By: City Councilman Justin Brannan and Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann
When most people talk about Christmas in New York City, they usually mention the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the stunning holiday window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue or maybe the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Meanwhile, some 14 miles from midtown Manhattan, there is magical place in Brooklyn that puts them all to shame.
For decades, homeowners in Dyker Heights have decked out their grand estates with spectacular Christmas light displays. In recent years, this uniquely local hometown tradition has gone from a small Christmastime stroll around the neighborhood to a world-renowned “must-see” destination attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists onto the narrow residential sidewalks of Dyker Heights for about 40 days starting in December.
Just as Santa Claus closes out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to mark start of the Christmas season, starting the day after Thanksgiving, the Dyker Lights fanfare begins anew, being widely publicized on social media, radio and every morning TV show from here to Germany as “the thing you absolutely MUST check out this holiday season!”
Over the past few years, savvy charter tour bus companies and private commuter vans discovered a big money-making opportunity and flooded this otherwise quiet residential area with busloads of visitors from Long Island, New Jersey and overseas. Brooklyn was already a scorching hot tourist destination so the Dyker Lights sightseeing packages quickly exploded in popularity.
But local residents who for so many years have loved viewing the Christmas light displays, now feel completely overwhelmed by these tour buses that bring hundreds of thousands of tourists and a parade of ice cream trucks and street vendors that combine to cause a traffic congestion Christmas nightmare. This creates a month-long street festival-like atmosphere in this quaint residential neighborhood. Just imagine the joy of a 40-day “unofficial” street festival happening outside your door on a quiet tree-lined block or the noise and fumes from an idling ice cream truck for 10 hours a day – not exactly the Norman Rockwell Christmas of your dreams.
Over the last few years, Community Board 10 and the Dyker Heights Civic Association joined in an effort to get a handle on all of this. After dozens of public meetings and outreach to local residents, last year, Community Board 10 applied to City Hall for a street event permit, hoping to bring some order to the event while prohibiting the illegal vendors that overwhelm the neighborhood. But NYPD lawyers denied the application because, they argued, they could not issue a permit for an event that technically took place on private property.
They compared Dyker Lights to tourists visiting Times Square to see the big LED billboards. Naturally, the Community Board contended that Dyker Heights is not Times Square, and, as one of the safest police precincts in New York City, we simply do not have the resources afforded to the “Crossroads of the World” to safely handle the hundreds of thousands of tourists that come in charter buses, vans or cars for about seven weeks every December. NYPD maintained that charter buses are exempt from NYC DOT rules and therefore can traverse local residential streets with sugar plum impunity.
While the vast majority of residents and private homeowners still love the lights and cherish the tradition, it is the sheer volume of visitors that overwhelm their small residential neighborhood that exhausts them. Some say they feel like prisoners in their own homes and have to schedule their daily lives around the tour bus schedules and tourists who are not always mindful or respectful of private property and driveways. Others complain of being literally choked by ice cream trucks that idle for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Something’s gotta give. We all love the lights but not the endless tour buses, the ice cream trucks and everything that comes along with them.
The 2018 Dyker Lights were bigger than ever. What did we learn? For one, we cannot have giant tour buses snarled in these residential areas creating insane gridlock and blocking any chance of an emergency vehicle getting through. We also cannot have ice cream trucks idling for 10 hours a day and illegal vendors turning Dyker Heights into Times Square.
Look, it’s fantastic that hundreds of thousands of tourists want to come see Dyker Heights but at what cost to the residents who live in this great, quiet, and tight-knit neighborhood 365 days a year? It is completely unfair to them. First and foremost, it is our jobs to care about the residents of Dyker Heights and keep them happy and safe. As your Councilman, and local Community Board District Manager, we will do everything in our power to make sure 2019 is different. You have our word.