourists, day-trippers and others who flood the zone — one that should portend more transformations around the city.
The swath is Fifth Ave. between 48th and 57th Sts. This is where crowds accumulate to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and window displays at some of the city’s most put-together stores. Packed sidewalks are great for New York, but what’s even better is when those walking, pushing strollers and riding bikes have a little extra elbow room.
They’ll get it now, along with food vendors, local choirs, instrumental ensembles and more. In other words, someone wants to put more of the best New York culture on display where thousands of people can encounter it. Brilliant.
Closing streets to cars, and opening them to everyone else, isn’t a new idea; parts of Fifth were closed to cars a half-century ago. But the concept has increasingly caught on since the darkest days of the COVID pandemic put a premium on creating new outdoor spaces in all neighborhoods. On the whole, people liked it, and many businesses benefited.
This has to be done strategically. Cars and trucks and buses remain an important part of the city’s traffic ecosystem. Willy-nilly closures without proper notice or clear markings frustrate drivers and complicate deliveries and cleaning. They can make life tough for seniors and people with disabilities who sometimes need vehicle travel.
But often, the tradeoffs are well worth it, which is why we were excited to learn that city transit planners are mulling big changes to Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, including potentially purging cars from what is now a busy traffic circle where pedestrians must walk on eggshells.
Streets make up a massive chunk of the city. They must be used for more than the storage and movement of motor vehicles.
Daily News Editorial Board