This international competition aims to rethink and redesign one of the most iconic streets in the world—42nd street in Midtown Manhattan. Remaking this dense live/work transportation corridor into a more livable space 24/7 will transform New York City at its core and become a model for major urban thoroughfares worldwide. The aim of this competition is to increase interest in and gain support for the vision42 initiative for a river-to-river auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street. The competition is intended to encourage architects, planners, and urban designers from around the world to develop creative proposals for remaking this important but noisy, traffic-clogged street into an enhanced, world-class pedestrian environment that is served by a high-quality, low-floor, modern surface light rail tram. The winning design will be one that utilizes the potential of the boulevard to inspire New Yorkers and its elected officials to transform the street into a model for a 21st century live/work space and transportation corridor.


Participants in this competition are encouraged to create designs that will enhance 42nd Street’s pedestrian ambiance and crosstown mobility, and provide much-needed open space on this important street. Pedestrian levels are high along 42nd Street, because of the presence there of NYC’s many subway stations and transportation terminals, including the Port Authority Bus Terminal (the busiest in the world) and the iconic Grand Central Terminal (one of the world’s largest train stations). Concentrations of high-rise residential buildings on both ends of 42nd Street, some of them recently built, and others programmed to be built, will need a higher quality of surface transit than today’s slower-than-walking buses, for linking to the heart of the city. Open space is also severely lacking in both quality and quantity: however, nearly sixty percent of 42nd Street’s pavement, adjacent to some of the most valuable real estate in the world, is devoted to moving motor vehicles, even as eighty percent or more of the street users are pedestrians. This is not only a gross injustice; it is clearly bad for the city’s environment and its economy. Improving the pedestrian experience is critical: a recent proposal by the city to allow much higher density new office buildings around Grand Central was withdrawn in the face of strong public objection to the lack of proposed accompanying improvements to public transport and the amount and quality of pedestrian space.

The map below illustrates the general plan for the vision42 concept. Qualifying design proposals should assume that 42nd Street, between 1st and 12th Avenues, will become essentially auto-free, while north/south traffic on the avenues will continue. Located in the 100-foot (30.5-m) wide street, building face to building face, will be a two-track light rail line, accommodating 150-foot (45.7-m) long, 100% low-floor light rail vehicles, for which operating speeds will be limited to 15 mph (24 km/h) for pedestrians’ safety. The proposed light rail line will extend south from 42nd Street to the ferry terminals on both the Hudson and East Rivers, as shown in the map. The plan calls for a pair of light rail stops at each of the north/south avenues, which are busy transfer points to buses and subways. Special attention should be paid to stops serving Grand Central and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Other stops along the Hudson and East Rivers should be sensitive to proposed waterfront parks and development planned nearby. At the stop closest to the United Nations headquarters building there is an opportunity to design a suitably ceremonial approach.

The design should respond to the unique conditions of each block along 42nd Street, while the design of each block can be conceived as an integral part of the whole. Such amenities as sidewalk cafés, fountains, plantings and seating could be welcome in this open space. Designers should assume that current plans by others to close street segments to motor vehicles on Park Avenue at Pershing Square between 42nd and 41st Streets, and on Vanderbilt Avenue (on the west side of Grand Central) between 42nd and 43rd Streets, are already in place. Participants should also be aware that Times Square, where Broadway and 7th Avenue intersect, just north of 42nd Street, is an auto-free pedestrian plaza that has been enormously popular with tourists and commercially successful since it was begun in temporary form in 2009.

While the focus of the competition is the re-purposing of space within the 42nd Street right-of-way, and to enhance the setting for the many notable structures that already line the street, designers may chose to incorporate changes to some abutting parcels. There are opportunities for the redesign of the existing East River ferry terminal and for the redesign of the surroundings of both ferry terminals. Participants may also consider re-purposing peripheral tunnels and highway off-ramps that today bring a flood of cars into Midtown. While not included in this competition, provision may be made for the future extension of the light rail to 34th Street, which would create a continuous Midtown loop with 42nd Street.

Well-regarded consultants have projected that the economic benefits of vision42 will be substantial and swift, and that traffic and local delivery consequences of an auto-free 42nd Street are all resolvable. The consultants’ technical studies and summaries of them are all posted online at Fire trucks and ambulances may operate on an emergency basis over the rail tracks, as may autos headed toward several parking garages at the eastern and western ends of the street. While NYC’s evolving plans for a comprehensive network of bicycle lanes should be adequate to meet projected needs without attempting to fit bikes into the most crowded pedestrian precincts, provisions for bike parking and the off-peak accommodation of bikes on light rail vehicles may be considered. The 16 pairs of light rail stops shown on the map, as well as their adjacent pavement, should all be accessible at grade. While the current vision42 proposal calls for each pair of rail tracks to be located side-by-side in the center of 42nd Street, and 12 pairs of stops to be located near each of the north/south avenues, designers should feel free to consider alternative configurations.

The first phase of the competition will be entirely digital, permitting applicants to submit their entries electronically, greatly expanding opportunities for participation globally. Upon selection of finalists by the jury, those selected shall prepare and send boards for the exhibition to a designated address in New York City. The sponsor of the competition, the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, Inc. (IRUM) will establish a dedicated website that will serve as the home base for the competition and as a gallery for viewing the most outstanding submittals, as well as the winning proposals. These can include renderings and/or video presentations. A jury of design and public policy professionals will select the winner and runners-up, and monetary prizes will be awarded to the top design proposals. The four semi-finalists will share a prize of $10,000. Finally, the jury’s top selected projects will be featured in a feature story in the The Architect’s Newspaper.

Funding for this project has come from a generous grant from the New York Community Trust, Community Funds, Inc., John Todd McDowell Environmental Fund.