Tuesday, April 16, 2019

RIOC And RIRA Respond To Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival Transportation Mess - Events Of This Scale Will Be Subject Of Future Discussions And Roosevelt Island No Longer Best Kept Secret In NYC Says RIOC President

It's impossible to walk down Roosevelt Island's Main Street without hearing residents talk about the transportation mess that occurred at last Saturday's Cherry Blossom Festival.

There are so many stories of Roosevelt Island residents and visitors safety put in danger by the enormous crowds overwhelming our local transportation infrastructure. Just one example from a resident described:
What a mess. The attendees were put in great danger. The accountability goes to the organizers and RIOC. There were not enough food vendors, the water was shut off, public transportation was insufficient and at some point almost impossible to get off the island. The subway station was so crowded that no one could go in or out of the station. That was really VERY DANGEROUS. Neighbors reported close to an hour wait to get out of the station. Where was public safety?, why was NYPD not contacted to help with crowd control?

Organizing an event of this magnitude requires many hours of work, carefully crafted contingency plans and lots of logistic organization.
An outraged visitor added:
In response to my inquiry last Sunday, Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) President Susan Rosenthal stated:
We are in the midst of debriefings and will have a lot to say in the near term. But, there were no “transportation problems”, ... — there were about 3 times as many folks as last year. NYPD and RIOC made decisions based upon safety concerns. No one was hurt and no one got arrested.
A RIOC spokesperson provided a more detailed statement this evening:
On Saturday, April 13th, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) presented their annual Cherry Blossom Festival, partnering with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) and FDR Four Freedoms State Park. While the event was highly successful, with great weather, fabulous entertainment, Japanese culture, and of course the beautiful cherry blossom trees, the island experienced overcrowding in its transportation hubs, at the Tramway, Subway, and Ferry. In addition, the Roosevelt Island Bridge had an influx of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, causing intermittent delays and, at times, complete shutdowns to vehicular access were necessary as a safety precaution.

Historically, the typical crowd size for this event has been approximately 2,000 – 3,000 people, until 2018 when approximately 10,000 guests attended. As a result of this increase, RIOC anticipated an even larger crowd size in 2019 and, focusing its attention on safety, re-evaluated the event layout, travel restrictions, staffing, and security plan preceding this year’s event.

The RIOC Public Safety Department (PSD) partnered with the New York Police Department (NYPD) and NYCEM to provide additional on-island support. In addition, PSD was in contact with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to ensure there were no interruptions in subway service to Roosevelt Island. There were roughly 60 dedicated security personnel, which were comprised of RIOC Public Safety, NYPD officers, and outside security officers, on hand at the Festival. The NYPD provided an additional 16 officers, a lieutenant, and a sergeant who were on standby in case they were needed to manage the larger crowds.

This year the Cherry Blossom Festival had a record number of approximately 30,000 people attend. The Festival activities took place between 11 AM – 5 PM, however crowds continued to arrive on Roosevelt Island late in the day, reaching peak capacity between 4 – 4:30 PM. After closely monitoring the overcrowding at the Tram and subway, the following occurred:
  • The NYPD shut down the escalators at the Roosevelt Island subway stop at approximately 4:20 PM, allowing access in and out of the station from both directions.
  • At 4:45 PM the MTA stopped incoming trains to Roosevelt Island. RIOC also stopped Tram service from Manhattan so that both Tram cabins could be utilized to more quickly reduce crowd size on the island.
  • Bridge traffic onto the island was halted as a safety precaution.
  • Additional service (R Train) was added to the F line subway at Roosevelt Island.
  • MTA resumed incoming service at the Roosevelt Island subway at 4:54 PM.
  • At 6:15 PM, PSD reported trains were operating in both directions to the island and the Roosevelt Island Bridge was open to regular vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
  • Regular Tram service resumed at 7:05 PM.
Overall, there were no incidents or injuries reported at the Festival. “Future Cherry Blossom Festivals, and other potential events of this scale, will be the subject of upcoming discussions among RIOC, its Board members, and RIRA now that greater NYC has discovered our island.” stated Susan Rosenthal, President/CEO of RIOC. “Roosevelt Island may no longer be the best kept secret in the city.” Rosenthal added.
Yesterday, I asked the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Cherry Blossom Festival Committee:
Can you please address issue of the disruptions in lives of Roosevelt Island residents caused by the overwhelming number of visitors to the Cherry Blossom Festival including the long delays getting to and from Roosevelt Island on the Tram, Ferry, subway and RI Bridge?

Also going forward, based on your experience, do you believe Roosevelt Island has infrastructure to handle events that will attract large number of visitors and do you plan on doing Cherry Blossom Festival next year?
The RIRA Cherry Blossom Festival Committee replied today:
The Cherry Blossom Festival on April 13, 2019 was a most memorable day for the following reasons:
  1. The fantastic performances: everything from the Japanese Cultural Fair at Gallery RIVAA to the Tea Ceremonies at South Point Park, to the performances at Four Freedoms Park. The visitors were dazzled by the performers and we received endless positive feedback. The Cherry Blossom Festival Committee is very grateful to the neighbors, musicians, dancers and supporters who shared their talents.
  2. For the first time in our nine-year history, the Committee was able to raise enough funds from local merchants, building managements and off-island organizations to pay the world-class musicians and dancers for their performances.
  3. Members of the Committee are very thankful for the vast support and coordination among the local groups: the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, FDR Four Freedoms Park, Gallery RIVAA, the Roosevelt Island Japanese Association, the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, The Noguchi Museum, the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network, Amalgamated Bank, Bozzuto Management Company, Bread & Butter Deli, Cornell Tech, Fuji East, Gristedes, Hornblower, Hudson and The Related Companies, Island House Tenants Corp., Island Wine & Spirits, The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation, Manhattan Park, Resobox, Starbucks, Urban American, Wengerd Farms, Westview Preservation Partners and Wholesome Factory Market. Thank you as well to the financial sponsors and donors who gave in-kind items.
  4. Our neighbor, the renowned Noguchi Museum, participated in our Cherry Blossom Festival for the first time!
  5. The exuberant attendance exceeded all expectations. It’s safe to say no one anticipated the overwhelming number of the many thousands of people visiting. Whether visitors headed south to participate in our programmed events, or simply strolled north of the tram and subway to view the necklace of cherry blossom trees around Roosevelt Island, everyone delighted in this annual glorious spring display.
  6. Let’s also give credit to all the employees of all the island establishments and the Cherry Blossom Festival volunteers who, in the face of an overwhelming number of visitors, maintained a calm and orderly atmosphere.
The scope of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association is the creation, production, staffing, promotion and maintenance of the cultural integrity of the Cherry Blossom Festival’s programming. One of the quintessential elements of the traditional Japanese cherry blossom celebration is to witness to the actual popping of the cherry blossoms while picnicking under the trees. We give our residents and visitors alike that rare opportunity and that special experience, not often found outside Japan, as they picnic under the cherry blossom trees around the island. This is what makes our festival most authentic. Every year is a learning experience; as the Cherry Blossom Festival continues, we will incorporate what was learned this year, and in the previous years, into our plans.

As for the issues related to transportation, to the best of our knowledge, RIOC was in regular communication with the MTA prior to the Festival regarding continuous service of the F train.

The status of our infrastructure and transportation shortcomings, which is something that Roosevelt Island residents know all too well, has again been called to the attention of our elected officials. Many of them spoke to our festival audiences and witnessed different aspects of these challenges. Let us hope this first-hand experience, plus the widespread news coverage, may serve as the basis to address and fix the shortfalls in our infrastructure and transportation.
Here's the RIRA Cherry Blossom Festival Committee welcoming crowd at FDR Four Freedoms Park and describing the origins of the Festival.

It's true that the Cherry Blossom performances at Four Freedoms Park were great

but a serious conversation must be had as to whether such events drawing huge crowds are worth the serious disruptions to the daily lives of Roosevelt Island residents.

Let's hope planning for the June 1-2 Figment NYC Public Participatory Art Project at Lighthouse Park is better planned and lessons learned from the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Here's more scenes from the Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Transportation mess.