Unions: Street-Closings Could Bring New Yorkers a Holiday to Forget

Chief Leader - November 27, 2019


Will Hinder Midtown Emergency Responses

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to close streets to traffic around Rockefeller Center to accommodate hundreds of thousands of holiday revelers who hope to catch a glimpse of its iconic Christmas tree is being blasted as “insane” by union officials who represent both firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians.

Appearing on his weekly “Ask the Mayor” segment on WNYC on Nov. 22, Mr. de Blasio explained the closing was required because the annual ritual had “gotten more and more popular” and it was “creating a real safety issue and we want to protect those folks, be they New Yorkers or folks visiting from out of town.”

EMS Union Head: ‘Insane’

The city will close 49th and 50th Sts. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. starting Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving, through the holidays. In addition, it will be closing some of the traffic lanes along Fifth Avenue during certain parts of the day.

“That’s insane,” said Oren Barzilay, president of District Council 37 Local 2507, which represents EMTs and Paramedics. “It can take 15 to 20 minutes to just circle the block in midtown Manhattan on a regular day, never mind during the holidays.”

He continued, “We physically won’t be able to get to the people in the crowds in a life-and-death situation when seconds count. Is the city going to pre-deploy FDNY EMTs on a kind of foot patrol?”

For Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the street closings compound an already-dangerous situation throughout much of the city, where a building boom has clogged major arteries, leaving streets impassable due to traffic and lane closings.

‘Seriously Impact Traffic’

“These street closures and lane restrictions are going to bottle up the traffic and force all the trucks, buses and cars onto other roads that will have a major ripple effect that will seriously impact traffic from north to south, river to river,” he said.

“I am told they spoke to the FDNY and the response was the department said they would adjust accordingly,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “The challenge is that once you try to adjust you’ve got no margin because the traffic will already be jammed up all around there.”

In a statement, the de Blasio administration said the city could execute the plan while retaining sufficient operational flexibility in the event of an emergency.

“Keeping New Yorkers safe across the city throughout the holiday is of the utmost importance,” said mayoral spokesman Will Baskin-Gerwitz. ”The NYPD and Department of Transportation employees on the ground at Rockefeller Center will have the flexibility to re-open lanes of traffic as necessary in the event of an emergency.”

FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer offered more details on the department’s contingency plans to deal with the changes.

“As has happened every year during the holiday season, the Department will work closely with NYPD and DOT to ensure both the safety of New Yorkers and visitors, and that our members can quickly respond to emergencies in and around Rockefeller Center,” he said.

Shock Troops

The FDNY will be deploying two ASAP ambulances, like units used in Times Square, as well as one alarm-investigation team of firefighters, who will rapidly respond to alarms in the Rockefeller Center area, and report back to dispatch more quickly, giving updates to incoming units.

According to the most-recent Mayor’s Management Report, Fire Department response times to all emergencies were up nine seconds, to an average of 5:15, in fiscal 2019. That represents a 25-second jump in average response time from four years earlier.

The annual report, which is mandated by the City Charter, provides ammunition to the fire and EMS unions, which have expressed concerns that the city was failing to keep up with a building boom that increased traffic congestion while adding new commercial-residential hubs, like the Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side.