A Car-Free 42nd Street? Here’s a Funder That Wants to See It Happen

Each day, over half a million pedestrians walk along New York City’s 42nd Street, where there are at least five times more pedestrians than drivers. What's more, many of those on foot move faster than the cars, taxis, and buses that creep across town in gridlock traffic.

So the idea of removing cars completely from 42nd street has a certain appeal. And like just every American idea or cause you can think of, however niche-like, this one is touted by a nonprofit organization called, appropriately, Vision42.

“The reason that we picked 42nd Street is that it goes river to river, and it’s a straight shot for public transportation. And we think that public transportation should be prioritized over private automobiles,” said Vision42's chair Roxanne Warren. ”It’s a nightmare getting along 42nd Street.”

In the great Tocquevillian wonderland of U.S. civil society, it's only natural that a group like this has found some philanthropists to help advance its cause.  

In fact, one of the most prominent funders in the city, the New York Community Trust, has long been onboard, most recently kicking in prize money to help flesh out the glorious would-be utopia of a carless 42nd street. Vision42 launched a conceptual design competition last spring and entrusted the Architect’s Newspaper to narrow the 123 submissions down to four top finalists. Each of these finalists received a $3,000 prize that was funded by a New York Community Trust grant.

The goal of this grant money and this competition is reinvigorate enthusiasm in New Yorkers for an idea that's long been kicking around but still has gotten very far. Warren claims that Mayor Bloomberg wouldn’t push the project through because he didn’t like light rail, which is a major feature of the plan. The group hopes that the de Blasio administration will view the plan more favorably after breathing some new life and inspiration into it. (We're betting that residents of 43rd and 41st streets will never be for this scheme.) 

NYCT has been a long-time supporter of Vision42—probably the longest. The trust awarded grants to the organization in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012 to fund the technical studies, address economic implications, analyze traffic complications, and study construction techniques. The John Todd McDowell Environmental Fund has also been a supporter of Vision42. Why the Ford Foundation, which is on 42nd street, hasn't kicked in funds is a mystery—especially since it has a handy main entrance with a circular driveway on 43rd street. 

You can still vote online for your favorite design concept for a car-free 42nd Street and comment on the strength of the proposals.

To learn more about NYCT’s local giving and grant guidelines, check out IP’s Profile of the New York Community Trust and NYCT’s Community Development & the Environment website.