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Recipe for traffic mess: presidential visit + huge tree lighting

December 1, 2011 |  7:58 am

Christmas tree in Rockefeller CenterOh, what a night.

Everybody knows that driving in Manhattan is a form of insanity, but getting behind the wheel Wednesday night was a recipe for disaster -- and massive gridlock.

President Obama came to Midtown about the same time that hundreds of people were gathering at Rockefeller Center for the annual lighting of the 30,000 bulbs on the mammoth Christmas tree -- and as thousands of New Yorkers were trying to get home from work.

If that wasn’t enough, teen heartthrob Justin Bieber and octogenarian-hipster Tony Bennett were among the pre-taped headliners for the tree lighting ceremony. In other words --aaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!

The president went to not one, not two, but three fundraisers in Manhattan, collecting  donations in the East Village, on the Upper East Side and in Midtown. The streets along the president's path were lined with uniformed New York Police Department officers and shut down by blue barricades when he was nearby.

Those blue barricades also lined the area near Rockefeller Center to direct the crowds. But the barriers didn't stop tourists who don’t know how to cross a New York street — look both ways and run — from walking in front of some cars and infuriating local drivers.

Mostly drivers just gritted their teeth.

"When Obama is in town, you get ready to get stuck in traffic," Ray Morales, 57, of the Bronx told the New York Daily News. "It's a nightmare."

Even before he came to town, Obama was criticized from the usual quarters for his timing. The conservative New York Post editorialized that “with just a little less arrogance, and a little more consideration, on the part of the president and his political team, the whole mess could have been avoided.” Donald Trump, appearing on Fox Business Network, said it was “very inconsiderate” of the president to come during the Christmas-tree lighting.

Of course, New York is traditionally a Democratic town, and Obama won here by a wide margin. What are New Yorkers going to do -- not vote for him next time around because they arrived home four hours late one night?

As for the traffic, leave it to an intrepid Daily News reporter to hire a yellow cab to see how fast a savvy city driver could navigate through the gridlock. The answer: Mohamed Mohamed drove 34 blocks, from fundraiser to Christmas tree, in 20 minutes, a sort of pre-Christmas miracle.

But it wasn't easy.

The reporter hailed Mohamed's taxi at 5:03 p.m. on 84th Street just east of Fifth Avenue -- as a $10,000-a-head reception with Obama kicked off nearby.

The driver was told to get as close to the tree lighting as possible.

Here’s part of the Daily News' account:

"What is this?" Mohamed asked when he couldn't turn west onto 85th Street from Madison Ave. because it was shut down by cops for the Obama event.

"Let's go!" a cop shouted at him as the cab paused. Mohamed turned off Madison Ave. east onto 86th St. instead, then tried again to head downtown only to encounter one of the dreaded frozen zones.

"Park Ave. is closed?" he asked, shaking his head. "Unbelievable."

But Lexington Avenue was a go. "This traffic is moving," he said, zipping along to 63rd St., where he swung a right and headed east.

A traffic cop waved him onto Fifth Avenue, where dozens more cops kept pedestrians behind barricades and traffic moving along.

"Yippee," Mohamed said.

In only a short while, he pulled up right in front of the iconic statue of Atlas holding the globe at Rockefeller Center.

RELATED:

White House Christmas decor includes military tribute

White House Christmas tree is not (repeat, not) a 'holiday' tree

Why wait for the Postal Service? Two children call 911 to reach Santa

-- Geraldine Baum in New York

Photo: The lighting of Rockefeller Center's Christmas tree Wednesday contributed to some ugly traffic in New York. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images

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