Making 1970s Midtown a giant pedestrian mall

Madisonmall1970sNot a fan of the city’s car-free zones, or  “public plazas” as they are officially called?

Then you would have bristled at an idea Mayor Lindsay cooked up in the 1970s.

The plan was to create a “vast, H-shaped pedestrian mall that would straddle the heart of midtown Manhattan,” wrote the New York Times on December 8, 1971.

Forty-Eighth Street from Broadway to Madison Avenue would go car-free, though “a people-mover of some kind” would eventually be installed (sketch below).


Both Broadway and Madison Avenue between 45th Street and 57th Street would also be cleared of vehicles and turned into “a network of malls.”

The idea of completely remaking midtown came on the heels of a Lindsay administration experiment, which banned cars on Madison Avenue in 1970 and 1971.

MadisonmallstuffnobodycaresaboutThose temporary bans, inspired by the first Earth Day, were deemed a success by Mayor Lindsay and many pedestrians . . . though merchants weren’t happy to see people playing frisbee, not shopping.

It was the era of what the city called “Green Streets.” Nassau Street was about to become a pedestrian mall. Eighth Street in the West Village and Fifth Avenue in midtown also tried out the car-free thing.

But while the H-shaped mall idea disappeared quickly, Mayor Lindsay stuck to plans for making Madison Avenue into a “Magic Promenade.”

Madison from 44th to 57th Streets would be “a permanent pedestrian mall with a widened street, large trees, many benches, and special lanes for small buses and trucks,” stated a Times article.


By 1973, however, the idea was dead, thanks to an appeals court ruling that the Transportation department didn’t have the authority to turn a city street into a mall.

Of course, Mayor Bloomberg revived the idea in 2009. His public plazas—with their tables, chairs, and streets blocked off with planters—appear to be successful.

[Top image:; second image:; third image:; fourth image: New York Times]

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4 Responses to “Making 1970s Midtown a giant pedestrian mall”

  1. dark1p Says:

    Not necessarily arguing with you, but how do Bloomies’ plazas seem successful? By making the city even more tourist-focused rather than resident-focused? Or some other measure…?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Good point. What I mean by successful is that people–New Yorkers–seem to use the plazas, and the opposition to them has died down. Successful may not be the right word…maybe we all just submitted to them.

  2. carolynquinn Says:

    It’s still a good idea!

  3. BEN DOVER Says:


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