New Yorkers and visitors alike will soon get a break when they visit the city’s bustling Fifth Avenue.
The stretch of Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park at 42nd Street to Central Park at 59th Street, which includes the Rockefeller Center area, is a major tourist destination because it’s known around the world for its shopping. Indeed, shoppers in that area can visit luxury boutiques for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Prada, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Cartier, Omega, Chanel, and department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue.
Then again, since scores of office workers also commute to that section of Fifth Avenue, the area is also known for its crowds, traffic, and congestion.
Now, however, in a sign of what’s to come, and what will change, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced plans for what will make that section of Fifth Avenue “a safer, less congested, pedestrian-centered boulevard that also prioritizes cyclists, mass transit, and the public realm.” The mayor’s office notes that planning and construction are slated to be finished in two years.
“Fifth Avenue is an iconic corridor and an engine of our Midtown economy but it is also an unmissable opportunity to show the city and the country how world-class public space can help create vibrant central business districts,” Mayor Adams said in a statement. “New York isn’t coming back, New York is back. But New Yorkers don’t sit on our hands — we will continue to bring everyone to the table, come up with innovative ideas together, and make our city safer, fairer, and more prosperous.”
In addition to adding green space and planting trees, the project will entail adding lighting and improving street safety for pedestrians and cyclists alike. It also calls for expanding sidewalks and making them more accessible, which will ease congestion.
Building On Success
The impetus for the change along Fifth Avenue stems in part, anyway, from the “Making New York Work for Everyone” Action Plan launched by Mayor Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul last month to make a “New New York.”
The broad initiative includes 40 proposals intended to make New York City “the best place to work and serve as a roadmap for the city’s future.” There are three overarching threads through the proposals: “Reimagine New York City’s commercial districts as vibrant 24/7 destinations, make it easier for New Yorkers to get to work, and generate inclusive future-focused growth.”
Of course, the plan to revamp Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park at 42nd Street to Central Park at 59th Street also stems from the success of the wildly popular Fifth Avenue Open Street campaign that made the area more pedestrian-friendly during the past holiday season.
Here’s an example of how that worked. On December 4, 11, and 18, Fifth Avenue was only open to pedestrians from 48th Street to 57th Street from noon until 6:00 p.m. Furthermore, on various days throughout the entire holiday season, moveable barriers were used between 48th Street and 52nd Street to restrict traffic and create more pedestrian space to ease sidewalk congestion.
The city also used barriers to partially or fully close streets surrounding Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall to car traffic. That move also “pedestrianized” the streets, which alleviated crowding on sidewalks.
“Through the mayor’s leadership, we have shown the incredible demand for Open Streets all around New York City, but what we saw on Fifth Avenue this past month was game-changing,” said Ydanis Rodriguez, New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner. “Over December, the Fifth Avenue Open Street proved that a street that is more welcoming to pedestrians is also great for business.”
Next Steps To Move Forward
Early this year, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and DOT will sign a contract with a design firm to begin the process of revamping Fifth Avenue.
Importantly, in addition to city and state support, the plan will also be funded by a public-private partnership that includes key stakeholders, such as the Fifth Avenue Association, the Grand Central Partnership, the Bryant Park Association, and the Central Park Conservancy. Those stakeholders will have representatives on a “vision plan steering group” acting to identify both immediate and near-term improvements that can be made to “better support local businesses, pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users,” the mayor’s office explains.
“The ongoing holiday Open Street around Rockefeller Center has underscored just how much demand exists for enhanced public space across the city and proven once again that New Yorkers and out-of-town visitors alike will flock to car-free streets if given half a chance,” the Executive Director of StreetsPAC Eric McClure said. “We’re thrilled that the days of penning tens of thousands of shoppers, tourists, office workers, and residents into a pedestrian Pottersville while cars hog most of Fifth Avenue will soon be over, and we look forward to supporting the Fifth Avenue visioning process in any way we can.”
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