MIDTOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- The sights and sounds of the holiday season were on full display at the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
A happy and festive audience turned out as the enormous tree was lit Wednesday night, after COVID restrictions severely limited the size of the crowd in 2020.
This year's tree is a 79-foot tall Norway spruce that was brought up from Maryland.
It is decorated with 50,000 lights and topped with a dazzling 900 lb. star made with 3 million Swarovski crystals.
Before the tree arrived, officials announced temporary expansions of pedestrian space on the streets around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall.
Crowds this year are expected to be the largest since the start of the pandemic, and Mayor Bill de Blasio and city officials strongly encourage New Yorkers to use public transportation.
"No place on earth is more magical than midtown during the holidays, and New Yorkers and visitors alike will get to enjoy the neighborhood with more pedestrian space than ever," de Blasio said. "Public transit is the best way to get to the neighborhood, and these pedestrianized streets will create a safe, spacious, and welcoming environment for everyone who enjoys the holiday season."
The city has pedestrianized the streets surrounding Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, using movable barriers to institute full or partial street closures to alleviate swelling foot traffic along sidewalks.
The changes include:
-Pedestrian-Only Side Streets: 49th and 50th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues will be open only to pedestrians during the most congested hours. The city will close these streets to vehicle traffic between 11 a.m. and midnight daily. Stricter crowd-control protocols are expected to be in place for the tree-lighting scheduled for Wednesday, December 1st.
-5th Avenue: Movable barriers will be placed on the east and west sides of 5th Avenue between 48th and 52nd Streets, eliminating a lane of traffic on each side of the avenue to create more pedestrian space. Additionally, there will be no turns allowed onto 47th, 49th, or 51st Streets.
-6th Avenue: Movable barriers will be placed on the east side of 6th Avenue between 48th and 52nd Streets, eliminating one lane of traffic to create more pedestrian space.
-Buses: MTA buses will bypass all stops between 48th to 52nd Streets, and all crosstown buses will be re-routed around Rockefeller Center during pedestrian-only hours
"We expect that as New York City continues to recover from the pandemic, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will once again be a major destination for New Yorkers and of course for the tourists once again flocking to our city," said DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman. "Creating more space for pedestrians around Rockefeller Center will keep people safe while ensuring minimal disruption to the rest of the life of the city. New Yorkers can of course do their part by avoiding unnecessary driving in Midtown during the holiday season."
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