Fifth Avenue to be car-free on Sundays this December


Henk Sijgers

Henk Sijgers | Flickr

Lily Burns

“To all those coming in from out of town, I have only two messages: Happy holidays and spend money,” Mayor Eric Adams said when announcing the closing of a stretch of Fifth Avenue for select Sundays in December. This will be the first time in half a century that Fifth Avenue will be closed off to cars.

In an effort to boost spending during the holiday season, the Adams Administration is working with the NYPD, the New York City Department of Transportation and the Fifth Avenue Association to make Fifth Avenue closed off to cars and open to pedestrians. This is an extension of the Open Streets Program started back in 2020 by former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

On Dec.4, 11 and 18 pedestrians will be able to enjoy a car-free Fifth Avenue between 48th and 57th street from noon to 6 P.M. New Yorkers and tourists will be able to celebrate the holiday season with shopping and entertainment in the area. Adams hopes that open streets will encourage more spending in a popular tourist destination at a popular time for tourism in NYC.

The Open Streets Program started during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking advantage of less congested roads to encourage New Yorkers to spend time outside and help out businesses struggling during the pandemic.

The city has been returning to pre-pandemic normalcy making car-free streets less common. The current programs, however, is causing traffic and gridlocking concerns, especially among drivers and commuters in the city.

On days when the avenue isn’t closed off completely, pedestrians will still be able to roam and shop. Following the Rockefeller Tree lighting on Nov. 30, barriers will be used to create one-lane traffic on Fifth Avenue. Additionally, 49th and 50th Streets will be pedestrian only between Fifth and Sixth Avenues between 11 A.M. and midnight, the streets’ most congested hours.

As of now, there are no plans to create room for buses to travel through the pedestrian areas or during pedestrian-only times. On Open StreetSundays, buses can be expected to reroute to southbound avenues and MTA crosstown buses will be rerouted during pedestrian hours. Between 48th and 52nd St on Fifth Avenue, no bus stops will be made during pedestrian hours.

New Yorkers have mixed emotions on the matter. Some are concerned about the additional traffic congestion and gridlocking the open streets will cause. Many New Yorkers are still dependent on car travel and the areas affected have once again become busy streets.

Others, however, are excited about the continuation of the Open Streets Program, believing it will create a more festive and safer environment for pedestrians. Pedestrian safety has been a common concern in the city especially as traffic-related accidents have increased.

Locals and tourists alike are ready to embrace the holiday season and can look forward to The Brooklyn United Drum Line and Manhattan Samba performances on Dec. 4, 11 and 18. The Brooklyn High School of the Arts Chorus will perform on Dec. 4, while the Kaufman Music Center Chorus will perform at the same time on Dec. 11. The performer for Dec 18th has yet to be announced.

The area of Fifth Avenue that will be car-free includes many shops such as Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Zara, The LEGO Store and the Microsoft Experience Center. And, of course, Saks Fifth Avenue with its annual holiday window display and light show, which was unveiled with a performance by Sir Elton John this year.

The Holiday Light Show typically takes place every ten minutes in the evening between 49th and 50th streets on Fifth Avenue, across the street from Rockefeller Center and the Rockefeller Tree.