New York City doesn’t have SigAlerts. But if it did, this entire week would be the equivalent of every lane being shut down on the 405, creating one more headache for the city’s entertainment business as it enters a particularly busy season.
President Donald Trump arrived last night by helicopter at Trump Tower, preparing for the annual September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. While U.N. week is always a traffic mess, the combination of the world’s diplomats and the unusually security-needy Trump, has prompted city officials to amp up their marketing message. They are issuing warnings that today through Friday are officially classified as Gridlock Alert Days.
Today’s traffic, the city estimates, will be worse than it is for the Thanksgiving Day Parade, New Year’s Eve or the Rockefeller Center tree lighting. According to city data, it took an average of 19 minutes to drive just one mile in Midtown on last year’s Monday opening of U.N. week last year, up from an average of 10 minutes the rest of the year.
In 2018, the city projects 16 Gridlock Alert Days, up from just 10 last year. In declaring those days, the city urges visitors to take mass transit instead of driving anywhere. Citi Bike is offering 50% off three-day passes, and ride-sharing service Via is also offering half-off discounts in Manhattan. The city’s notoriously overtaxed subway system is sure to show more signs of wear and tear during the September surge.
Anyone brave enough to get into a car — already a problematic concept given the flood of Uber and Lyft vehicles now jockeying with taxis, limousines, buses and the like — will encounter hundreds of “blocker” vehicles. Many major streets are closed, and the Department of Sanitation has mobilized four dozen of its massive trucks, with 230 concrete roadblocks creating additional hindrances to anyone with bad intentions. Thousands of extra cops are patrolling key locations.
This all sounds like a bummer of a start to autumn in New York. But why again is this a story for Deadline Hollywood? In a word: logistics. Getting talent and VIPs to and from TV bookings, to and from film and TV sets or even to and from the corner deli will be an unusually intense struggle.
The influx of vehicles and people in the city is coinciding with the annual fall ramp-up of the event calendar. On Friday, the 56th edition of the New York Film Festival kicks off with the opening gala screening of The Favourite at Alice Tully Hall and the customary after-party at Central Park’s Tavern on the Green. Festival director Kent Jones said the Lincoln Center institution is not expecting major disruptions, and it benefits from being more “on campus” than most festivals, with a few dozen films screening at its Upper West Side home.
“When it comes to gridlock, if you live in New York, you’re used to it,” Jones told Deadline. “You’re used to anticipating it.” With the festival’s late-September slot, he added, “It’s always something. We’ve been handed stuff like the pope’s visit in 2015 and we just do the best we can.”
One veteran publicist struck a similarly seen-it-all tone, but also confided, “I always tell everyone to be places a half-hour before they are supposed to be. Now, I’m definitely going to bump that up to at least an hour.”
The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment tries to account for events like the U.N. or the Rockefeller tree lighting as it evaluates permit applications. “We tend to restrict permitting around certain events so we don’t burden any community,” a spokesperson told Deadline. “When the U.N. General Assembly meets, we coordinate closely with the Secret Service and the NYPD.”
As media and entertainment officials have reported, the city is in the midst of a production boom, with 12 network TV pilots shooting in the city this year, compared with eight in LA. MTV’s Video Music Awards returned to New York earlier this month, and the Grammys came back in February for the first time since 2003.