By Sabina Mollot
Since the presidential election, traffic in the midtown streets surrounding Trump Tower has been consistently snarled, with local stores reporting a yuuuuge amount of lost business as a result.
While it did help that shortly before the New Year, the block of 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was once again opened to traffic, the area still feels somewhat militarized. The reopening had been pushed by City Council Member Dan Garodnick, whose district includes Trump Tower, and this week, Garodnick spoke with Town & Village about how the neighborhood has been inconvenienced since Donald Trump was elected president.
“It’s an ongoing headache that gets worse when he’s around and we hope he does not choose to use Trump Tower as a pied-a-terre,” said Garodnick.
Incidentally, First Lady Melania Trump has recently reiterated plans to remain at Trump Tower with her son Barron until the school semester ends before moving to the White House.
So to restore some order — or rather more normality — since there’s already plenty of law enforcement insisting on order, Garodnick is recommending the creation of a “Trump Tower unit” within the NYPD, in which officers are specifically trained for the particulars and needs of the community.
“We have one in Times Square,” he said, “a specific set of police officers who are knowledgeable about the complicated rules that exist in Times Square and the same would be appropriate here.”
This, Garodnick explained, would make for more efficient interaction between police and businesses, transit users and pedestrians. Currently, officers are being pulled from precincts around the city.
“(Residents are saying) they get different answers depending on which police officer they’re talking to,” he said. “Establishing a unit of highly trained officers that are sensitive to local needs would be helpful.”
Days before the inauguration, Garodnick proposed this suggestion via letter to the NYPD but has yet to hear back. Town & Village reached out to the NYPD but has yet to hear back.
As for the traffic prior to the street reopening, Garodnick described it this way. “The businesses were hurting because they couldn’t reliably get deliveries for customers. One bar on the street had a 30 percent decline (in revenue). We don’t want these businesses to be a consequence of the Trump presidency and we don’t want New Yorkers to be unnecessarily inconvenienced.”
The ongoing issue has been serious enough to prompt Garodnick to chair a hearing on the issue, which took place last month. There, he learned from the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District that businesses along the corridor believe they’ve suffered a total loss of $40 million. This figure came from a BID survey, Garodnick said, although the Council member knew previously that things were bad.
“Watching the trucks go down 56th Street and literally backing up from Fifth to Sixth Avenue was ridiculous and dangerous,” he said. “And at the end of the year the city saw fit to reopen the street.”
But when asked if this solved everything, Garodnick said it “certainly has not.” For one thing, up until recently, trucks on Sixth Avenue were being screened by the city. Now they’re being screened around the corner on 56th Street, which has helped the flow of traffic, Garodnick said, although he noted Fifth Avenue is also a major bus hub, the biggest in the city in fact with local and express routes to outer boroughs.
“It’s affecting not just Manhattanites but residents of all corners of the city,” he said.
Garodnick said he reached out to the White House to invite the president to the City Council hearing, but he didn’t show.
Meanwhile, noted the councilman, “There is still the open question of what will happen when we have an actual president in our midst and what street closures will look like then. When he moves, that freezes traffic on avenues, creating an enormous headache for people just trying to carry on with their lives.”
He gave a recent example of kids having a hard time getting to a nearby school.
“We’ve heard stores of kids in wheelchairs not being able to access PS 59 because of barricades,” said Garodnick. To get those students to class, “They lifted the wheelchairs and pulled them over the fence.”
Adding to the chaos facing commuters in the area was the recent disappearance of two bus stops without any warning or explanation. One was on at Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets (where the M1, M2, M3, M4 and M5 stop) and the other at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street (where the eastbound M57 and 31 stop).
Garodnick said he reached out to the MTA, but “nobody’s ever articulated anything.” On the upside, he has since learned that the 57th and Fifth stop has been restored.
Asked for an explanation, Kevin Ortiz, a spokesperson for the MTA, told Town & Village the bus stop removals were related to Trump Tower security and that he couldn’t comment beyond that, referring questions to the Trump administration.