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Take the Fifth: Pedestrians Revel on Car-Free Streets Near NY’s Xmas Tree

Daniel and his son Jules enjoying Fifth Avenue. Photo: Julianne Cuba

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New York just got more room to celebrate the holidays this year — well, only on Sundays. 

For the first time ever, the city is banning cars along 11 blocks of Fifth Avenue to make room for the throngs of pedestrians and tourists that flock to gaze at the famed Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center — but only on three Sundays in December. 

During the first day of a pedestrian-only Fifth Avenue between 48th and 57th streets on Sunday, thousands of pedestrians filled the fabled avenue, spilling from the sidewalks into the roadway. 

Revelers appreciated the extra room to breathe and enjoy all of the holiday displays and vendors, including performances by the Brooklyn United Drum Line, Brooklyn High School of the Arts choir, and Manhattan Samba, which kicked off the celebration after the ribbon-cutting with elected officials. 

It sure alleviates a lot of the crowdedness on the sidewalks, which often makes this part of town unbearable this time of year,” said Nicholas Fash, who lives on the Upper East Side.

Today we joined @MeeraCJoshi, @nycgo, @MBPMarkLevine, local partners & more to to cut a ribbon celebrating the launch of holiday Open Streets in Midtown Manhattan. @NYCMayor has dramatically expanded Open Streets around Rockefeller Center ? to accommodate holiday crowds. pic.twitter.com/RI2lSDalSk

— NYC DOT (@NYC_DOT) December 4, 2022

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The noon-6 p.m. Fifth Avenue open street will continue for the next two Sundays. Cars will dominate every Sunday after that, as well as every other day of the week, which is why there have been 42 reported crashes on just those 11 blocks of Fifth Avenue in one year — crashes that caused 25 injuries, including to nine cyclists and six pedestrians, according to Crash Mapper.

But the city is still mum on its plans for the long-awaited Fifth Avenue busway that the former administration watered down and then punted to Mayor Adams — so it’s especially ironic that the current mayor went ahead with the holiday plan, given that former DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman said the city couldn’t do the busway during the holidays because it didn’t want to interfere with the commercial corridor during a key buying season. 

Gutman cited a “real risk of interfering with the holiday season” — but there was no “risk” felt by those who were out on Fifth Avenue on Sunday. In fact, one father and son duo who biked to the open street from the Upper West Side said they felt even safer than they have every year prior when cars ruled the road. 

“I love it, I think it’s great the streets are closed so we can get extra close to the windows,” said Daniel, who declined to give his last name. 

His son added that he felt “100 percent” safer.

“Without the cars it’s definitely good,” said Jules.

And one Brooklynite who ventured across the East River to take in the holiday cheer said she didn’t feel as crammed as she has in the past when cars were allowed.

“It’s been really crowded on the sidewalks, it’s nice to have it open on the street,” said Tyller, who declined to give her last name. 

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr. was also on hand:

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