New York’s car war targets “world’s most important street”
Call it a Fifth Avenue freeze.
A spectacular urban proposal, billed as an improvement to the bus and bicycle lanes on Fifth Avenue, will reorient and restrict car traffic in the heart of Midtown and disrupt access to many of the city’s most famous landmarks just before the critical holiday shopping and tourism season.
Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue are all in the sights as New York City launches one of the most daring attacks to date in its war on cars.
The Ministry of Transport’s plan has sparked outrage from struggling businesses on this world-famous thoroughfare.
Traffic constraints “threaten the economic recovery of Midtown and New York,” Jerome Barth, president of the Fifth Avenue Association, told The Post. “No company here is supporting the plan. ”
The original DOT proposal in June, still on the city’s wish list, eliminated all car traffic on Fifth Avenue between 57th and 34th streets. This plan was changed after encountering major resistance from the business community.
The DOT now intends to reduce Fifth Avenue from five lanes to four; strictly apply two existing bus lanes to improve bus speed; add a protected cycle path on the left (east) side of the road and enlarge the sidewalks. The work is due to start shortly and end at the end of September.
The bike path will be painted green and protected from vehicle loading, like the Sixth Avenue bike path. New compulsory bends will be highlighted by road markings and signage. The east sidewalk will be extended by seven feet using paint, with no added curbs.
The plan foresees major disruptions for automobiles. Southbound traffic from the Upper East Side will be forced to turn right at 55th Street. Cars entering Fifth Avenue after 55th will be required to turn right onto 45th Street. Cars on Fifth Avenue will not be able to turn right on 51st, 49th and 47th streets. Existing traffic will flow normally north of 55th and south of 45th.
The goal is to push southbound traffic on Seventh Avenue and Park Avenue, opening Fifth Avenue to buses and bicycles. Private cars, Ubers and taxis will not be able to drive, for example, from Central Park to Rockefeller Center; nor drive from Rockefeller Center to the New York Public Library.
This plan creates a potential nightmare scenario for commuters who now travel to Manhattan because of fear of racing on public transportation in the era of COVID. Midtown drivers who rely on wide Fifth Avenue to head south towards the Midtown or Lincoln Tunnels, for example, might be forced to walk through Times Square or around Grand Central Terminal to exit the island.
“The city wants to speed up the buses, not bring more people to Fifth Avenue,” said Ruediger Albers, president of Wempe, a luxury jeweler on the ground floor of the Peninsula Hotel. He said his business fell 20% last year and laid off five employees due to COVID-19, and that “we still live without tourists.”
But public transport advocates say speeding buses down a tight Fifth Avenue will help commuters, especially essential workers.
Fifth Avenue is a “super high capacity bus line that should deliver the speed and reliability that bus riders… deserve,” said Danny Pearlstein, spokesperson for the Riders Alliance. He added that 47% of New York City bus passengers are essential workers who have been “subjected to miserable daily commutes” on America’s “slowest bus lines”.
Opponents of the auto assault say restrictions will limit the appeal of Fifth Avenue attractions; cause confusion among returning vacationers; increase traffic in side streets and in Times Square, already suffocated by traffic jams; Reduce accessibility for people with disabilities and create a horror of hastily assembled new signals and traffic signs on a causeway meant to be a sparkling jewel on the crown of Manhattan’s grid.
With businesses hoping to bounce back strongly this holiday season after a disastrous 2020, “now is not the time to experiment on Fifth Avenue,” Barth said.
He says the hasty proposal comes from a mayor “pushing for short-term political gain” with local constituencies such as advocates for alternative transportation while also envisioning a future in Albany.
Midtown landmark Saks Fifth Avenue opposes the city plan over its “potential to annoy customers, increase congestion in vehicle lanes and deter pedestrian traffic for retailers “the company told the Post.
Gridlock is already suffocating downtown Manhattan. A 2019 DOT report found that the average car speed in Midtown was only 4.9 miles per hour, not much faster than walking, while district-wide speeds had increased from 9 MPH to 7 MPH over the past 30 years.
New Yorkers with mobility issues could also suffer from the new plan, said disabled commuter advocate Glen Bolofsky.
“Naturally, the city tries to limit traffic jams, but by limiting traffic jams it can discriminate against people with disabilities, while other New Yorkers can cycle, walk and take the subway to get there. at work, ”he said.
“This plan will speed up the trips of more than 100,000 New Yorkers per day, promote sustainable transportation and make street design safer for everyone,” said DOT spokesman Scott Gastel.
The proposal has the support of local authorities, advocates of cycling and alternative transport, and members of the Community Council 5.
“Manhattan’s future is fewer cars and more alternative modes of transportation, like bikes and buses,” Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) told The Post. “We can increase foot traffic in Midtown with this proposal and end the traffic jam we see on Fifth Avenue during the holiday season after the holiday season.”
“Cars are not the enemy,” retorted Adelaide Polsinelli, Fifth Avenue real estate agent, saying the city plan would increase congestion on side streets and damage “an already delicate balance of people trying to get back to life. their offices but fearing to take public transport “.
The Fifth Avenue Association responded with its own vision, creating a “green corridor” much like the Champs-Élysées in Paris that connects Central Park in the north to Bryant Park in the south via a leafy pedestrian thoroughfare.
In particular, the Association’s plan will retain a transit traffic lane for cars without turning restrictions.
The Association’s proposal reduces Fifth Avenue from five lanes to three, also provides a two-lane reserved bus lane and a protected bicycle lane, and expands sidewalks by 40 percent.
Traders want work to start after the holiday season and end in 12 to 24 months, Barth said, adding that Fifth Avenue’s disproportionate impact on New York’s economy and global image requires planning. more thoughtful.
The “Midtown Core” of Fifth Avenue provides 236,000 jobs, many in tourism and occupied by minority workers, and generates 5% of all New York City tax revenue, according to data provided by the Association.
“The star power of Fifth Avenue is priceless, it is the most important street in the world,” said Barth. “Developing a policy here that only speeds up bus traffic is extremely short-sighted. The city in its wisdom should take a much broader approach.