Although visitors still flock to Roosevelt Island, mainly in April, the Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival is a no-go in 2023. It’s been a no-go since 2019 when it was so popular it swamped public resources. But the parade of cherry blossoms continues. It started early, this year – in February. And the best is yet to come.
by David Stone
The Roosevelt Island Daily News
Patience and the Cherry Blossom Festival
While there is no organized event, nature treats Roosevelt Island to a two-month-long caravan of fresh cherry blossoms as different species burst with color in sequence.
Note: A popular destination for Roosevelt Island visitors year ’round, FDR Four Freedoms State Park does not have a single cherry tree within a quarter-mile of its entrance. Great for serenity, views and landscaped beauty, a cherry blossom destination it is not.
Back in 2019, the number of people arriving for the festival’s activities, mostly celebrating Japanese culture, got out of control. With bright pink blossoms lining the Manhattan-facing shoreline, tens of thousands clogged public transit. Nobody knows how many, but lines for the Roosevelt Island Tram and the F Train grew unmanageable.
The subway station became so crowded that emergency measures rolled out. At one point, the MTA shut down its escalators because a looming platform crush threatened lives.
On a warm day, the Island ran out of bottled drinking water and food. The Cherry Blossom Festival barely averted disaster at several critical points.
In the end, the organizing committee and RIOC, which approved and supported the event, spent weeks pointing fingers over who was responsible for botched planning. After the dust settled, both agreed that they were not equipped for an event of that magnitude, ever.
At a minimum, the transportation infrastructure wasn’t strong enough, no matter what else happened.
But the Celebration Goes On
Just as you can’t stop spring, you can’t tell cherry trees not to bloom. The necklace of pink blossoms has barely begun, but in the next few weeks, Roosevelt Island will become the most beautiful place on Earth.
As visitors crowd the subway, especially on April and May weekends, and long lines extend down the street from the Tram, New York State dysfunction will be on display because two sister agencies, both controlled by Governor Kathy Hochul, can’t get their acts together.
That is, even after years of community pressure, RIOC and the MTA can’t cut a deal bringing OMNY to the Tram. So, we’ll see two lines instead of one as surprised visitors find that they must line up for MetroCards on both Second Avenue and Roosevelt Island.
If you’re coming for the informal Cherry Blossom Festival in 2023, be aware and be patient. Assume that the local authorities will not be prepared. Residents know this because they never are.
Just last weekend, with only a smattering of cherry blossoms on view, lines for the Tram stretched across the Manhattan-side Plaza and curled down 59th Street. Those will increase.
Maybe try a weekday instead…
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